Moldova’s presidential election heads toward runoff

CHISINAU, Moldova (AP) — Moldova’s presidential election is heading to a runoff after no candidate earned a majority in a first round of weekend voting which, however, gave a narrow lead to a pro-Western candidate.

The pro-Western former prime minister, Maia Sandu, will face the staunchly pro-Russian incumbent, Igor Dodon, in the second round of voting on November 15, the country’s central election commission announced Monday.

With more than 99% of the votes counted from Sunday’s first round, which narrowed the field from eight to two candidates, Sandu had nearly 36% compared to nearly 33% for Dodon.

Dodon and Sandu have been rivals since the current incumbent narrowly defeated Sandu in the 2016 presidential race.

The runoff later this month appears set to become a referendum on their two divergent visions for the future of the small eastern European nation.

Ever since gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1992, Moldova has been divided between those favoring closer relations with the European Union and those who prefer stronger links with Moscow.

In 2014, while run by a pro-European coalition, the country of 3.5 million people signed a deal on closer political and economic ties with the EU. However, Brussels has since been increasingly critical of its progress on reforms.

Sandu, a former World Bank economist, promised during the campaign to secure more financial support from Brussels if she becomes president. Dodon, for his part, was identified as the preferred candidate by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

After voting Sunday, both said they wanted to lead impoverished Moldova to a long-elusive political stability and economic recovery.

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