updated 4/5/2009 4:33:03 PM ET 2009-04-05T20:33:03

The ruling Communist Party easily won parliamentary elections in Moldova on Sunday, an exit poll showed.

The Communists won some 45 percent of the vote, according to the Institute for Public Politics. The party says it favors close links with both Europe and Russia.

Three pro-European parties managed to get enough votes to make them eligible for the 101-seat legislature. They scored 37 percent together.

The poll which has been reliable in the past had a margin of error of one percentage point. First results are expected early Monday, with final results on Wednesday.

The Communists came to power in 2001, and were re-elected in 2005. Living standards rose in that time but international groups have criticized Moldova's slow progress toward full democracy, and a lack of media freedom.

One of Europe's poorest nations
Moldova remains one of Europe's poorest nations with an average monthly salary of $350. Last year Moldovans abroad sent home $1.6 billion — roughly the same amount as the state budget.

President Vladimir Voronin will step down after his term expires on April 7, having served the legal maximum of two terms in power.

Two hours before the polls closed, about 52 percent of the electorate had cast their ballot, making the election valid.

The election was monitored by some 3,000 observers.

Some 300 people jammed a polling station in a pro-Russian separatist region, stopping voters in the town of Corjova from casting ballots. Election observers were investigating the incident, and the town's residents voted in a nearby village, election official Iurie Ciocan said.

Has strong ties with Russia
But Moldovans living in other areas controlled by separatists were prevented from traveling to polling stations, election official Renata Lapti said. No ballots were being held in the separatist region of Trans-Dniester, where Russia has 500 troops stationed.

Located between Ukraine and Romania, Moldova was part of Romania in 1940, but has maintained strong ties with Russia since the Soviet era.

Two-thirds of the country's 4.3 million population is ethnic Romanian, thousands hold Romanian passports and about 600,000 Moldovans work elsewhere in Europe, mainly in Russia, Italy, Spain, and Ireland.

The new Parliament will also have to choose a replacement for Voronin.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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