Pro-EU opposition candidate Sandu leads first round, but Russia-leaning incumbent Dodon still in contention — DHT Russia & Former Soviet Union

Moldova’s presidential election will go to a second round after no candidate secured a majority. With all ballots counted, pro-EU opposition challenger Maia Sandu leads incumbent Igor Dodon by 36.1 percent to 32.6 percent.

Although nominally running as an independent, Dodon’s background is in Russophile and nationalist factions, such as the Communists and the Socialists. Sandu is a member of the Action and Solidarity Party, a center-right, liberal and pro-Brussels grouping, allied to the European People’s Party, which is dominated by Angela Merkel’s German Christian Democratic Union.

The same pair of candidates contested the 2016 election, but back then Dodon led after the first round by a margin of 47 percent to Sandu’s 38 percent before winning the run-off. That was the first time in 20 years that the Moldovan president was directly elected.

In Sunday’s vote, Renato Usatii, the mayor of the country’s second-biggest city Balti, was third on 16.9 percent. He comes from Our Party, another Russian-leaning, Euroskeptic outfit. It is presumed that his vote will overwhelmingly transfer to Dodon in the second round on November 15.

While Dodon received the most votes from the electorate within Moldova, Sandu won the diaspora vote by a landslide with 70.12 percent, with the incumbent president receiving just 3.65 percent. Notably, 10 percent of the total ballots were cast from abroad.

Dodon, who represented the Socialist Party in 2016, is a Moldovan political veteran, having served as a minister in the 2000s. Seen as pro-Russian, he has visited the country more times than any other during his leadership. By contrast, Sandu is a former prime minister and minister for education, as well as a World Bank economist, and studied in the US at Harvard University. She is running on a center-left, pro-European Union platform, reportedly focusing on anti-corruption.

According to Dodon, the voting in the first round was “free, correct and democratic,” whereas Sandu claimed that she saw “many attempts to steal the elections,” including more than 300 violations of “the transportation of voters.”

Last month, the director of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), Sergey Naryshkin, accused the US of planning a “color revolution” in Moldova.

Located between Ukraine and Romania, Moldova is one of the poorest countries in Europe. Formerly a part of Romania, and then a Soviet republic, much of the country’s political discourse surrounds a debate over whether to ally closer to Brussels or Moscow.

Another large shadow hanging over the election is that of Vladimir Plahotniuc, who previously ran the pro-European Union Democratic Party of Moldova. A strongly anti-Russian figure, he fled the country in 2019, and is now residing in Turkey after spending time in the United States. The US declared him persona non grata earlier this year, but refused to extradite him to Moldova. He is also wanted for attempted murder in Russia.

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