Moldovans are voting in an election on Sunday that is likely to produce a hung parliament, splitting the eastern European country between pro-Western and pro-Russian forces at a time when its relations with the European Union have soured.
The current government wants closer EU integration and warns of catastrophe if the country falls back into Russia’s sphere of influence. But corruption scandals and worries over the health of its democracy have tarnished the country’s image and weakened the appeal of the pro-Western political class, according to Reuters.
Opinion polls suggest the opposition Socialist party, which favors closer ties to Moscow, will win most seats but fall short of a majority. The ruling pro-Western Democratic Party trails in second and an opposition bloc called ACUM, campaigning to fight entrenched corruption, is third.
The campaign has been dogged by controversy.
In the last few days alone, ACUM’s leaders claimed they were being poisoned on the orders of the authorities, which the Democratic Party swiftly dismissed as a “strange accusation”.
Russia’s interior ministry announced an investigation into Democratic Party leader Vladimir Plahotniuc, accusing him of involvement in organized crime, prompting Plahotniuc’s party to accuse Moscow of election meddling.
Igor Dodon, the Moldovan president and former Socialist party leader, has told his supporters to be ready for mass protests if the Democratic Party tried to cling on to power.
The EU forged a deal on closer trade and political ties with the ex-Soviet republic in 2014 but it has become increasingly critical of Chisinau’s track record on reforms.
One of Europe’s poorest countries, which is squeezed between Ukraine and EU member state Romania, Moldova plunged into crisis in 2014-2015 after $1 billion was pilfered from three banks.
Dodon told Reuters in January he was prepared to call snap elections if Sunday’s vote proved inconclusive.