The frontrunner in Moldova’s presidential race wants to end his country’s seven-year flirtation with the European Union and pivot back to Russia amid deep public discontent with a pro-Western ruling elite that has presided over economic turmoil. The ex-Soviet republic is still reeling from a banking scandal last year involving the looting of one billion dollars – the equivalent of an eighth of Moldova’s economic output – that highlighted the scale of corruption in Europe’s poorest nation, where the average monthly family income is below $300. A victory for Igor Dodon, the opposition Socialist party candidate, in the Oct. 30 election, would be good news for Russia as it vies with the West for influence across eastern Europe, including in Moldova’s much bigger neighbor Ukraine.
Dodon’s Socialists want to scrap a 2014 blueprint for closer trade and political ties with the EU and instead sign up to the Russian-dominated Eurasian Customs Union. They also favor more autonomy for Moldova’s breakaway Transdniestria region, whose mainly ethnic Russian population wants to join Russia.
Moldova’s ruling Democratic party, by contrast, sees the EU pact, known as an Association Agreement, as a stepping stone towards applying for full membership of the bloc by 2020.
The Socialists have said they will organize street protests if the government-backed candidate, Marian Lupu, wins, threatening more instability in a country that has had five prime ministers in the past three years.