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Crucial Moldovan Parliamentary Vote Marred By Fraud Allegations


Voters From Moldova's Separatist-Held Area Line Up For Parliamentary Vote
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CHISINAU -- Moldova has held parliamentary elections that could determine whether the impoverished Eastern European country moves closer to Moscow or the European Union.

The Central Election Commission (CEC) said the February 24 polls were held without major incidents, but both pro-Russian and pro-EU forces in the country have accused the ruling party of massive fraud.

Speaking after polls closed, a leader of the pro-EU opposition ACUM coalition, Maia Sandu, said the elections were "neither free, nor fair, nor democratic."

"These were the least democratic elections in the history of Moldova," she added.

Opinion polls have suggested the Socialist Party -- led by Igor Dodon until he became Moldova's president -- would secure the most votes. But the pro-Russia Socialists did not appear to have enough support to win an outright majority in parliament.

Challenging the Socialists were the ACUM coalition and the Democratic Party, the main party in the ruling coalition which has called for balancing ties between Russia and the West.

With no party likely to gain the majority needed to form a government, observers fear a period of instability after the vote.

Dodon on February 24 predicted another election in the coming months, saying there was a "a major risk of early elections."

According to the Central Election Commission (CEC), just over 49 percent of eligible voters had cast their ballots.

The first results are expected on the morning of February 25.

Voters formed long lines outside polling stations in the villages of Dorotcaia and Coshnita, which are located at the de facto border of Moldova’s Russian-speaking breakaway region of Transdniester.

Some of them told RFE/RL that they were brought in on special buses from Transdniester, which is not holding elections, and that they were promised between 50 and 150 lei ($3 and $9) after voting.

Other voters said that they were urged to vote by members or flyers of the Socialist Party.

Both the Socialists and Democrats accused each other of vote buying, and election authorities said they would look into the matter.

Democratic Party deputy chairman Vladimir Chebotar acknowledged "violations," but said they would "not affect the voting process," while Prime Minister Pavel Filip and parliament speaker Andrian Candu praised the "transparent, free, and democratic election process."

CEC head Alina Russu said 18 complaints of alleged violations had been filed but that the elections had been held without any major incidents.

Observers led by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) are to release their assessment on February 25.

The elections come after a campaign marked by accusations that two ACUM members were poisoned and the removal by Facebook of fake accounts suspected of targeting Moldovans ahead of the ballot with false or misleading information.

Moscow announced just two days before the vote that it was opening an investigation into a suspected money-laundering scheme that allegedly involved a leader of the ruling Democratic Party.

The timing of that announcement was seen by some critics as an attempt by Moscow to influence the results of the election, as it allegedly attempted to do in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and in several European Union countries.

Parliamentary speaker Andrian Candu said this was a Russian ploy to influence the election. "It is all manipulation and disinformation," he said after voting in a Chisinau polling station. "It's not the first time that Russia has tried to influence Moldova's election."

Moldova's Prime Minister Pavel Filip, of the Democratic Party, is also among those who have complained about developments that could be "considered an intervention" by Russia in the campaign.

Vladimir Plahotniuc, the Democratic Party chief and the country's de facto leader, said the ruling party had brought "order and discipline" through its economic policies.

The former Soviet republic of 3.6 million people has had three governments since 2015, following the disappearance of some $1 billion -- about 12 percent of the country’s gross domestic product -- from the banking system, which plunged it into a political and economic crisis.

Moldovan President Igor Dodon (file photo)
Moldovan President Igor Dodon (file photo)

Dodon is a vocal supporter and staunch ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

He has traveled to Moscow for talks with Putin.

In December, Dodon praised what he called "the openness of the Russian leadership" and its "great interest" in developing a strategic partnership between Russia and Moldova.

Ahead of the February 24 vote, Dodon said Moldova needed to maintain good relations with Moscow because of what he said was uncertainty about the future of the EU. “I don’t know what will happen to the EU in 10 to 15 years from now,” he told AP on February 21.

“Why should we have objectives and make promises?” Dodon said, noting Britain’s scheduled departure from the 28-nation bloc.

Russia supplies Moldova with 95 percent of its natural gas. It also has troops stationed in the Russian-speaking breakaway region of Transdniester -- despite repeated UN calls for them to leave.

Chisinau's relations with Russia, however, deteriorated after Moldova signed an association agreement with the EU in 2014.

Russia then placed an embargo on some Moldovan goods. Now, 70 percent of Moldovan exports head to the EU.

The ACUM has accused Moldova’s governing coalition of rampant corruption.

It has pledged not to enter a coalition with either the Democratic Party or the Socialists in the case of a hung parliament.

Days ahead of the vote, Sandu and her ally Andrei Nastase accused authorities of poisoning them.

Medical tests showed they had elevated levels of mercury in their blood in recent months.

Medical files provided to RFE/RL’s Moldovan Service on February 22 show that Nastase had a mercury blood level of 8.7 at the start of December, well above the normal value of less than two for that type of test. Sandu had a level of 2.7.

The Democratic Party rejected the accusations of poisoning.

The charges came after Facebook announced it had removed 168 accounts, 28 pages, and eight Instagram accounts after they were discovered to be “engaging in coordinated unauthentic behavior targeting people in Moldova."

Facebook’s cybersecurity policy chief, Nathaniel Gleicher, said on February 14 that the suspicious accounts focused on local news and political issues, and shared “manipulated photos, divisive narratives, and satire.”

Gleicher said “some of this activity was linked to employees of the Moldovan government.”

In a statement on February 22, the Russian Interior Ministry said it was investigating a money-laundering scheme through two Russian banks which it believes was organized by two of Moldova's richest men -- Plahotniuc and Veaceslav Platon.

Plahotniuc is one of the most influential people in the country.

Russian police say they have detained a Russian national in connection with the case.

With reporting by AP and AFP
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