A Moldovan appeals court has upheld a lower-court ruling invalidating the results of Chisinau's mayoral election, citing violations by both candidates of the country's campaign law.
The ruling from the Moldovan Appeals Court late on June 21 comes amid protests by thousands of Chisinau residents demanding that the election victory of Andrei Nastase, a prosecutor who campaigned on an anticorruption and pro-European platform, be upheld.
Nastase won 52.5 percent of the vote in a June 3 mayoral runoff election, defeating Socialist Party candidate Ion Ceban, who called for closer relations with Moscow.
The Appeals Court upheld a Chisinau city court's controversial move to void the election on June 19, saying both candidates had addressed voters on social media on election day, when the campaigns are required by law to go quiet.
The Appeals Court in its decision concluded that the communications with voters that occurred illegally affected the outcome of the race.
Nastase and other critics of the court decisions contend that the two candidates did not campaign on their platforms on election day but merely called on Chisinau residents to go out and vote.
They say that other European courts have ruled that a simple call to vote on election day does not constitute illegal campaigning.
Nastase asserted that the court's decision was politically motivated and said he would appeal the case to Moldova's Supreme Court.
He said the lower courts are allied with politicians who are "afraid of pro-European, antioligarchic, democratic forces. That's why they will apply all their arsenal to stop us."
Nastase called the courts' voiding of the election a "crime" against the residents of Chisinau as well as against Moldova and "democracy."
Nastase was one of the organizers of large-scale anticorruption protests in 2015 after the disappearance of $1 billion from the Moldovan banking system, and he has led a movement demanding greater transparency in the country since then.
His supporters have vowed to stage protests every evening until his victory is recognized. In their demonstrations on June 20 and 21, protesters chanted "We will not surrender" and "Honest elections above all."
The U.S. Embassy in Moldova has expressed concern about the voiding of Nastase's election, calling the move "a troubling development that is even now eroding Moldovan citizens' confidence in the democratic process."
The European Union had called on the Appeals Court to uphold the election. "It is of utmost importance that the will of the voters is respected," EU spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said in a statement on June 20.
"The European Union expects the Republic of Moldova to guarantee the functioning of democratic mechanisms, in line with international standards and commitments under the EU-Moldova Association Agreement, including when it comes to elections," she said.
In an interview with RFE/RL, Siegfried Muresan, a member of the European Parliament, said that "the decision to question the outcome of democratic elections is a major step back by the Moldovan authorities and is a gesture that leads to the loss of confidence of the EU institutions in Moldovan authorities."
The election was called after Dorin Chirtoaca, Chisinau's mayor for the past 10 years, stepped down after being investigated for alleged influence-peddling involving a city parking contract.
Election officials say if further rulings uphold the invalidation of Nastase's election, Silvia Radu, who has been acting mayor since Chirtoaca left office, will hold the position until a 2019 election.