Chisinau: Partial results from elections show Moldovan voters divided between parties that want to move closer to Europe and those that want to move back into Moscow's sphere of influence.
The parliamentary election has taken on wider significance with the unrest in neighboring Ukraine. Moldova, like Ukraine, has a pro-Russia separatist region in its east.
Early results yesterday showed pro-Russian parties with a strong lead. But as more votes were counted, the gap closed.
With 52 per cent of the vote counted, the pro-Europe parties were slightly ahead with about 42.5 per cent to 41 per cent for the pro-Russian parties. Parties need to get at least 6 per cent to gain seats in the 101-member Parliament.
The surprise leader was the strongly pro-Russian Socialists' Party, which was in first place with 22.1 per cent, according to partial results.
The impoverished former Soviet republic of less than 4 million people is torn between re-electing the current pro-European coalition and choosing parties that want closer economic ties with Moscow.
Russia placed an embargo on Moldovan fruit after the country signed a trade association agreement with the European Union in June.
At least 600,000 Moldovans work abroad, half in the EU and the rest in Russia. Remittances make up about one-fifth of the country's gross domestic product.
In Moscow, around 4,000 people lined up to vote including Renato Usatii a businessman whose pro-Russia party was banned from competing on the grounds it received foreign funding, which is illegal. Two pro-Russia parties remained on the ballot. There were also lines in Rome and thousands voted in Romania where many Moldovan students are enrolled at universities.
Prime Minister Iurie Leanca said he voted for a "European Moldova for a Moldova with justice."
"Everything ... Indicates that Moldova cannot exist without Europe," he said.
The final turnout was 55.86 per cent of the total electorate, authorities said.
Four-fifths of Moldovans are of Romanian descent, but decades of Soviet rule have left a strong imprint. The Liberal Party campaigned under the slogan "NO to the Russian boot, YES to the Romanian heart!" while pro-Russia parties likely received support from people angry with allegations of high-level corruption.