On 30 October Moldova conducted Presidential elections. It was the first time in 20 years that Moldovans voted for a President directly - before he was chosen by parliament. A second round is expected on 13 November since none of the candidates managed to secure the majority of votes (50% plus one vote). Out of nine candidates, Igor Dodon, a pro-Russian candidate and former Communist Party member (now leader of the Party of Socialists), acquired the most votes - 48.72%, and Maia Sandu, an oppositional pro-European candidate from the Action and Solidarity Party, got 37.96%. Marian Lupu, leader of the Democratic Party who polled in the top 3, withdrew from the race just days before the elections in favour of Maia Sanud, so as not to divide the pro-European vote.The voters turnout was about 48%, with retired population traditionally being the most active (and pro-Russian) and young population (25-35 years old) almost not showing up at all. The Central Election Commission (CEC) recognized the elections as valid since the turnout was more than the required 33.3%. A total of 1,981 polling stations were opened in Moldova and 100 more – abroad, including 25 in Italy, 11 in Romania, eight in Russia and two in Ukraine.
Dodon thanked his supporters, adding: "The main conclusion is that voters no longer believe in this government [pro-European]. Our victory is inevitable… The first round shows very clearly, Moldova wants a left-wing government." If he wins, Dodon wants to call a referendum to extricate Moldova from the Association Agreement, a political and trade agreement signed with the EU in 2014, and join the Eurasian Customs Union dominated by Moscow, turning back the clock on years of closer ties with the West.
Sandu blamed her disappointing election results on voter disenfranchisement: "Today the young had a small turnout. I think it happened because the authorities impeded them from doing so. We will do everything to remove such obstacles in the second round."
"Sandu represents the best chance for change but she is running against vested interests in the media and in politics," said Dan Brett, a commentator on Moldova and an associate professor at the Open University. "Even if she wins she will face very real difficulties in effecting change, so embedded are the anti-reformists in all areas of Moldovan life."
“I hope that the results of today’s vote and of the November 13 run-off will bring about both change and stability: change by the election by popular vote of a pro-European president; stability in the functioning of a reform-driven triangle – president, government, Parliament,” Prime Minister Pavel Filip said in a statement.
More than 3,700 citizen and international observers were accredited for this election and were able to conduct their activities freely. In a press-conference on 31 October Arta Dade, head of the mission of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE ODIHR) declared the presidential elections open, transparent and well-organized. Among the disadvantages observers noted widespread abuse of state resources, biased media coverage and a lack of transparency in campaign finance. Also a number of gaps and ambiguities remain: collection and verification of candidate support signatures, the financing and conduct of the campaign, effective electoral dispute resolution, enforcement of media provisions, and the conduct of a possible second round of presidential elections.
Head of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) delegation, Elisabeth Schneider-Schneiter, also confirmed that the elections were free and well organized.
Sources: BBC The Guardian Sputnik Daily Mail The Indian Express IBT Interfax FOCUS OSCE
Photo: Congress of local and regional authorities