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All eyes turn to a very small country

Moldova's election has been cast as a battle between East and West.

CHISINAU, Moldova — Moldovans went to the polls July 29 in a snap parliamentary election that is being billed by some as battle between East and West, but for many is crucial simply because it may deliver the country from a protracted political deadlock

The ex-Soviet nation of 4 million — Europe’s poorest country by some measures — was unexpectedly thrust into the headlines four months ago when protesters ransacked the legislature and presidential palace after a previous round of voting, which they said was rigged.

That vote produced only further political stalemate in this country where parliament elects the president, instead of a direct vote by the population. When deputies from the ruling Communist party were unable to secure just one extra vote so that their chosen candidate could prevail, the legislature was dissolved and a new round of voting was called.

This second election campaign quickly descended into an epic mud-slinging contest, with either side of the political spectrum painting its opponents in the most apocalyptic terms.

The country was advertised as yet another battleground for influence between Moscow and the West. The Communists, led by two-term President Vladimir Voronin, ran on a slogan of “To Defend the Motherland!” — a reference to a World War II-era battle cry, and an insinuation that their opponents would destroy Moldova through poor policies or unification with neighboring Romania.

The center and center-right coalition, a diverse group united primarily by their anti-communism and Western-leaning stance, pointed to a crackdown that followed the April riots and said the Communists wanted to draw the country closer to Moscow and construct an authoritarian state along Russian lines — or worse.

“The Communists want to resurrect the old traditions — they have a Stalinist view of history and culture,” said Alexandru Tanase, vice-chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party. “We believe that Moldovans are voting … for civilization and Europe — or else a return to Soviet times awaits them.”