Moldovans elect new parliament amid concerns over graft, reforms

CHISINAU – Moldovans were voting in a snap parliamentary election on Sunday in which pro-Western President Maya Sandu hopes to win a majority to fight corruption and carry out reforms she says were blocked by allies of her pro-Russian predecessor, Igor Dodon.

The West and Russia vie for influence in the tiny ex-Soviet republic of 3.5 million people, which is one of Europe's poorest nations and has suffered a sharp economic downturn during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sandu, a former World Bank economist who favours closer ties with the European Union, defeated Dodon last year but was forced to share power with the parliament elected in 2019 and the government run by lawmakers aligned with Dodon.

In April, after two failed attempts to form a new government, Sandu dissolved the parliament, in which her PAS party had 15 lawmakers out of 101.

Dodon's Socialists had 37 lawmakers in that parliament and together with allies he controlled a majority of 54 deputies.

"This Sunday we have to finish what we started and take the second step. This is an opportunity for each of us to choose an honest and responsible leadership," Sandu said in a statement ahead of the vote.

Maia Sandu, a former World Bank economist who favours closer ties with the European Union, defeated Dodon last year but was forced to share power with the parliament elected in 2019 and the government run by lawmakers aligned with Dodon

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"It's time to clear the country of clans, corrupt officials and manipulators," said Sandu, who wants to overhaul the judicial system, increase salaries and pensions and amend the constitution to make it easier to punish graft.

Polls close at 9 pm (1800 GMT), with initial results expected a few hours later.

Corruption scandals

Moldova, sandwiched between Ukraine and EU member Romania, has been dogged by instability and corruption scandals in recent years, including the disappearance of US$1 billion from the banking system.

Dodon, a regular guest in Moscow, has formed an electoral bloc with the communists who have accused Sandu of pursuing a pro-Western policy that would lead to the collapse of the state.

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The party of Ilan Shor, a businessman convicted of fraud and money-laundering in connection with the US$1 billion bank scandal, is also among more than 20 parties and blocs – including independents – contesting the election. Shor denies wrongdoing.

To enter parliament, an independent candidate must receive at least 2 percent of the votes cast, a party must win at least 5% and a bloc at least 7 percent.

Votes cast for parties that do not exceed the threshold are distributed among the winners.