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Pro-West parties take setback in early Moldova election results

By Brian Walker, CNN
A voter casts her ballot in Moldova's capital, Chisinau, on Sunday.
A voter casts her ballot in Moldova's capital, Chisinau, on Sunday.
  • NEW: The election pits a loose coalition of liberal-leaning parties against Communist party
  • NEW: Early returns show the Communists with 41 percent of the vote
  • NEW: Alliance has almost 50 percent of the vote with nearly half of the ballots counted
  • The former Soviet republic is holding its third election in two years

(CNN) -- The polls are closed, and the votes are being tallied in the former Soviet state of Moldova after it held its third parliamentary election in two years on Sunday.

The election pits the ruling Alliance for European Integration, a loose coalition of liberal-leaning parties, against a Communist party that held a firm grip on power for most of the past decade.

With nearly half the votes counted, the Communists have secured 41.2 percent of the vote, according to the state news agency MOLDPRES, which cited the Central Election Commission's latest tally.

It's an early and somewhat surprising setback for the Eastern European nation's Western-leaning political factions, which had hoped to break a stalemate that has left one of Europe's least economically developed nations without a president since the middle of last year.

Among the three leading parties in the so-called Alliance, the Liberal Democratic Party had secured 27.9 percent of the vote, the Democratic Party 13.3 percent, and the Liberal Party had 8.5 percent -- giving the Alliance some 50 percent of the vote with nearly half the ballots counted, MOLDPRES reported.

The former Soviet republic earned independence from Russia in 1991, but it has remained deeply divided, with the Alliance pushing for European Union membership and the Communists hoping to build stronger ties to Moscow.

The Central Election Commission reported that more than 1.6 million registered voters had cast their ballots, with turnout standing at 59.15 percent nationwide. That figure easily surpassed a key threshold requiring at least a third of eligible voters to submit ballots for the election to be considered valid.

A national referendum in September to switch from parliamentary voting to a direct presidential election failed to draw enough votes to count after opponents urged a boycott.

The constitution calls for the president to be chosen by at least 60 percent of the representatives in the 101-seat parliament.

"It would be good if today all of us united and brought the country out of the crisis," Moldova's acting President Mihai Ghimpu said Sunday, according to Russia's Interfax news agency. "I am very hopeful that as a result of the elections, Moldova will get four years of a democratic rule. This will allow us to get closer to the European Union, raise people's welfare, ensure a worthy life for them with pensions, wages, jobs."

The current pro-Western alliance won the last election in July 2009 following an earlier poll won by the Communists that spring that sparked widespread street violence.

The Romanian-speaking nation has a largely rural population, with nearly a third living under the poverty line.