President Maia Sandu’s pro-European party leads the elections in Moldova as the vote count is underway in Sunday’s early parliamentary elections which she called to strengthen her position against pro-Russian forces.
With more than 40 percent of the ballots counted, Sandu’s center-right Action and Solidarity (PAS) party won over 44 percent of the vote, according to the electoral commission.
The party’s main rivals from the coalition of socialists and communists led by former Kremlin-backed president Igor Dodon and former president Vladimir Voronin won nearly 33% of the vote.
Voting in the capital Chisinau, Sandu said she voted for change in this ex-Soviet country plagued by poverty and corruption.
“I voted for an honest parliament to work with, for a parliament that will appoint honest people, competent people,” Sandu told reporters after the vote.
Her predecessor Dodon, whom she defeated last year, warned against voting for those who “will hand the country over to external control” as he votes.
Caught between Ukraine and EU member Romania, the country of about 2.6 million people has long been divided over closer ties to the European Union or over maintaining EU relations. Soviet era with Moscow.
With Dodon-loyal lawmakers blocking Sandu’s reform promises after her electoral victory in November, she dissolved parliament in April and scheduled early voting.
The promises of honesty and competence of the 49-year-old former World Bank economist have resonated with many Moldovans who in recent years have seen their country rocked by political crises and corruption scandals.
“Maybe we will have a parliament that will think of our Moldova. For the sake of our children, for a bright future, “Ana Olari, a 40-year-old pastry chef, told AFP news agency.
Sandu, who was also briefly prime minister, has become for many Moldovans “a symbol of change,” said Alexei Tulbure, political analyst and the country’s former ambassador to the United Nations.
Over 48% of eligible voters voted in the election. This represented a higher turnout than the first round of the presidential election, but lower than the second round at 53 percent.
In polling stations, voters were required to wear masks and take their temperature in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Twenty parties and two electoral blocs contested the elections.
They must cross thresholds set respectively at 5% and 7% of the vote to obtain seats in the unicameral assembly, where 101 lawmakers are elected for four-year terms.
Analysts say the diaspora – which represents over a third of Moldova’s eligible voters and largely supported Sandu in the presidential vote – may hold the key and bring the PAS an additional 10 to 15 percentage points this time around.
Long lines have formed outside polling stations abroad and some voters – notably in Germany and France – have reserved seats from Saturday evening, media in Moldova reported.
The diaspora cast more than 200,000 votes abroad against the record figure of 262,000 in the second round of the presidential election.
Observers say that a victory for Sandu’s party will likely be a blow to Russia, which wants Moldova to remain in its sphere of influence.
But “even with a parliamentary majority, it will not be easy to realize his grandiose plans for fundamental change,” said independent analyst Victor Ciobanu.
“There will be strong opposition” from the pro-Russian side, he added.
Sandu has previously angered the Kremlin by offering to remove the Russian military garrison based in Transdniestria, a pro-Russian separatist state straddling the country’s eastern border with Ukraine.
Queues in eastern Moldova
AFP reported that dozens of people were lining up at special polling stations in eastern Moldova set up for residents of the breakaway region.
Moldovan police said they reported 242 “possible electoral violations”.
Dodon, 46, told reporters on Sunday evening that he “would decide whether or not to protest against the election results” after all the violations were analyzed.
In Chisinau, Lyudmila, a 70-year-old retiree, said she supported the Communists and Socialists because “life was better” under their rule.