BUCHAREST, Romania -- Romanians braved snow and heavy rain on Sunday to vote in a parliamentary election that the centre-left government is expected to win. But the outcome could worsen a longstanding dispute between this nation's top two officials.

President Traian Basescu must nominate the prime minister, and he has indicated he may not appoint current Premier Victor Ponta, even if his coalition wins a majority in this impoverished Balkan nation. The two have been embroiled in a bitter personal feud since Ponta tried and failed to impeach the centre-right Basescu in July.

If Basescu refuses to appoint Ponta, it would cause a political standoff. Basescu could nominate someone else, but his choice would have to be approved by Parliament. If his candidate fails in two rounds of voting, Parliament could be dissolved.

Heavy rain was falling in Bucharest on Sunday as voting began, and snow in other areas prevented some 250 polling stations from opening on time, officials said. Authorities were asking the army and the defence ministry to help clear roads closed by blizzards, and three hours after voting began authorities said the turnout nationwide was just 4.52 per cent.

Valentina Lupan, an architect voting in Bucharest, said she was determined to cast a ballot, despite the bad weather.

"People will go and vote even if there's snow and rain because they've had enough," she said. "We've had enough of being insulted and humiliated. We want a normal life."

The polls opened at 7 a.m. (0500 GMT) and will close at 9 p.m. (1900 GMT). Exit polls are expected after the polls close, with first results expected Monday.

As he voted, Basescu again accused the government of this former communist country of failing to devote itself to democratic reforms. He said Romania must continue its "path toward the West" and show the world it is "headed toward Brussels, not Moscow, and Washington, not Beijing."

For his part, Ponta said he remains committed to leading Romania to a better future.

Many Romanians are fed up with the power struggle between Basescu and Ponta, especially as the country remains one of the poorest and most corrupt members of the European Union. Romania is enduring deep austerity cuts in return for a C20-million ($26-million) bailout to help its foundering economy.

More than 18 million Romanians are eligible to vote in Sunday's ballot to elect 452 representatives of a two-chamber Parliament for the next four years. Parties need at least 5 per cent of the vote to secure a seat in the two-chamber legislature.

Polls put Ponta's Union of Socialist Liberals at about 57 per cent, with Basescu allies, the centre-right Just Romania Alliance, second with about 20 per cent. The populist party of media tycoon Dan Diaconescu has profited from the rancour, coming in third with about 15 per cent.

Besides the failed bid to impeach Basescu, the country has seen three prime ministers and Cabinets this year and huge anti-austerity protests. The EU and the United States criticized the government for failing to respect the rule of law and of ignoring constitutional rules during the impeachment attempt.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe was monitoring Sunday's vote.