CHISINAU — Maia Sandu, a former World Bank economist who favors closer ties with the European Union, is the winner of Moldova’s presidential election runoff, preliminary results showed early on November 16.
Sandu captured 57 percent of the vote, giving her a runaway victory over pro-Russian incumbent Igor Dodon, who had 43 percent, with 99 percent of the vote counted, according to preliminary data from the Central Election Commission.
Sandu’s supporters celebrated her victory at the headquarters of Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS).
Voters turned out in high numbers in the November 15 election, with a turnout of more than 52 percent — nearly 10 percentage points higher than the final turnout recorded during the first round.
The runoff was the latest chapter in a tug-of-war in the former Soviet republic over whether it moves closer to the European Union or is drawn more tightly into Moscow’s orbit.
It also was the latest rematch between Dodon and Sandu, who won a surprise victory in the first round of the election on November 1 but failed to cross the 50 percent threshold to avoid a runoff.
Participation was particularly high among the Moldovan diaspora, with nearly 260,000 votes cast — well above the 150,000 recorded during the first round.
Long lines were reported outside polling centers in London, Berlin, and across Italy. In Frankfurt, voting was interrupted for an hour after German police received a false bomb alert.
Polls published in the run-up to the election showed Sandu and Dodon in a tight race that could be decided by the diaspora, which voted massively for Sandu in the first round.
In 2016, Dodon defeated Sandu by less than 5 percentage points in an election that was marred by allegations of fraud.
“Today, you have the power to punish those who robbed you, who reduced you to misery and forced you to leave your home,” Sandu said after voting in Chisinau in a reference to her rival, who has been accused of corruption while in office.
The 48-year-old leader of the PAS campaigned against corruption and called for closer ties with the EU.
Dodon, meanwhile, said he “voted for peace,” “social justice,” and “Christian values” after casting his vote in the capital.
“We must maintain good relations with the European Union and with Russia,” he said.
Dodon ran on a platform calling for “stability” and promoted his record of securing loans and other economic favors from Moscow.
He has been criticized for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, during which more than 89,000 Moldovans have been infected and more than 2,000 have died.
Moldova, with a population of about 3.5 million, is one of Europe’s poorest countries and is sharply divided between those who support closer ties with Russia and those who advocate links with the EU and, especially, neighboring Romania.
Most of Moldova was part of Romania until World War II, when it was annexed by the Soviet Union, and a majority of its population is ethnic Romanian.
Hampered by a creaky economy and rampant corruption, the country is also hobbled by the unresolved status of Transdniester, a breakaway region that has been de facto independent since a separatist war in the 1990s.
Transdniester is backed economically and politically by Moscow, which wants to keep Moldova in its sphere of influence, especially with the ongoing wave of political unrest sweeping across other former Soviet republics.