1 December 2014
Last updated at 02:51
Partial results from Moldova’s parliamentary elections show that pro-EU parties have a narrow lead over those backing closer ties with Russia.
With 80% of the votes counted, the three pro-Western parties have about 44%. The opposition has 40%.
No party appears to be able to form a government, and tough post-election bargaining is predicted.
On the eve of the vote, one pro-Russian party was banned from Sunday’s poll – a move criticised by Russia.
The elections have taken on a wider significance in the shadow of the bloody crisis in neighbouring Ukraine.
That crisis began last November after Ukraine’s former leadership made a last-minute U-turn, refusing to sign a landmark association and free trade deal with the EU – under huge pressure from Russia.
This triggered mass protests in Ukraine that ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, and Kiev later signed the EU deal. But the protests, in turn, led to Russia annexing southern Crimea peninsula in March and throwing support behind separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.
Moldova – which also signed the EU agreement – has been under growing Russian pressure to change course.
The partial results show that the pro-Russian Socialist Party has taken a lead with about 22% of the vote.
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Ahead of the vote, analysts said poll ratings of the Socialists, who want Moldova to turn its back on the EU and join a Russia-dominated economic bloc, had been boosted by their populist campaigning, including concerts by Russian pop stars.
The pro-EU Liberal Democrats are in second place with 19%. The party wants Moldova to achieve EU candidate status by 2017 and full membership by 2020.
The second opposition party – the Communist Party – is running a close third with 18%. The party is a Soviet-era survivor that still uses the hammer and sickle as its symbol.
Two other pro-Europe parties – the Democrats and the Liberals – are on 16% and 9% respectively.
Pro-Moscow forces were also expected to pick additional votes after the ban of the Fatherland party. It was barred from the elections on the grounds that it had illegally received foreign funding.
The party – whose leader has fled to Russia – denies the claim.
There have been reports that the pro-EU parties may now try to form a “grand coalition” with the communists to keep the country on the European track.
About 2.7 million people are eligible to cast their ballots, electing a single-chamber 101-seat parliament by a system of proportional representation.
Parties need to get at least 6% of the vote to gain seats in parliament.
The turnout was just under 56%.
However, residents of the Russian-backed breakaway region of Trans-Dniester are not taking part in the election.
The opposition was also hoping to capitalise on the growing economic problems under the pro-Western government in Moldova – one of Europe’s poorest countries.
The situation worsened after a Russian ban on Moldova’s import of agricultural products – including wine, meat, fruit and vegetables.