Moldovans electing a new parliament this week face a choice between the ruling Communists, and their calls to keep close links with Russia, and liberal opponents who want to move closer to the West.
Outgoing Communist President Vladimir Voronin, who wants to remain close to the levers of power after stepping down, has warned Moldovans that a vote against his party on Wednesday will place the ex-Soviet state in danger of extinction.
Voronin dissolved parliament last month and called the election after opposition parties twice thwarted his plan to have parliament elect his handpicked successor as new president.
Wedged between Ukraine and Romania, a European Union member with which it shares ethnic and linguistic links, Moldova depends economically on former imperial master Russia. Moscow also keeps troops in Moldova's separatist Transdniestria region.
During a campaign punctuated by mudslinging, Voronin accused liberal opposition parties, broadly pro-Romanian in outlook, of hoping to see Moldova absorbed by its western neighbor.
Most of today's Moldova was once part of Romania and about 800,000 Moldovans, responding to an offer from Bucharest, have either secured or applied for Romanian citizenship.
Voronin, popular among elderly and rural voters, also accused Bucharest of fomenting the violent protests that erupted after the Communists came first in the last election in April.
Crowds of mostly young people ransacked Voronin's office and parliament. Opposition parties distanced themselves from the violence, but said the vote was rigged.
Hinting at Romania's role in April, Voronin said in an address published in newspapers: "The liberals and their true masters needed ... a nation exhausted by chaos and fear, ready to surrender its statehood and democracy."
"Defend your Motherland!" read Communist billboards scattered across the capital Chisinau.
Voronin, 68, initially linked himself with Russia, then turned to Romania for a time, but is friendlier again with the Kremlin. He cannot run for a third term but has stayed in the picture by securing election as parliament speaker.
Russia backs Voronin and promised a $500 million loan to help Moldova, Europe's poorest country, weather the financial crisis.
Source: The Washington Post