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Communist President Vladimir Voronin (file photo)
Chisinau, 6 March 2005 (RFE/RL) -- An exit poll indicates that the governing pro-Western Communists are leading in Moldova's parliamentary elections, which were held today.
The exit poll was produced jointly by three organizations. It gave the Communists 42 percent of the vote and the centrist Democratic Moldova Bloc 28 percent. It says the center-right Popular Christian Democratic Party scored 14 percent.
The voting ended at 8 p.m. (Prague time) and the results are being tabulated. The election was declared valid, with 54 percent turnout by late afternoon. Some 2.3 million voters were eligible to cast ballots today. More than 1,100 candidates were contesting 101 seats.
There was rain across much of Moldova today as balloting stations opened. There were reports of low voter turnout in the capital, Chisinau, early in the day.
RFE/RL correspondent Sergiu Praporscic reports a similar trend in the southern Moldovan town of Cahul: "According to the information given to me by the district election commission of Cahul, fewer than 10 percent of eligible voters had participated during the first two hours of voting."
Communists in Power
In Moldova, the parliament chooses the country's president. Analysts have predicted that President Vladimir Voronin, leader of Moldova's Communist Party, will retain his office if, as expected, the Communist Party does well in today's elections.
The communists currently hold 71 of the 101 parliamentary seats. And the communists were far ahead in opinion polls conducted shortly before today's vote. Those polls suggest the communists now have support from nearly two-thirds of eligible voters. About 2.3 million people are registered to vote.
President Voronin came to power four years ago under promises to boost Moldova's ties with Moscow. But now, Voronin says the Kremlin poses a threat to Moldova because of its support for Russian-speaking separatists in the Transdniester region.
Trouble in Transdniester
Russia says Moldova is impeding a settlement to the conflict in Transdniester, which broke away from Moldova in 1990 and fought a brief war against Moldovan authorities after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Russia has been watching with alarm recently as Voronin forges greater ties with the leaders of Ukraine and Georgia. Both of those countries have resolved to strengthen their own ties with western Europe since reformists came to power through recent elections.
Moscow has denounced Moldova's recent expulsion of 20 Russians who said they wanted to be election observers. Voronin suggested they had been sent to Moldova as "spies."
Russian media reports that another 100 Russians trying to observe today's ballot have been denied entry into Moldova since 4 March.
Still, Voronin denies he is at odds with Russia. He says his only dispute with the Kremlin is over Moscow's refusal to remove about 1,200 Russian troops from Transdniester.
Voronin last week said he was absolutely sure that his traditional support base would continue to support the Communist Party -- which recently increased state workers' wages and pensions.
Although Moldova's economy has been growing, many independent analysts link that growth to money being sent into the country by about a half a million Moldovans working abroad.
Political opposition parties in Moldova say the communists lack democratic credentials. They are accusing the Communist Party of planning to rig the poll.
One opposition group is the centrist Democratic Moldova bloc. It seeks good relations with Moscow and the West. Another opposition group is the pro-Romania right-of-center Christian Democrats.
Moldova's political opposition is campaigning under yellow and orange colors -- the symbols of reformist forces in neighboring Romania and Ukraine, respectively.
The United States and the European Union have expressed concern about media restrictions during the election campaign. They, along with neighboring Romania, have called for a free and fair vote.
(RFE/RL's Romania/Moldova Service, Reuters)