CHISINAU -- A runoff election is set for the all-important mayoral seat of Moldova's capital between pro-Russian Ion Ceban and the pro-EU ACUM bloc's Andrei Nastase, with almost all the votes counted.
Moldova's October 20 elections were held for nearly 900 mayoral posts, more than 11,000 local council seats, as well as four seats in parliament.
It was the first electoral test since a new government, based on an alliance of pro-Western and pro-Russian forces, took power four months ago following a bitter constitutional standoff.
With 99 percent of the vote counted, Ceban, a member of Moscow-friendly President Igor Dodon's Socialist Party, took 40.16 percent, while Nastase garnered 31.1 percent. The turnout, Central Election Commission Chairman Dorin Cimil said, was 36 percent.
The runoff has been scheduled for November 3.
Prime Minister Maia Sandu from the pro-Western Now Platform this week stood by her promise of "free and fair elections" while warning of the threat of "provocations" and urging police to "prevent and punish instances of abuse, should they occur."
In the last mayoral election in Chisinau, held in June 2018, Nastase overcame Ceban -- but the result was overturned by the courts in a controversial ruling.
Moldova has struggled to implement reforms urged by many in the West since the disappearance of more than $1 billion from state-owned banks five years ago shattered the already impoverished ex-Soviet state's economy and took down a government.
Inconclusive national elections in February sparked a major constitutional crisis in the summer and a showdown involving pro-Moscow President Igor Dodon, the Constitutional Court, and parliamentary deputies seeking to install Sandu as prime minister.
The resulting situation was eventually endorsed by Dodon and Sandu, who has since led the country with support from a liberal-populist alliance in coalition with the Socialists.
Western critics have complained that political instability has hobbled efforts to bolster the rule of law and democratic gains in Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries.
In its "association implementation report" in September, the European Commission acknowledged that some economic and banking-sector reforms had advanced in Moldova but warned that "fundamental structural reforms of the judicial system, the fight against corruption, the prosecution of the 2014 banking fraud, and ensuring media plurality were lagging behind."
The country's aging infrastructure is another problem.
Moldova's Central Election Commission said recently that less than 1 percent of the polling stations it inspected offered full access for disabled would-be voters.