Early elections in Moldova set to weaken Russian influence



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Chisinau (AFP)

Moldovan voters went to the polls on Sunday in early parliamentary elections called by new President Maia Sandu to strengthen her position against pro-Russian forces.

Sandu, who wants to bring Moldova into the European Union, defeated outgoing Kremlin-backed President Igor Dodon in November by pledging to fight corruption in one of Europe’s poorest countries .

Caught between Ukraine and EU member Romania, Moldova has long been divided over closer ties with Brussels or over maintaining Soviet-era relations with Moscow.

With Dodon-loyal lawmakers blocking Sandu’s reform promises, the former World Bank economist dissolved parliament in April and scheduled early voting.

“We have a chance to get rid of thieves and choose a holistic and good government,” Sandu said in a video address Thursday, speaking in Moldova’s main language, Romanian.

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In another speech in Russian – the second language of the former Soviet country – she said: “The time for change is coming in Moldova”.

The slogans resonate with many Moldovans who in recent years have seen their country rocked by political crises, including a billion dollar bank fraud scheme equivalent to nearly 15% of the country’s GDP.

“She really wants to change the country for the better,” Natalia Cadabnuic, a young resident of Chisinau, told AFP.

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.

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Adding that Moldovans are tired of corrupt politicians, he said Sandu was the first to reach the top while “maintaining a reputation for honesty”.

– Pro-European majority –

Sandu’s center-right Action and Solidarity (PAS) party leads the ballot.

The latest polls show the PAS with 35 to 37% of the vote against 21 to 27% for the party’s rivals from the coalition of Socialists and Communists led by Dodon and former President Vladimir Voronin.

These figures only take into account voters living in the country of 2.6 million people.

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Analysts say the diaspora, which represents more than a third of eligible voters in Moldova and has already supported Sandu in the presidential elections, may hold the key to the outcome.

It is estimated that the diaspora could bring an additional 10 to 15 percentage points to Sandu’s party.

Analysts believe the elections will likely be a blow to Russia, which wants Moldova to remain in its sphere of influence.

“The majority will be pro-European and Russia’s influence will weaken,” said Sergiy Gerasymchuk, a Moldovan policy expert based in Kiev.

Sandu has already angered the Kremlin by offering to remove the Russian military garrison based in Transnistria, a pro-Russian separatist state straddling the country’s eastern border with Ukraine.

The pro-Russian Dodon on Friday accused the authorities of preparing “provocations” and urged his supporters to be ready to demonstrate to “defend” the victory of his bloc.

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Twenty parties and two electoral blocs are vying for Sunday’s elections.

They must cross the threshold set at five percent and seven percent of the votes respectively to obtain seats in the unicameral assembly.

The 101 lawmakers will be elected for a four-year term.

Polling stations will open at 7:00 a.m. (04:00 GMT) and close at 9:00 p.m.


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