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CHISINAU, Moldova – More than three million Moldovans are eligible to vote in parliamentary elections Sunday in this former Soviet republic wedged between Romania and Ukraine. They will choose representatives for the next four-year term of the 101-seat legislature. No outright winner is expected and the ballot will likely deepen a rift between pro-Western and pro-Russian forces, amid concerns about endemic corruption and crumbling democracy.
REJIGGED VOTING SYSTEM
The voting system has been changed in what critics say is a ploy to help the two main parties — the broadly pro-Russian Socialists and the nominally pro-European Democratic Party — carve up influence. Democratic leader Vladimir Plahotniuc, one of the country's wealthiest men, is the country's de-facto leader as the Democrats are the main party in the ruling coalition. Voters will directly pick 51 lawmakers, while the remaining 50 lawmakers will be elected via party lists, a method which favors the two bigger parties. Another factor to consider is that there are up to one million voters— almost a third of the electorate— working and living abroad, mainly in the EU and Russia.
There are three main parties: The Democratic Party, which heads the ruling coalition together with its junior partner the Popular European Party, the Socialists, who favor closer ties to Russia, and the pro-European ACUM which opposes both major parties and signed a pledge Thursday not to enter into a coalition with them if no party wins an outright majority. Parties need to win six percent of the overall vote to enter Parliament.
POTENTIAL FOR CRISIS
In an interview this week with The Associated Press, Moldovan President Igor Dodon warned of unrest if elections are rigged. While no major fraud is expected on polling day, with 340 international observers from 38 countries monitoring the ballot, there are concerns the elections may be less than free or fair. Facebook recently dismantled 168 fake accounts and 28 pages allegedly attempting to influence voters.
Moreover, the election threatens to keep the country stuck in limbo between the West and Russia, at a time when allegations of government corruption and concerns over erosion of democracy have strained relations with the EU. Moldova signed an association agreement with the EU in 2014, a move seen as a step toward joining the bloc.
Last year, the European Parliament called Moldova "a state captured by oligarchic interests." The EU also froze aid to Moldova after a local court invalidated the 2018 Chisinau mayoral election on a technicality, a move seen as a bid to thwart the apparent victory of a pro-European candidate.
ACUM leaders Maia Sandu and Andrei Nastase have accused the Democratic Party leadership of corruption and claimed they had been poisoned. The Democratic Party strenuously denied the allegations.