CHISINAU, (AP) — Moldovans are voting in a presidential election Sunday in which the favorite has promised to restore ties with Russia that cooled after the former Soviet republic signed a trade deal with the European Union.
Igor Dodon, a pro-Moscow figure, has tapped into popular anger with corruption under the pro-European government that came to power in 2009, particularly over about $1 billion that went missing from Moldovan banks before 2014 parliamentary elections.
“I voted for the future of the country. I am totally convinced that Moldova has a future. It will be independent, united and sovereign,” said Dodon, who heads the opposition Socialists’ Party after voting, predicting an easy win.
Dodon says he wants to federalize Moldova to include the breakaway region of Trans-Dniester where more than 1,000 Russian troops are stationed.
Russia and the West seek greater influence over the strategically placed but impoverished agricultural country of 3.5 million.
Rival Maia Sandu, an ex-World Bank economist who ran on an anti-corruption ticket, urged Moldovans to get out and vote. She needs a high turnout to stand a chance of winning. Almost 47 percent of the electorate had voted by 5 p.m. (1500 GMT), about 4 percentage points higher than in the first round.
“If the vote is correct, we will win…. it is important to be vigilant and not let them steal the vote,” she said.
Moldovan media published photos of Moldovans who reportedly lined up for hours to vote in in Paris Milan, Dublin, and the London borough of Stratford. Sandu said voting ballots had run out in Stratford and called for the resignation of authorities organizing the vote. Media reported other polling stations abroad were running out of ballots.
Sandu says that if elected, she would appoint “honest, righteous people and good professionals … this will be the first signal that things change for the better in Moldova.”
The former education minister, who heads the Action and Solidarity Party, says the former Soviet republic will have a more prosperous future in the EU.
Dodon, who nearly won the election in the first round two weeks ago and leads in recent polls, has promised to restore friendly relations with Moscow. He has recently hedged his bets, saying he also seeks good relations with Moldova’s neighbors, Romania and Ukraine.
He has been criticized in Ukraine for saying Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014, is Russian territory. Russia punished Moldova with a trade embargo on wine, fruit and vegetables after it signed a trade association deal with the EU in 2014.
Former Romanian President Traian Basescu, who obtained Moldovan citizenship this month, voted at the Moldovan Embassy in Bucharest.
“I want European values in this state,” he said.