Communist Party ad on TV
Moldovans vote on Sunday in a parliamentary election which the ruling Communists look set to win, though with less than the landslide that swept them to power in 2001. This time they reportedly face stiffer competition from pro-Russia and pro-Romania parties.
Q: What does parliament do?
One of parliament's jobs is to elect the country's president, who must have the backing of 61 deputies. The Communist Party had 71 out of 101 seats in the outgoing parliament.
MPs also appoint the government and can amend the constitution.
Q: How did the last government fare?
Communist rule did not reverse Moldova's market reforms, nor its policy of European integration.
Voted in by a disillusioned electorate, the party is seen to have benefited from unpopular reforms carried out by its right-wing predecessors.
Economists say the Communists managed to convert these policies into economic growth and a strong currency.
Q: What of the separatist problem?
The conflict with the Dniester region, which broke away from Moldova after a brief war in 1992, has worsened. Talks on a future federation have stalled.
The region is home mainly to Russians and Ukrainians, who fear reunification with Romania and count on Russia's support.
Moldova's Communists want a complete withdrawal of Russian troops and the deployment of European peacekeepers. The Dniester region fiercely opposes this.
Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin calls the Dniester leadership a "criminal gang". The Dniester media label Mr Voronin a "hardcore nationalist", keen to take over the region's assets.
Q: How does the system work?
The 101-seat parliament is elected for four years by proportional representation.
Western-funded poll 29 Jan-8 Feb
Democratic Moldova Bloc:21%
Christian Democratic Popular Party:12%
Social Democratic Party:4%
(Moldovan Institute of Public Policies)
Parties, alliances and independent candidates can stand.
Parties must poll at least 6% of the vote, blocs of two parties - 9%, and blocs of three or more parties - 12%. The threshold for independent candidates is 3%.
Parties can gain extra seats from a redistribution of votes polled by candidates failing to cross the threshold.
Elections are valid if turnout is over 50%.
Q: How many can vote?
About 1.7m are eligible. Some 367,000 Moldovans living abroad can vote at embassies.
The Dniester region is not taking part, but residents can vote in villages on the border.
Russia is accused of backing the Democratic Moldova Bloc
Q: Who is favourite?
The Communist Party seems set to win the most votes. Its candidates include the party leader, President Vladimir Voronin, and Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev.
But observers doubt the Communists will get the 61 seats required to name a president without backing from others.
Q: Who else is standing?
The centrist Democratic Moldova Bloc (BMD). Led by former Prime Minister Dumitru Braghis and Chisinau mayor Serafim Urechean. Pro-Russian.
The rightist Christian Democratic Popular Party (PPCD). Led by Iurie Rosca. Pro-Romanian, nationalist, anti-Communist. Said to be planning Ukraine-style demos.
The Social Democratic Party of Moldova is the oldest party, set up in 1991. It has never polled more than 3%. But under its new leader, businessman Ion Musuc, it hopes to enter parliament for the first time.
Altogether the Central Electoral Commission has registered two alliances, nine parties and 12 independent candidates.
Party manifestos are often broadly similar, pledging EU membership, more jobs, better pay and pensions.
This time opposition candidates are expected to do better, with more clearing the threshold.
Q: How was the campaign?
The opposition says the poll won't be fair because the election machinery and media are "monopolised" by the Communists.
Russian-funded poll 10-15 Feb
Democratic Moldova Bloc:25-26%
Christian Democratic Popular Party:10-11%
Social Democratic Party:8-9%
(International Institute of Humanitarian and Political Studies)
To counter such claims, the Communists announced they did not want media coverage. The election authorities even banned TV channels from showing state officials on the campaign trail in their bulletins.
Nevertheless, the Communists received generous exposure on the private NIT channel.
Televised debates often had the bigger parties facing fringe candidates. Newspapers followed events in tune with their party affiliation.
Q: What is Russia's view?
The Communists have accused Russia of interfering by supporting the Democratic Moldova Bloc.
Two groups of unregistered Russian observers with large sums of cash were deported from Moldova on charges of spying on Communist candidates.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov protested and the Russian parliament called for trade sanctions.
Prime Minister Tarlev has accused Russia of using "criminal forces" in the Dniester region to intimidate voters.
Q: What is the West's view?
Some 10 days before polling day US President George Bush said: "Moldova has the opportunity to place its democratic credentials beyond doubt as its people head to the polls."
EU external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner has warned of an "abuse of administrative resources", as well as of media bias.
Q: Will there be monitors?
By late February, 109 observers were registered from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the Council of Europe.
Exit polls will be conducted in 200 polling stations with the financial support of the Soros-Moldova Foundation.
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