The parliamentary vote came after last legislature was dissolved by the president who wants to limit Russian influence.
President Maia Sandu’s pro-European party is leading in Moldova’s elections as vote counting is under way in Sunday’s snap parliamentary elections she called to shore up her position against pro-Russia forces.
With more than 40 percent of the ballots counted, Sandu’s centre-right Action and Solidarity (PAS) party secured more than 44 percent of the votes, according to the electoral commission.
The party’s main rivals from the coalition of socialists and Communists led by former Kremlin-backed President Igor Dodon and former President Vladimir Voronin had nearly 33 percent of the votes.
Casting her ballot in the capital Chisinau, Sandu said she had voted for change in the ex-Soviet country beset by poverty and corruption.
“I voted for an honest parliament to work with, for a parliament that will appoint honest people, competent people,” Sandu told journalists after voting.
Her predecessor Dodon, whom she defeated last year, warned against voting for those who will “hand over the country to external control” as he cast his ballot.
Wedged between Ukraine and EU member Romania, the country of about 2.6 million has long been divided over closer ties with the European Union or maintaining Soviet-era relations with Moscow.
With lawmakers loyal to Dodon blocking Sandu’s promises of reform after her election win in November, she dissolved Parliament in April and scheduled the snap vote.
The 49-year-old former World Bank economist’s promises of honesty and competence resonated with many Moldovans, who have seen their nation rocked by political crises and corruption scandals in recent years.
“Maybe we will have a parliament that will think about our Moldova. For the sake of our children, for a beautiful future,” Ana Olari, a 40-year-old confectioner, told the AFP news agency.
Sandu, who also served briefly as prime minister, has for many Moldovans become “a symbol of change”, said Alexei Tulbure, a political analyst and the country’s ex-ambassador to the United Nations.
More than 48 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots in the election. That represented a higher turnout than the first round of the presidential vote but lower than in the second round-run off at 53 percent.
At polling stations, voters had to wear masks and have their temperature taken in a bid to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Twenty parties and two electoral blocs ran in the election.
They must cross thresholds set at 5 percent and 7 percent of the votes respectively to obtain seats in the unicameral assembly, where 101 legislators are elected for four-year terms.
Analysts said the diaspora – which accounts for more than a third of Moldova’s eligible voters and widely backed Sandu during the presidential vote – could hold the key and bring the PAS another 10-15 percentage points this time round.
Long queues formed outside the polling stations abroad and some voters – particularly in Germany and France – reserved a seat from Saturday evening, media in Moldova reported.
The diaspora cast more than 200,000 votes abroad compared to the record figure of 262,000 in the second round of the presidential election.
Observers say a win for Sandu’s party will likely be a blow to Russia, which wants Moldova to remain in its sphere of influence.
But “even with a parliamentary majority, it will not be easy to carry out her grandiose plans for in-depth change”, independent analyst Victor Ciobanu said.
“There will be severe opposition” from the pro-Russian side, he added.
Sandu has already irritated the Kremlin by proposing to remove the Russian military garrison based in Transnistria, a pro-Russian breakaway state straddling the country’s eastern frontier with Ukraine.
Queues in east Moldova
The AFP reported that dozens of people were standing in queues at special polling stations in eastern Moldova set up for residents of the separatist region.
Moldovan police said that they had reported 242 “possible electoral violations”.
Dodon, 46, told journalists on Sunday evening that he would “decide whether to protest the election results” after all the violations were analysed.
In Chisinau, Lyudmila, a 70-year-old pensioner, said she supported the Communists and socialists because “life was better” under their rule.