BRUSSELS -- One of the leading pro-Western candidates in this month's presidential election in Moldova has warned of "risks of massive fraud" in the vote, which has further divided the tiny post-Soviet state's already fractious political scene.
Speaking to RFE/RL on October 19 during a visit to Brussels for meetings with officials from the European Union, Action and Solidarity candidate and former Education Minister Maia Sandu said she was "here to warn the international partners of Moldova about the risks of massive fraud of the election and to ask them to help."
The presidential vote is Moldova's first by direct election since 1996, a change whose legitimacy is being challenged by the Communist Party and other opposition elements.
"We do want to have democratic elections. We do deserve to have democratic elections," Sandu told RFE/RL's Brussels correspondent. "Unfortunately we can't count on the Moldova state institutions these days because they are not free and independent, and that is why we count so much [on] support from EU institutions."
Moldova signed and began provisionally applying an Association Agreement with the European Union in 2014, opening up visa-free travel to the bloc but providing no guarantees that Chisinau would follow through with reforms or clean up its rampant corruption.
Sandu and others have suggested that inaccurate voter lists and pressure on state employees could mar the results of the looming vote.
Speaking to RFE/RL, she urged the international community to closely scrutinize the run-up to this month's elections and the balloting itself.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) was expected to field around 30 experts and long-term observers and some 200 short-term observers in Moldova for this month's vote.
Opinion polls have consistently shown Socialist Party candidate Igor Dodon with a double-digit lead over Sandu and the rest of the pack in the presidential race ahead of the October 30 election, but a two-candidate runoff is likely to follow on November 13.
A former Communist who has held senior government posts including as minister of trade and economics, Dodon has said his first foreign visit if he wins the presidency will be to the Russian capital. On October 18, Dodon pledged to "restore broad and friendly ties with Russia" and "initiate the development and signature of an agreement on strategic partnership with the Russian Federation," according to Interfax.
Polling has shown the country divided between favoring closer trade ties to traditional partner Russia and its Eurasian Union, on one hand, and the European Union on the other.
Moldova has struggled to get its political footing since flawed elections sparked mostly nonviolent street protests that helped push longtime Communist Party leader Vladimir Voronin from power in 2009.
But pro-Western governments in Chisinau have proved quarrelsome and were hurt by their failure to prevent a massive multibank fraud that was estimated to have cost Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries, more than $1 billion, or around one-eighth of its GDP.
Moldova's breakaway region of Transdniester, where many residents favor the Russian language and Moscow still maintains troops, has contributed to the country's economic and political malaise.