Moldova Votes at Crossroads of Europe, Russia

Moldova Votes at Crossroads of Europe, RussiaMoldova Votes at Crossroads of Europe, Russia

Moldova went to the polls on Sunday in a crucial parliamentary election that hinges on whether the impoverished ex-Soviet country will pursue integration with Europe or return to Russia’s fold.

Voters faced a choice between political parties aiming for membership in the European Union and those that back joining Russia in a customs union.

Russia and the EU are locked in a tug-of-war as armed conflict has erupted in neighboring Ukraine between Kiev’s pro-EU leadership and pro-Russian separatists.

Moscow does not want to part ways with Moldova, a former Soviet satellite where it has troops stationed in the Russian-speaking breakaway region of Transdniestr.

Moldovans are voting for MPs to serve a four-year term in the 101-seat parliament.

Parties must win at least six percent of the vote to get a seat.

No party is expected to gain an outright majority.

A small country of 3.6 million wedged between Ukraine and EU member Romania, around 78 percent of Moldova’s population is ethnic Romanian, while Ukrainians and Russians account for around 14 percent.

One of Europe’s poorest countries, Moldova has struggled to break free from persistent political crisis.

In June Chisinau signed an historic association accord with the European Union in the face of bitter Russian opposition. It gained visa-free travel for its citizens and access to a free trade zone as well as hundreds of millions of euros in funding.

Russia retaliated with an embargo on imports of many Moldovan foods.

Moldova is currently run by a pro-European coalition headed by Prime Minister Iurie Leanca that wants more integration with Europe.

The presidents of Poland, Ukraine and Romania visited Moldova last week to back the pro-EU campaign, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel sent a message of support to Leanca.

But the opposition Communist party and Party of Socialists want closer links to Russia and its ex-Soviet allies and to tear up the EU agreement.

Opinion polls ahead of the vote showed some 40 percent of Moldovans backed

pro-European parties, while around the same percentage supported opposition pro-Russian parties.