, CHISINAU, Nov 30 – Moldova, which holds parliamentary elections on Sunday, is a former Soviet satellite that has struggled to break free from persistent political crisis.
Herewith a selection of key facts about the small, landlocked country of 3.6 million people wedged between Ukraine and EU member Romania.
ONE OF EUROPE’S POOREST COUNTRIES: According to the World Bank, the 2013 Gross National Income per capita in Moldova was just $2,460, making Moldova one of the poorest countries in Europe.
The International Monetary Fund has forecast economic growth of 2.2 percent to a nominal $7.6 billion this year and 3.5 percent to $8.1 billion in 2015, while inflation is tipped to come in at 5.7 percent and 6.0 percent.
Average life expectancy is 69 years according to the World Bank.
With a surface area of 33,700 square kilometres (13,500 square miles), Moldova is quite small, just behind Taiwan in global rankings and slightly larger than the US state of Maryland.
Around one million Moldovans live abroad according to the CIA World Factbook, and remit about $1.6 billion annually to help relatives.
Moldova has earned notoriety as a hub for human trafficking. According to the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), most victims are women and girls employed in the sex trade.
HISTORY: The Ottoman principality of Moldova was divided in 1812 when its eastern half known as Bessarabia — the basis of the modern-day Moldova — was ceded to the Russian Empire under a peace treaty.
This land was ruled by Moscow until 1918 when it was unified with Romania. It was then annexed into the Soviet Union by Josef Stalin in World War II.
Romania’s main northeastern region is called Moldovia, reflecting the historic bond between the two countries.
Around 78 percent of the population is ethnic Romanian, while Ukrainians and Russians account for a little more than 14 percent.
Moldova and Romania share a common Romanace language very different from the Slavic tongues of Eastern Europe. The predominant religion by far is Eastern Orthodox.
In recent times, Moldova was without a full-time president for almost three years until an unknown judge, Nicolae Timofti, was chosen by parliament in a close vote in March 2012.
In June, Moldova signed an “historic” association accord with the European Union, turning towards a future in Europe in the face of bitter Russian opposition.
‘TWITTER REVOLUTION’: After April 2009 elections won by the Communists, young people responded en masse in the capital Chisinau to calls for protests on Twitter to denounce what they saw as a rigged vote.
Two people were killed and several wounded in ensuing riots.
Supporters hailed the protests as the “Twitter Revolution”.
TRANSDNIESTR: The Russian-speaking region of Transdniestr broke away from the rest of Romanian-speaking Moldova during a short war in 1991-92 that cost around 800 lives, but it is not internationally recognised.
Chisinau maintains its claim to the territory, home to about 550,000 people, and the latest round of talks on the issue were launched in Brussels in October 2013.
Meanwhile, Russia has maintained troops in the region since July 1992, despite a 1999 commitment to remove them.