Three parliament deputies in Moldova quit the communist party on Friday and said they might back a presidential candidate from the governing pro-Europe alliance, potentially letting it name the country's first president for more than two years.

Urgently-needed reforms have been held up in the small ex-Soviet republic, one of Europe's poorest states, because it has been without a president since September 2009.

The president is elected by parliament with the support of at least 61 out of 101 deputies, but the chamber has been too closely divided between communists and the Alliance for European Integration for either side to win the needed super-majority.

Friday's defections would now give the Alliance the potential support of 62 deputies, allowing it to secure the election of its candidate in a November 18 vote.

We are taking this difficult step for the future of Moldova. We are different from you in doctrine and ideas but we want a resolution of a political crisis which has stopped parliament from electing a president for 2 1/2 years, said Igor Dodon, one of the three, in a direct appeal to the Alliance.

He said he and his two co-defectors were waiting to learn who would be the Alliance presidential candidate.

The country has been without a full-time president since communist leader Vladimir Voronin stepped down in September 2009 after two consecutive terms.

Failure to break the impasse in parliament and elect a president has paralysed much-needed reform in the country, which aspires to European Union membership one day.

The communist opposition has frustrated previous attempts by the Alliance to secure the election of centre-left politician Marian Lupu, who is now speaker of parliament. A later attempt to switch to direct popular voting also failed.

Lupu, who defected from the communist party and is regarded as a traitor by them, seems unlikely to be put forward again by the Alliance.

(Reporting by Alexander Tanas; Writing By Richard Balmforth)