Moldova chooses new president, with banking scandal still festeringOctober 31, 2016
Moldovans voted on Sunday in a presidential race that may propel a pro-Russian Socialist candidate to power, after a billion-dollar corruption scandal undermined trust in politicians who want closer ties with the West.
The ex-Soviet republic of 3.5 million, squeezed between Ukraine and European Union member Romania, plunged into turmoil in 2015 after the disclosure that $1 billion had disappeared from the banking system. Street protests erupted and the International Monetary Fund and the European Union froze aid to Moldova.
Former prime minister Vlad Filat – one of five prime ministers in three years – was implicated, handcuffed live on TV in parliament and later jailed. But many Moldovans believe other members of the pro-EU elite were complicit in the scam.
“More than ever Moldova needs a president who represents all and doesn’t divide citizens of the country into supporters and opponents of integration in the European Union,” said Alexandra Sveichina, a 64-year-old pensioner. “The new president should reject geopolitics completely and focus on improving the lives of simple people.”
Exit polls will not be conducted, but the electoral commission will announce an early estimate of the result after midnight (2200 GMT) and preliminary results will be released on Monday.
Socialist Igor Dodon, who wants to reverse Moldova’s course towards European integration, leads opinion polls but may have to contest a run-off on Nov 13.
His closest challenger is pro-European candidate Maia Sandu, a former World Bank economist and education minister, who has warned against allowing the country, which relies heavily on energy supplies from Russia, to fall back into Moscow’s orbit.
If he wins, Dodon wants to call a referendum to extricate Moldova from a political and trade agreement signed with the EU in 2014 and join a Eurasian Customs Union dominated by Moscow, turning back the clock on years of closer ties with the West.
That would play into the hands of Russia in its tussle for influence over eastern European states, including Moldova, Georgia, Bulgaria and Ukraine.
The final days of the campaign have bordered on farce. Sandu and Dodon each accused the other of being in the pocket of Vlad Plahotniuc, the country’s most powerful businessman, who critics say wields an outsize influence on Moldovan politics.
The ruling Democratic party’s candidate, Marian Lupu, bowed out of the race on Wednesday, saying he wanted to improve the chances of keeping Moldova on a pro-European path. But Sandu said the move was a ploy to boost Dodon’s chances.