Moldova’s polling stations opened on Sunday morning with voters eager to elect the new parliament after the previous one was dissolved by new President Maia Sandu to bolster her position against pro-Russian forces.
Voting opened shortly after 7am (4:00 GMT) on Sunday and will close at 9pm, with initial results expected a few hours later.
Sandu, who wants to introduce Moldova into the European Union, defeated Kremlin incumbent Igor Dodon in November with a commitment to fighting corruption in one of Europe’s poorest countries.
Nestled between Ukraine and Romania, a member of the EU, Moldova has long been divided by closer ties with Brussels or to maintain Soviet-era relations with Moscow.
With lawmakers loyal to Dodon blocking Sandu’s promises of reform, the former World Bank economist dissolved parliament in April and scheduled the instant vote.
“This Sunday we have to finish what we started and take the second step. This is an opportunity for each of us to choose honest and responsible leadership, ”Sandu said in a statement before the vote.
“It is time to cleanse the country of clans, corrupt officials and manipulators,” said Sandu, who wants to review the judicial system, increase salaries and pensions and amend the constitution to facilitate the punishment of corruption.
The slogans resonate with many Moldovans, who in recent years have seen their country shaken by political crises, including a $ 1 billion bank fraud scheme equivalent to almost 15% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).
“She really wants to change country for the better,” Natalia Cadabnuic, a young resident of Chisinau, told AFP news agency.
Sandu, who also briefly served as prime minister, has become for many Moldovans “a symbol of change,” said Alexei Tulbure, the country’s political analyst and former ambassador to the United Nations.
Adding that Moldovans are fed up with corrupt politicians, he said Sandu is the first to reach the top while “maintaining the reputation of being honest.”
Russian influence at stake
Twenty parties and two electoral blocs are running in Sunday’s election. They must exceed the threshold set at 5 and 7 per cent of the vote respectively to obtain seats in the unicameral assembly.
The 101 legislators will be elected for a four-year term.
Ilan Shor’s party, a businessman convicted of fraud and money laundering in connection with the $ 1 billion banking scandal, is also among more than 20 parties and blocs, including independents, vying for the election. Shor denies the fouls.
Entering the vote, Sandu’s center-right Action and Solidarity (PAS) party was in the lead.
Recent polls showed PAS with 35-37% of the vote against 21-27% for party rivals in the coalition of Socialists and Communists led by Dodon and former President Vladimir Voronin.
These figures only represent voters living in the country of 2.6 million people.
Analysts say the diaspora, which is more than a third of Moldova’s eligible voters and has already given its support behind Sandu during presidential polls, could be the key to the outcome.
According to estimates, the diaspora could bring another 10-15 percentage points to Sandu’s party.
Analysts say the election is likely to be a blow to Russia, which wants Moldova to remain in its sphere of influence.
“The majority will be pro-European and Russia’s influence will weaken,” said Sergiy Gerasymchuk, a Moldovan political expert from Kyiv.
Sandu has already irritated the Kremlin by proposing to withdraw the Russian military garrison based in Transnistria, a pro-Russian pro-independence state located on the country’s eastern border with Ukraine.
Pro-Russian Dodon on Friday accused authorities of preparing “provocations” and urged his supporters to be prepared to protest to “defend” the victory of his bloc.