Moldova votes in show­down be­tween Rus­sia, EU sup­port

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Ex-Soviet Moldova went to the polls yes­ter­day in its first pop­u­lar pres­i­den­tial elec­tion since the 1990s, seen as a tug-of-war be­tween sup­port­ers of closer re­la­tions with Rus­sia and those seek­ing EU in­te­gra­tion. The cri­sis-hit coun­try of 3.5 mil­lion wedged be­tween Ukraine and Ro­ma­nia is the poor­est in Europe and has strug­gled with a string of high-pro­file cor­rup­tion scan­dals which are over­shad­ow­ing the vote.

Pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates are pre­sent­ing di­a­met­ri­cally op­posed vi­sions for the coun­try’s fu­ture: call­ing for deeper ties and boost­ing trade with Moscow, or com­mit­ting to the path to­ward Europe. Vot­ers are lean­ing in op­po­site di­rec­tions as well. “We can’t be with­out Rus­sia, that’s our ex­port mar­ket” that could pro­vide cheap gas, said Igor Lopukhov, 66, a Rus­sian-speak­ing pen­sioner who voted for So­cial­ist Party can­di­date Igor Dodon, a leader in opin­ion polls who has vowed to re­store co­op­er­a­tion Moscow. Dodon’s main ri­val in the polls is for­mer ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter and pro­po­nent of EU in­te­gra­tion Maya Sandu, who is sup­ported by younger Western-lean­ing Moldovans. “We have to build Europe at home,” said Ion Lu­pu­sor, a 27-year-old who had stud­ied in Europe be­fore go­ing back to his home coun­try. “If we don’t vote, pen­sion­ers will de­cide the coun­try’s devel­op­ment, and they vote for go­ing ‘Back to USSR’,” he said.

Forty-one per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion live on less than $5 (4.6 eu­ros) a day while the monthly av­er­age salary is $240, ac­cord­ing to World Bank fig­ures. Many Moldovans make ends meet only through re­mit­tances sent by rel­a­tives work­ing abroad, which make up nearly a quar­ter of gross do­mes­tic prod­uct (GDP). “My daugh­ter sends me money (for food) from Italy,” said 70-year-old Zi­novia Ilonel, who also voted for Dodon. “She’s never com­ing home.”

Moldova last elected a pres­i­dent by pop­u­lar vote in 1996, af­ter which mem­bers of par­lia­ment chose the head of state due to a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment from 2000. A con­sti­tu­tional court de­ci­sion ear­lier this year re-estab­lished the pop­u­lar vote. The cen­tral elec­tion com­mis­sion in Moldova said vot­ing was mon­i­tored by over 3,200 Moldovan ob­servers and 562 more from abroad. Some 950,000 vot­ers cast their bal­lots by 2:00 pm (1200 GMT), the com­mis­sion said, or 35 per­cent of the to­tal.

Moldova has been rocked by protests and po­lit­i­cal tur­moil since the mys­te­ri­ous dis­ap­pear­ance of $1 bil­lion from three banks last year, which un­der­mined peo­ple’s sup­port for the rul­ing pro-Western coali­tion. A to­tal of nine can­di­dates re­main on the bal­lot af­ter rul­ing party can­di­date Mar­ian Lupu with­drew from the race en­dors­ing Sandu on Wed­nes­day. The main show­down be­tween her and Dodon, who wants to throw out Chisinau’s 2014 EU As­so­ci­a­tion Agree­ment and join the Moscow-led Eurasian Eco­nomic Union, could lead to a runoff elec­tion. Pre-vote opin­ion polls in­di­cated around 40 per­cent sup­ported Dodon, and up to 25 per­cent sup­ported Sandu. “I am sure Moldova will turn a page in its his­tory to­day,” Dodon said as he cast his bal­lot yes­ter­day.

‘Cor­rup­tion, poverty, theft’

De­spite the geopo­lit­i­cal di­vi­sions, Sandu, who launched a new party this year called Ac­tion and Sol­i­dar­ity, tried to fo­cus her cam­paign on fight­ing cor­rup­tion. “We should not be afraid, we must prove to the thieves and cor­rupt (of­fi­cials) that there are more of us,” she said yes­ter­day. “To­gether we must bring or­der to Moldova.” EU of­fi­cials have ad­mit­ted that Europe has lost much of its ap­peal in the scan­dal-weary exSoviet re­pub­lic as no suc­cess­ful re­forms have been seen through, while east-west rhetoric is of­ten used to gloss over deeper is­sues. — AFP

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