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Moldovans Protest Election Of Pro-Russia President

  • RFE/RL's Moldovan Service

CHISINAU -- Hundreds of people took to the streets of Moldova's capital on November 14 after a pro-Russia politician was declared the winner of the country's presidential runoff election.

With 99.9 percent of the votes counted, Igor Dodon won 52.3 percent of the vote in the November 13 poll. Maia Sandu, who ran on an anticorruption ticket, took 47.7 percent.

Dodon vowed to be a president to all Moldovans and said he would seek good relations with the country's neighbors, Romania and Ukraine.

He also said he wanted to restore ties with Russia, which placed a trade embargo on Moldovan wine, fruit, and vegetables in 2014 -- arguing that the products failed to meet health and safety standards -- after Moldova signed an Association Agreement with the European Union.

Dodon's election to the largely ceremonial position -- executive power will ultimately be in the hands of the prime minister and legislature -- took place the same day a pro-Russia candidate won the same post in Bulgaria, prompting questions whether Eastern Europe may be tilting back toward Moscow amid a growing wave of euroskepticism.

Later on November 14, hundreds of mostly young Moldovans marched to the offices of the Central Election Committee in Chisinau, shouting: "Down with the mafia!" With police looking on, the protesters, many waving Moldovan flags, were peaceful.

Speaking to RFE/RL on the sidelines of an EU meeting in Brussels, Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto expressed hope that Moldova would "continue the path regarding European integration."

"The success of the Eastern Partnership program depends greatly on how we can continue cooperation," Szijjarto said.

Analysts say that the 41-year-old Dodon, who described himself as a traditional Moldovan with conservative values, tapped into popular anger over the approximately $1 billion that vanished from Moldovan banks before the 2014 parliamentary elections. The fraud, which took place under the watch of a pro-EU government, is seen as harming the reputations of pro-Western politicians.

Dodon says he wants to scrap a law adopted by parliament that obligates taxpayers to reimburse the $1 billion lost in the fraud, although experts doubt he will be able to keep the pledge.

Moldova's President-elect Igor Dodon speaks to the media on November 14.

Moldova's President-elect Igor Dodon speaks to the media on November 14.

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

Sandu needed a high turnout to hope to win, and the final turnout of 53.3 percent was less than she had hoped.

Moldovans voting in Britain, Ireland, France, and Italy lined up for hours and ballot papers ran out. Sandu said the elections had been badly organized and demanded that electoral officials resign.

"Hundreds of people were not able to vote," she said. "Hundreds of citizens that traveled a long journey, that waited in the cold and rain, were not able to vote. Moldovan authorities didn't respect the constitutional right of Moldovan citizens...to be able to vote."

Sandu also complained about the high number of people who voted in breakaway Transdniester, a pro-Russia region where a reported 9,000 people cast ballots.

People residing in Transdniester, which has proclaimed itself an independent country, usually boycott Moldovan elections.

Maia Sandu casts her vote at a polling station in Chisinau on November 13.

Maia Sandu casts her vote at a polling station in Chisinau on November 13.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which deployed monitors for the election, said balloting was held in a "competitive" atmosphere, with "fundamental freedoms" respected. The OSCE noted, however, that "increasing polarized media coverage" leading up to the vote had "detracted from the process."

"The more intense campaign in the lead-up to the second round succeeded in mobilizing a greater number of voters and offered an opportunity for citizens to express their choice," said Arta Dade, the special coordinator and leader of the short-term OSCE observer mission. "This underlines a desire for continued civic mobilization, and I encourage the newly elected president to support the reforms needed to restore public confidence in state institutions."

Dodon told Russian broadcaster Rossiya 24 in a phone interview on November 14 that voters "united and voted for friendship with Russia, for neutrality, for our Orthodoxy, for the country's union."

"Very serious combat is ahead, but we are ready for this combat," he said, referring to parliamentary elections that he wants to bring forward to next year rather than wait until 2018.

On November 13, Prime Minister Pavel Filip said the government and new president would need to work together in the country's best interests, adding that its path toward greater EU integration "cannot be reversed."

Russia imposed trade restrictions on Moldovan agricultural exports after it signed the political and trade agreement with the European bloc in 2014.

Moscow fears Moldova moving closer to the European Union, a reaction that has drawn comparisons to its opposition to Ukraine's efforts to tighten ties with the bloc in 2013.

Russia also has thousands of troops stationed as part of a disputed military presence in the mainly Russian-speaking territory of Transdniester, which broke away from Moldova following a short war that killed several hundred people.

Russia still keeps a contingent of troops in the breakaway region, ostensibly as peacekeepers.

Sandu has called for Russia to withdraw the troops.

Dodon's Socialist Party wants to scrap the EU agreement in favor of joining a Eurasian economic union dominated by Russia -- a position that has backing in Moldova where many have suffered financially from the goods embargo and a broader economic downturn.

In October, an ambassador from one EU member state, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that Dodon had privately told diplomats his party would not discard the EU accord.

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