Moldovan voters went to the polls on April 5 to elect a new parliament, with the ruling Communist party expected to emerge the winner for a third consecutive term.
Reuters reported that exit polls showed President Vladimir Voronin's Communists set to win with 46 percent of the vote.
However, the election marks the end of the presidency of Vladimir Voronin, the dominant figure in Moldovan politics, who has served two terms.
After eight years of unchallenged command over Moldova's political scene, the ruling Communist Party (PCRM) appears far ahead in pre-election polls.
But the same polls indicate several opposition parties are also likely to cross the 6-percent threshold needed to claim a spot in the 101-seat parliament.
A total of 2.6 million Moldovan voters are registered to make a single choice on a ballot listing 11 political parties and an additional six individual candidates.
In an interview with RFE/RL's Moldovan Service, parliament speaker Marian Lupu, who is in second place on the PCRM list after President Vladimir Voronin, said his party was prepared to engage in coalition talks with opposition parties after the elections.
"Let's imagine that PCRM again wins an absolute majority. Even in that condition, a dialogue between the remaining parties is needed, because life does not stop here with us," Lupu said.
"We have to think in strategic terms -- of long- and medium-term strategies. And in the end, it is not the party's interests that should prevail, but rather the nation's interests."
Europe's Poorest Country
During the three-month election campaign leading up to the vote, the Communists sought to position the PCRM as the best hope for returning stability and economic growth to Moldova.
Moldova remains Europe's poorest country, with an average monthly salary of about $240 at the end of 2008.
More than one-quarter of Moldova's working-age population is believed to be living outside the country, working in Romania, Russia, and the countries of Western Europe.
The World Bank estimates that remittances from abroad account for one-third of the national GDP.
The global economic crisis has not been a major campaign issue in the parliamentary race. Opposition parties, however, have promised to pursue market-oriented change and closer ties with the West, including NATO.
Chisinau's 30-year-old mayor, Dorin Chirtoaca, who is also the deputy leader of the opposition Liberal Party, told RFE/RL's Moldovan Service that his party has two main objectives -- the reduction of poverty and Moldova's integration into the EU.
"For this we have to fulfill five criteria: respect for the law, economic development, social protection, the energy independence of Moldova, and the implementation of European norms within the perspective of EU membership," Chirtoaca said.
Wedged between Ukraine and Romania, Moldova, a former Soviet republic, is embroiled in a frozen conflict with the separatist, Russian-speaking Transdniester region, which broke away from Chisinau following a short civil war in 1992.
Voters in Transdniester are expected to largely ignore today's vote, as they have past elections.
Voronin has tried in the past four years to steer Moldova toward closer ties with the European Union, which include membership in the bloc's "neighborhood policy" as well as its new Eastern Partnership initiative.
It has been a balancing act for Voronin, who has been careful to cultivate ties with the West without antagonizing Russia. He has frequently praised Moscow for its assistance on the Transdniester issue.
Voronin has been less enthusiastic about ties with Romania, an EU member state with which Moldova shares cultural and linguistic links.
But both the Liberal Democratic Party and the Liberal Party, which are projected to win a number of seats in the new parliament, favor closer ties with Romania.
The opposition has also accused President Voronin, whose two terms as president end with this election, of resorting to dictatorial methods of "usurping power."
Once the new parliament is formed, it will elect a new president. Voronin, who is barred from seeking a third presidential mandate, has nonetheless made it clear he wants to remain at the center of the country's political life. Some observers have speculated Voronin might serve as parliament speaker in the event of a Communist win.
More than 3,100 local and international observers are due to watch the vote.
According to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), previous elections in Moldova generally complied with most international standards, but fell short of some that are central to a genuinely competitive election process.