CHISINAU, Moldova — Moldovans were voting Sunday in elections where they are choosing between parties that want to move closer to Europe and those that want to move back into Russia's orbit.
The parliamentary election has taken on wider significance with the unrest in neighboring Ukraine. Moldova, like Ukraine, has a pro-Russia separatist region in its east.
The impoverished former Soviet republic of less than 4 million is torn between re-electing the current pro-European coalition and choosing parties that want closer economic ties with Moscow.
Russia placed an embargo on Moldovan fruit after the country signed a trade association agreement with the European Union in June.
At least 600,000 Moldovans work abroad, half in the EU and the rest in Russia. Remittances make up about one-fifth of the country's gross domestic product.
Prime Minister Iurie Leanca said he voted for a "European Moldova — for a Moldova with justice."
"Everything ... indicates that Moldova cannot exist without Europe," he said.
By midday, 21 percent of the total electorate had cast their ballots, authorities said. A final voter turnout of at least 33 percent is needed for the vote to be valid.
Four-fifths of Moldovans are of Romanian descent, but decades of Soviet rule have left a strong imprint. The Liberal Party has campaigned under the slogan "NO to the Russian boot, YES to the Romanian heart!" while pro-Russia parties will likely get votes from people angry with allegations of high-level corruption.
The Supreme Court on Saturday rejected an appeal for one pro-Russian party to run in Sunday's election on the grounds that it illegally received foreign funding. Two other pro-Russian parties remain in the race.
The leader of one of them, Communist Party head Vladimir Voronin, said he would vote for Moldova to get rid of corruption and "the Mafia" which he claims stops the country from developing.
Those supporting the ruling parties had other visions.
"We expect a better country after these elections. A beautiful future. A European future for our children, for our grandchildren and for all our country. So help us God! " said one voter, Petru Croitoru, 56.
Alison Mutler in Bucharest, Romania contributed to this report.