Voters in Moldova will choose their president for the first time in 20 years in elections seen as a tug-of-war between Russia and the European Union for influence. Nine candidates are contesting Sunday’s elections in the former Soviet republic, with polls showing the most likely outcome will be a run-off between the pro-Russian Socialist Party’s Igor Dodon and the pro-European Action and Solidarity’s Maia Sandu. “What’s at stake in this election, and I’m not exaggerating, is for the Republic of Moldova to be or not to be,” Dodon, 41, said in a phone interview Thursday. “Will the current authorities, who mocked the people for seven years and created a corrupt oligarchic system, stay or will changes start?”
The vote in the nation of 3.6 million wedged between Romania and Ukraine is taking place a year after Europe’s poorest country was plunged into crisis over a $1 billion bank fraud that led to the ouster of Prime Minister Valeriu Strelet in a no-confidence vote. The theft, equal to an eighth of Moldova’s economic output, forced the authorities to seek international aid to avert bankruptcy and to concede the restoration of direct presidential elections amid angry street protests over corruption.
Lawmakers in the parliamentary republic previously chose the head of state after the abolition of direct elections following a 1996 vote. Since 2009, Moldova’s ruling coalitions have tilted the country away from Russia and toward closer ties with the European Union, joining Ukraine and Georgia in signing association agreements with the bloc in 2014.