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Moldova Polls 'Competitive' Despite 'Strong Indications Of Vote Buying,' Monitors Say


Moldovan President Igor Dodon casts his vote in parliamentary elections in a polling station in Chisinau on February 24.

CHISINAU -- International observers say Moldova's parliamentary elections were "competitive and fundamental rights were respected," but the campaign was marred by "strong indications of vote buying" and the misuse of state resources.

The monitors led by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) made the assessment in a preliminary statement released on February 25, the day after Moldovans headed to the polls at a time when rival political forces are in a tug-of-war between integration with the European Union and closer ties with Moscow.

With 100 percent of the ballots counted, the pro-Russia Socialist Party was poised to gain the most seats in the next parliament, but failed to secured a clear majority.

It was followed by the ruling Democrats, which have called for closer ties with the West, and ACUM, a pro-European Union coalition that ran on an anti-corruption platform.

"This was an active, hard-fought and polarized campaign in generally well-run elections," said George Tsereteli, leader of the short-term OSCE observer mission.

"I call on my newly elected parliamentary colleagues to now deliver on promises, address the problems we identified, and meet the expectations of the people," he added.

The vote was held under a new electoral system that divides the 101-seat parliament into 50 seats elected by party lists and 51 seats by individual head-to-head races.

If the next parliament fails to form a governing coalition within 45 days after the election results, the president should dissolve the legislature and call new elections.

Igor Dodon, who led the Socialist Party until he became Moldova's president, said on February 24 that "the risk is high that it could come to a snap election in the coming few months."

'Generally Well Organized'

Claude Kern, head of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) delegation, said that election day was "generally well organized."

But he also said that the new electoral system confirmed a "lack of effective mechanisms to prevent undue influence by wealthy businesspeople, combined with a poor system of supervision of party and candidate funding, and inadequate penalties."

With almost all ballots tallied, the Central Election Commission (CEC) said that the Socialist Party had captured the most votes in the party-list voting, followed by ACUM.

Overall preliminary results suggested that the Socialists won 35 seats in the next parliament, the Democrats 30 seats, ACUM 26 seats, and the conservative Shor Party seven seats. Three independent candidates will receive the remaining seats.

If the next parliament fails to form a governing coalition within 45 days after the election results, the president should dissolve the legislature and call new elections.

Speaking to journalists on February 25, President Igor Dodon, former leader of the Socialist Party, warned that new elections would be preferable to a coalition government.

"If there is to be one party with defectors from another side," he said, "then it's better to hold early elections straight away."

Although the CEC said the polls were held without major incidents, both pro-Russia and pro-EU forces in the country accused the ruling Democrats of massive fraud.

Speaking after polls closed, a leader of the 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.

According to the CEC, just over 49 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots.

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

Some of them told RFE/RL they were brought in on special buses from Transdniester, whose separatist authorities boycotted the elections, and that they were promised between 50 and 150 lei (between $3 and $9) after voting.

Voters From Moldova's Separatist-Held Area Line Up For Parliamentary Vote
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Both the Socialists and Democrats accused each other of vote buying, and election authorities said they will look into the matter.

Democratic Party deputy chairman Vladimir Cebotari 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."

After casting his vote, Filip, a Democrat, said, "I believe in the future of Moldova. We are ready to continue reforms and all social programs, the implementation of which will change the lives of Moldovan citizens for the better."

Some 340 international personnel from 38 countries were registered as observers. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) was scheduled to release its assessment on February 25.

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 of closer ties with Russia and a staunch ally ​of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He has often 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.

Russia supplies Moldova with 95 percent of its natural gas. It also has troops stationed in 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.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters