A former World Bank technocrat Maia Sandu has won more votes than the pro-Russian incumbent who she will face in a runoff in Moldova’s presidential elections.
Maia Sandu, a 48-year-old former prime minister who has promised to crack down on corruption, attract foreign business and improve living standards won 36.1% of the vote in Sunday’s ballot after more than 99.8% of the votes had been counted
President Igor Dodon, 45, who is supported by Russia and promises continuity and stability in the impoverished nation won 32.66%, a surprise first-round defeat.
Exit polls had put Mr. Dodon ahead of Ms. Sandu. The runoff will take place on Nov. 15.
Voter turnout was about 42.7% election authorities said, less than four years ago, partly due to the coronavirus pandemic which made some wary of casting their ballot.
A total of eight candidates ran for the post in the landlocked former Soviet republic of 3.5 million which neighbors Ukraine and Romania.
Moldovan elections are often described as a choice between Russia and the West, but the country is reliant on both, and is unlikely to definitively move into either sphere.
Five of the candidates are considered pro-Russian and three pro-European, but their campaigns have focused on different visions rather than geostrategic alliances.
More than one million Moldovans are working outside the country and generally vote with pro-Western candidates, such as Ms. Sandu. Mr. Dodon’s base are older and poorer voters.
Renato Usatii, 41, who leads the left-wing Our Party came third with almost 17%. He is seen as in the pro-Russian camp but ran on a campaign of promising good relations with Russia and the West.
Ms Sandu was premier from June to November 2019, when the president pushed her out over a dispute over who should name the chief prosecutor.
The 2016 election was dogged by allegations of fraud focusing on former oligarch Vlad Plahotnuic _ now a fugitive facing massive money-laundering charges_ used his massive media network to support Mr. Dodon and discredit Ms. Sandu.
Reports said he exerted influence on the leader of the Russia-backed breakaway Trans-Dniester region to mobilize its voters to back Igor Dodon.