Ex-Soviet republic Moldova leans east again as pro-Russia presidential candidate declares victory

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 November, 2016, 3:05pm
UPDATED : Monday, 14 November, 2016, 9:25pm

A pro-Russia candidate has declared victory in Moldova’s presidential election, opening up a commanding lead in the former Soviet republic with nearly all the votes tallied.

Igor Dodon, who has promised to restore closer ties with Moscow and made comments in Russian immediately after the polls closed Sunday , had just over 54 per cent of the votes, with more than 98 per cent of the ballots tallied. His rival Maia Sandu, an ex-World Bank official who ran on an anti-corruption platform, had nearly 46 per cent.

“Everyone understands that I have won,” he said later in Romanian just after midnight. He thanked Sandu for waging a “tough but good fight” and said he would be a president for all Moldovans.

Dodon tapped into popular anger over corruption under the pro-European government that came to power in 2009, particularly over the approximately US$1 billion that went missing from Moldovan banks before the 2014 parliamentary elections.

As results came in, Dodon urged Moldovans to be calm.

“We don’t need destabilisation and we don’t need confrontation, which somebody is trying to do,” he said, speaking in Russian after polls closed. “We’re all living in one country, in Moldova. The next president should find this balance.”

Dodon has pledged to restore trade and political relations with Moscow which cooled after Moldova signed a trade association agreement with the European Union. Russia punished Moldova by placing an embargo on imports of Moldovan fruit, wine and vegetables. He was able to appeal to many older Moldovans who are nostalgic for the former Soviet Union.

Sandu, a former education minister who heads the Action and Solidarity Party, said the former Soviet Republic would have a more prosperous future in the EU.

Dodon, who nearly won the first round of voting outright two weeks ago, has pledged to seek good relations with Moldova’s neighbours, Romania and Ukraine. But he has been criticised in Ukraine for saying Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014, is Russian territory.

Many Moldovans believe they need the Russian market for their agricultural exports. About half of the 800,000 Moldovans working abroad live in Russia and send remittances home.

Moldova also depends on Russian gas, although not as much as before. There are plans to extend a pipeline to transport Romanian gas to Chisinau.

Alison Mutler in Bucharest, Romania, contributed to this report.