Wednesday

27th Jan 2021

Moldova: Pro-EU candidate scores surprise first-round win

  • Maia Sandu led Moldova briefly last year (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

Maia Sandu, Moldova's former prime minister and the leader of the opposition Party of Action and Solidarity, won the first round of voting in Sunday's (1 November) presidential election.

The unexpected result puts the opposition, pro-EU candidate at 36.16 percent of votes after initial data had her trailing behind incumbent president Igor Dodon.

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  • Igor Dodon (l) holds video-talks with Russian president Vladimir Putin (Photo: kremlin.ru)

The final vote counting has Dodon at 32.61 percent of total ballots cast, a major setback for the pro-Kremlin candidate.

The score changed significantly in Sandu's favour after the Central Electoral Commission began counting the results of the diaspora vote.

Moldovan citizens living abroad turned out in record numbers to vote in embassies and consulates despite long queues, pandemic risks, and inclement weather.

Politics in the small, former Soviet country, jammed between the European Union and Russia, has always been defined by its east/west divide. This election was no exception.

The centre-right candidate, Sandu, was backed by the leaders of the European People's Party (EPP).

EPP president Donald Tusk endorsed her in a video message months before election-day.

Her rival, Dodon, is close to the Kremlin and has pledged to continue close ties with Moscow if re-elected.

The Russian president has showed direct support for Dodon, with several leaks proving a deep connection between Dodon and the Russian regime.

Dodon's electoral base is amongst Russian-speaking Moldovans and nationalists, while Sandu is targeting more centrist, western-leaning and Romanian-speaking people.

Romania, which is an EU and Nato member, has intimate historic ties with the Republic of Moldova, including a shared language.

Most of present-day Moldova was part of Romania during the interwar period.

Armand Gosu, an associate professor at Bucharest University and a specialist in the ex-Soviet region, told EUobserver that Sandu has a good chance of winning this election in the end.

"It depends on her ability to get the votes of the other candidates that did not qualify for a second round," he said.

Economic factor

Gosu also pointed out that besides the Russia vs. Europe dynamic, the Covid-19 pandemic and its devastating economic fallout has played a major role.

Moldova is one of the poorest countries in Europe, with many working and moving abroad in search of better pay and living conditions.

Remittances from Moldovans abroad account for almost 16.1 percent of Moldova's GDP.

And when it comes to the economy, many Moldovans think it is better to side with Europe rather than with Russia.

The second round of the presidential election is scheduled for 15 November and the final result could also depend on the candidates knocked out of the race who will now back either Sadu or Dodon.

Electoral calculations indicate that the other pro-EU candidates who did not not qualify for the second round could bring around 8 percent of votes to Sandu, but she would still need to secure the support of populist Renato Usatîi, the candidate who finished third after the first round of voting, to win the race.

And there were "reasons for optimism" that Usatîi would back Sandu after they met in the first-round aftermath, Gosu said.

Some analysts also anticipated a bigger turnout of young people in the second round, who are expected to vote for Sandu and who initially came to the polls in small numbers.

The opposition candidate also hopes that the diaspora vote will - again - work in her favour.

Puppet slur

For his part, Dodon criticised the diaspora for backing her, saying that its decision went against "the main part of the population working in Moldova".

He also said he would not allow "a puppet implementing the will of foreign forces to occupy the presidential office" and that he "will not surrender the country to either Russians or Romanians."

But Sandu said Moldovans "have the chance to put Moldova on the right track and together build a functional state that works for its citizens".

Author bio

Cristian Gherasim is a freelance journalist from Romania

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