Sunday's referendum vote fell short of the 33 per cent legal requirement for it to be binding [EPA]

A referendum aimed at breaking a political stalemate in Moldova, which has left the country leaderless, has failed following a low voter turnout, electoral officials have said.

Iurie Ciocan, the Central Election Commission secretary, said on Sunay turnout stood at 29.67 per cent, with final figures yet to come in only from a small breakaway territory and from Moldovans working in the West.

Although the final results have yet to come in, Moldovan leaders acknowledged that the referendum is unlikely to reach the one-third threshold required for the ballot to be declared valid.

Vlad Filat, the Moldovan prime minister, said the electorate "appears to have been less active than we had hoped"

"It seems most likely we will not be able to count on clearing the necessary 33 per cent barrier for recognising the validity of the referendum," Filat was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency after polls closed.

Filat said the failure of the referendum was not due only to the boycott called by the Communists, but also to splits within the Alliance.

The failure of the referendum means parliament must be dissolved and a date set for snap parliamentary elections, he added.

Continuing impasse

The political impasse has left Europe's poorest nation without a president for a year, since the liberal coalition failed to raise the necessary three-fifths parliamentary majority last year.

The ruling liberal coalition had proposed the constitutional referendum, which would have introduced the direct election of the president by voters.

Moldova's ruling four-party Alliance for European Integration won only a slim majority in July 2009 parliamentary polls following riots in the capital Chisinau that marked the end of eight years of Communist rule.

The Communist party led by Vladimir Voronin, the former president, had denounced the vote as a coalition ploy to usurp power and had called for a boycott of the referendum.

Voronin held power from 2001 until last year in the country of 4.3 million people bordering EU-member Romania.

Recent opinion polls had shown that 75–90 per cent of those who planned to vote supported direct presidential elections.

Some 430,000 Moldovans who live abroad, working as low-paid labourers – according to official statistics – were allowed to vote at special polling stations set up in such countries as Italy, Portugal, Spain and France.

Source: Agencies