Pro-Europe political parties in Moldova are expected to form a coalition government after they won a narrow majority of votes in a strongly contested parliamentary election. The vote was seen as an indication Chisinau would continue on a European path despite its Soviet history and a large pro-Russia population.
With most of the votes counted Monday, Moldova's Europe-leaning political parties appear to have won a narrow majority of seats in parliament.
The Democrat, Liberal, and Liberal Democrat parties took a combined 44 percent of ballots counted from Sunday's election. That gives them enough support to take more than half of the 101 seats in parliament, if they can agree on a coalition.
The pro-Russia Socialist party won a surprising 21 percent of votes, the most of any single party. It wants Moldova to reverse course on a European Union Association Agreement in favor of a trade deal with Russia's Customs Union.
Communists, who favor a middle-road approach, won about 17 percent of ballots.
Director of the Carnegie Moscow Center Dmitri Trenin says the election was about economic and social issues rather than geopolitics.
“The Europe road may eventually be taking them to a much higher level of living. But, it may take so much longer than the road to Russia and the Customs Union, as some would argue. So, it's not an easy choice,” says Trenin.
The election was marred by allegations of Russian meddling as well as irregularities favoring the pro-EU camp, and played out in the shadow of events in Ukraine.
A pro-Russia party called Patria, or “Homeland,” materialized in September, but was banned on the eve of the election for allegedly receiving foreign funding. The leader of Patria, a wealthy Russian businessman with roots in Moldova, quickly fled to Russia.
Russian officials criticized the ban as undemocratic and expressed concerns that Moldovan migrant workers were not able to vote.
Russia's state media Sunday showed hundreds of people protesting outside of Moldova's polling stations in Moscow. The reports quoted authorities saying they ran out of ballots.
Moldovans in the breakaway pro-Russia region of Transdniester, on the border with Ukraine, did not take part in the vote.
With elections over, Trenin says the Kremlin will turn its focus to propping up Transdniester.
“If Moldova and Ukraine both head for a closer relationship with the West, there will be consequences for Transdniester. And, as I said, it could potentially be a 'hot spot,'” says Trenin.
Transdniester, with a population of about 500,000, fought for independence from Moldova in the 1990s as the Soviet Union was beginning to collapse.
Russia is the only country that recognizes it as independent and, as in breakaway regions of Georgia, has stationed troops there as “peacekeepers.”
Moldova in June joined Georgia and Ukraine in signing an association agreement with the EU. Moscow retaliated by banning imports of Moldova's agricultural products, including meats and wine.