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article imageMoldova faces 'east-west' presidential run-off as pro-Russian candidate leads

By Anatol Golea with Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber in Moscow (AFP)     Oct 31, 2016 in Politics

Moldova's presidential election is set to go to a second round, preliminary results showed Monday, after the leading pro-Russian candidate failed to secure an outright win in the ex-Soviet state.

Moldova went to the polls Sunday in its first popular presidential election since the 1990s, seen as a tug-of-war between supporters of closer relations with Russia and those seeking EU integration.

With nearly 100 percent of the ballots counted on Monday, pro-Moscow candidate Igor Dodon was well ahead on 48.23 percent, but fell short of the 50 percent needed to avoid a run-off.

His main rival, the pro-European Maya Sandu, was on 38.42 percent. The other seven candidates trailed far behind, each garnering no more than six percent of the vote that saw just over 49 percent of voters cast their ballots.

The second round between Dodon and Sandu is expected to take place on November 13. The official first-round results are not expected until Wednesday.

"The main conclusion is that voters no longer believe in this government," Dodon told a press conference after polls closed.

"Our victory is inevitable," said the 41-year-old, who has vowed to restore cooperation with Moscow.

L.Saubadu / J.Jacobsen, jj/, AFP

Moldova, a country of 3.5 million wedged between Ukraine and Romania, is the poorest in Europe and has struggled with a string of high-profile corruption scandals that have overshadowed the vote.

The presidential candidates presented diametrically opposed visions for Moldova's future: calling for deeper ties and boosting trade with Moscow, or committing to a path toward Europe.

Voters leaned in opposite directions as well.

"We can't be without Russia, that's our export market," said Igor Lopukhov, 66, a Russian-speaking pensioner who voted for Dodon, adding that could the regional giant could help provide cheap gas.

- Widespread poverty -

Forty-one percent of Moldova's population live on less than $5 (4.6 euros) a day while the monthly average salary is $240, according to World Bank figures.

Many Moldovans make ends meet only through remittances sent by relatives working abroad, which make up nearly a quarter of gross domestic product (GDP).

Moldova went to the polls in its first popular presidential election since the 1990s
Moldova went to the polls in its first popular presidential election since the 1990s
Daniel Mihailescu, AFP

"My daughter sends me money (for food) from Italy," said 70-year-old Zinovia Ilonel, who also voted for Dodon. "She's never coming home."

Moldova last elected a president by popular vote in 1996, after which members of parliament chose the head of state due to a constitutional amendment from 2000.

A constitutional court decision earlier this year re-established the popular vote.

The central election commission in Moldova said voting was monitored by more than 3,200 Moldovan observers and 562 more from abroad.

Moldova has been rocked by protests and political turmoil since the mysterious disappearance of $1 billion from three banks last year, which undermined people's support for the ruling pro-Western coalition.

A total of nine candidates took part in the ballot after ruling party candidate Marian Lupu withdrew from the race last week and endorsed Sandu.

- 'Moldova is bankrupt' -

Despite the geopolitical divisions, Sandu, who launched a new party this year called Action and Solidarity, tried to focus her campaign on fighting corruption.

"We should not be afraid, we must prove to the thieves and corrupt (officials) that there are more of us," she said Sunday. "Together we must bring order to Moldova."

EU officials have admitted that Europe has lost much of its appeal in the scandal-weary ex-Soviet republic as no successful reforms have been seen through, while east-west rhetoric is often used to gloss over deeper issues.

Some in Moldova seem to have lost faith in their nation entirely.

"We have to admit that the project called Republic of Moldova is bankrupt," said Vasile Prodan, an activist supporting candidate Mihai Ghimpu of the Liberal Party, who calls for a union with neighbouring Romania.

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