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Pro-Russia Candidate Claims Victory In Moldova's Presidential Vote


Moldovan Presidential Candidates Cast Their Votes
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WATCH: Moldovan presidential candidates speak to journalists in Chisinau after casting their ballots in a runoff vote seen as a contest between Igor Dodon's pro-Russian and Maia Sandu's EU-oriented policies, with Dodon considered a favorite in the country of 3.5 million people. (Reuters)

Igor Dodon, Moldova's pro-Russia Socialist Party leader, has claimed victory in the country's presidential election over pro-European candidate Maia Sandu.

The Central Election Commission said early on November 14 that with 98.5 percent of the ballots counted, Dodon was leading 54.06 percent to 45.94 percent for Sandu, the candidate from the Party for Action and Solidarity.

Dodon said at a press conference in Chisinau that "we can say that we won" and promised to be a president for all Moldovans, both those that support joining the EU and those that want closer ties to Moscow.

He said Sandu had waged a "tough but good fight" and asked her to help "calm down" society.

Officials said about 53.3 percent of registered voters cast ballots on November 13.

Moldovans line up to vote at the consulate in Frankfurt, Germany, on November 13.
Moldovans line up to vote at the consulate in Frankfurt, Germany, on November 13.

But there were lines of Moldovans who were not able to vote at the country’s embassies in London, Bucharest, Bologna, Moscow, and other cities because election officials did not send enough ballot papers.

Sandu called on elections officials to resign, claiming the elections had been poorly organized.

"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 and were not able to vote. Moldovan authorities didn't respect the constitutional right of Moldovan be able to vote."

Despite the controversy, the margin of victory for Dodon appeared to be far larger than the number of Moldovans who were unable to vote at polling stations abroad -- voters considered to be largely in favor of Sandu.

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

People who live in Transdniester, which has self-proclaimed itself an independent country, don't usually take part in Moldovan elections.

Political analysts had predicted that in the second round, Sandu needed to encourage a higher turnout by young pro-EU voters who did not cast ballots during the first-round vote on October 30.

They had estimated that turnout needed to be at least 54 percent on November 13 for Sandu to have any chance to win, and about 60 percent for her to have a strong chance of becoming the country's next president.

The vote is the first since 1997 in which Moldova’s president is being elected by a national vote rather than by parliament.

Dodon, a former trade minister under a communist government, had about a 10-point lead over Sandu in the first round of voting in October but fell just short of gaining a majority to avoid the November 13 runoff.

Sandu, a former World Bank economist and education minister, has called for closer ties with the European Union and warned about the danger of a closer economic relationship with Russia, which is Moldova’s leading energy supplier.

After casting her ballot in Chisinau on November 13, Sandu said she had "voted for the people who believe in civility, the truth, honest work, education, and decency."

Dodon said after voting on November 13 that he had cast his ballot for a "united, independent, and sovereign" Moldova, and against "those who want to destroy the Republic of Moldova."

In an earlier campaign speech Dodon had argued: "Life in Moldova has become unbearable. Our partnership with Russia has been destroyed [and] we lost access to a massive market."

Dodon wants to reverse the country's moves toward European integration, which includes a historic association agreement signed in 2014 despite bitter opposition from Russia.

He has been criticized in Ukraine for saying Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014, is Russian territory.

Moscow fears Moldova moving closer to the European Union, similar to what happened in Ukraine in 2014.

Russia also has thousands of troops stationed in 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 ostensibly as peacekeepers in the breakaway region.

Sandu has called for Russia to withdraw the troops.

But opinion polls suggest that a banking corruption scandal in the country of 3.5 million sapped the enthusiasm of many Moldovans for European integration.

Moldova is one of Europe’s poorest countries, and economic conditions there only worsened by the turmoil that erupted in late 2014 when nearly $1 billion -- around 10 percent of the country's GDP -- disappeared from three banks.

Earlier this week, however, the International Monetary Fund approved nearly $180 million of loans to support Moldova – saying government reforms and an improving economy had strengthened the banking sector there.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and TASS