Residents of Moldova's breakaway Transdnestr region vote on Sunday to elect their leader for the next five years, with incumbent President Igor Smirnov seeking a fifth presidential term.
The other candidates in the presidential election, which kicked off at 7:00 a.m. local time (3:00 a.m. GMT), include parliament speaker Anatoly Kaminski, ex-parliament speaker Yevgeny Shevchuk, Transdnestr Communist Party leader Oleg Khorzhan and leader of the Proryv (Breakthrough) movement Dmitry Soin.
Smirnov has been heading the Transdnestr Republic since 1990. In September 2011, he announced plans to seek a fifth consecutive presidential term.
A month before the presidential election in Transdnestr, Russia accused the Transdnestr leader's son of large-scale embezzlement.
According to Russian investigators, Oleg Smirnov and his associate, banker Oleg Brizitskiy, embezzled $5.2 million between 2008-2009, which Russia allocated for humanitarian aid to Transdnestr retirees.
A criminal case against Smirnov and his associate was opened in late October, but neither of the men appeared for the inquiry.
Oleg Smirnov has Russian citizenship and several apartments in Moscow, as well as a cottage in the suburbs of the Russian capital. He also owns several companies, police say.
In a surprise decision on Sunday, the Transdnestr Central Election Commission allowed the holding of exit polls during the presidential elections.
Previously, the Transdnestr electoral authority did not permit the holding of exit polls during the election.
"The Central Election Commission has allowed the local information and analytical center Sotsium to organize exit polls," commission member Pyotr Denisenko told RIA Novosti.
Sotsium welcomed the decision as "weighted and democratic," saying exit polls "will increase the level of confidence of citizens, observers and the public in the authorities."
A total of 401,993 Transdnestr eligible voters may take part in the election, according to the Central Election Commission.
More than 180 journalists, including from other countries, will be covering the event. The presidential poll will be monitored by 27 international observers.
The election preliminary results will be announced on December 12.
The Russian-speaking province of Transdnestr has maintained de facto independence from Moldova since a brief war in 1992, which erupted from a buildup of tensions following the breakup of the Soviet Union. Joint peacekeeping force of Russian, Moldovan and Transdnestr contingent has been deployed in the area.
Transdnestr seeks full independence, while Moldova says it is only prepared to allow autonomy.