The move by pro-European President Maia Sandu seeks to reset the balance of power in the former Soviet republic.
Voters in Moldova have cast ballots in an early parliamentary election that featured sharp choices between pro-Western and pro-Russian factions.
Sunday’s vote was called by President Maia Sandu, who aims to gain a parliament made up of pro-Western reformists who have pledged to tackle corruption in the former Soviet republic and forge closer ties with the European Union.
Moldova ranked 115th out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perception Index.
The vote on Sunday could see the nation of 3.5 million – Europe’s poorest country, landlocked between Ukraine and Romania – follow a pro-Western path or form closer ties with Russia.
More than three million registered voters chose between more than 20 parties, but the main battle was between the pro-reform Party of Action and Solidarity, or PAS, and a pro-Russia bloc made up of Socialists and Communists.
Only four of the 20 parties were expected to gain enough support to enter the country’s 101-seat legislature.
The early election was called in April by Sandu, a former World Bank official who used to lead the PAS party, after the country’s Constitutional Court abolished a state of emergency that was introduced to handle the coronavirus pandemic.
Sandu has promised to clean up corruption, fight poverty and strengthen relations with the EU.
Moldova signed a deal in 2014 with the EU on forging closer ties, but high levels of corruption and lack of reform have stunted development.
In last year’s presidential election, Sandu beat Moscow-friendly incumbent Igor Dodon, the current leader of the Socialists, who campaigned on high social spending, traditional family values and a distrust of closer ties with the West.
“Today Moldovans have a very important political choice to make,” Dodon wrote online Sunday. “After these elections, it will be decided whether Moldova will be sovereign or completely subordinated to foreign interests.”
Dodon said Sunday’s vote could decide “whether there will be peace and order in the country or permanent conflict and chaos”.
Vadim Pistrinciuc, executive director at Chisinau-based Institute for Strategic Initiatives, and a former lawmaker, told The Associated Press that if PAS wins a clear majority, Moldova “immediately (gains) a much better relationship with the EU”.
“Even that we got to today, this snap election, is a great victory,” he said, adding that current turnout figures suggest the result could be “very close”.
He also said since last year’s presidential election “disinformation (and) propaganda” have increased in Moldova.