Moldovans cast ballots in election between East and West

BUCHAREST — Voters in Moldova were casting their ballots Sunday in a snap parliamentary election that is a choice between East and West.

The vote was called by President Maia Sandu, who aims to gain a parliament made up of pro-Western reformists that have pledged to tackle corruption in the former Soviet republic and forge closer ties with the European Union.

It is a vote that could see the small nation of 3.5 million people — Europe’s poorest landlocked country between Ukraine and Romania — follow a pro-Western path of reform or form closer ties with Russia.

More than 3 million registered voters will choose between more than 20 parties, but the main battle will be 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 are expected to enter the country’s 101-seat legislature.

“The situation in our country can be changed,” Sandu wrote online Saturday. “The Republic of Moldova has a chance to take care of its citizens.”

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 introduced to handle the coronavirus pandemic.

Sandu hopes this election will lead to a parliament she can work with to enact reform. She has promised to clean up corruption, fight poverty and strengthen relations with the EU.

“Today you choose your future: Go vote!” Sandu said Sunday.

Recent opinion polls have given a lead to the reformists, but the result could largely depend on turnout among Moldova’s large diaspora — which expressed clear support in electing Sandu as president last year.

Moldova’s Central Electoral Commission, or CEC, has said that more than 726,000 ballots were distributed to polling stations outside the country and that 2,400 observers will monitor the election.

In last year’s presidential election, Sandu beat Moscow-friendly incumbent Igor Dodon, a Moscow-friendly former president and current leader of the Socialists, which campaigns on high social spending and traditional family values distrustful 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 that Sunday’s vote could decide “whether there will be peace and order in the country or permanent conflict and chaos.”

Moldova signed a deal in 2014 with the European Union on forging closer political and economic ties, but high levels of corruption and lack of reform have stunted development.

Moldova ranked 115th out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perception Index, with first place being the least corrupt.

The CEC said that by midday Sunday more than 600,000 voters — 21% of the electorate — had cast their ballots including 70,000 abroad.