Runoff Set For Chisinau Mayoral Seat As Moldovans Vote In First Polls Since Summer Crisis

CHISINAU -- A run-off election is set for the all-important mayoral seat of Moldova's capital city between pro-Russian Socialist Ion Ceban and the pro-EU ACUM Bloc’s Andrei Nastase, with 87 percent of the votes counted.

Results are being tallied after Moldova's October 20 elections were held for nearly 900 mayoral posts, more than 11,000 local council seats, as well as four seats in parliament.

It was the first electoral test since a pro-Western government took power four months ago following a bitter constitutional standoff.

Prime Minister Maia Sandu from the pro-Western Now Platform this week stood by her promise of "free and fair elections" while warning of the threat of "provocations" and urging police to "prevent and punish instances of abuse, should they occur."

Polling stations opened at 7 a.m. local time on a chilly, fog-shrouded morning in Chisinau, with many analysts predicting that the capital would vote in its first Socialist, pro-Moscow mayor.

In a replay of a previous, disputed contest, pre-election polling suggested Ceban was the front-runner for the Chisinau mayor's seat ahead of Nastase.

In the last mayoral election in Chisinau, held in June 2018, Nastase overcame Ceban -- but the result was overturned by the courts in a controversial ruling.

Election officials reported that that the 25 percent turnout threshold for each constituency had been exceeded in Chisinau by 4:30 p.m.

Average turnout according to Central Election Commission Chairman Dorin Cimil was about 35 percent in all constituencies.

Moldova has struggled to implement reforms urged by many in the West since the disappearance of more than $1 billion from state-owned banks five years ago shattered the already impoverished postcommunist state's economy and took down a government.

Inconclusive national elections in February bubbled into a major constitutional crisis in the summer and a showdown involving pro-Moscow President Igor Dodon, the Constitutional Court, and parliamentary deputies seeking to install Sandu as prime minister.

The resulting situation was eventually endorsed by Dodon and Sandu, who has since led the country with support from a liberal-populist alliance in coalition with the Socialists.

Western critics have complained that political instability has hobbled efforts to bolster the rule of law and democratic gains in Moldova, which is often ranked as Europe's poorest country.

In its "association implementation report" in September, the European Commission acknowledged that some economic and banking-sector reforms had advanced in Moldova but warned that "fundamental structural reforms of the judicial system, the fight against corruption, the prosecution of the 2014 banking fraud, and ensuring media plurality were lagging behind."

The country's aging infrastructure is another problem.

Moldova's Central Election Commission said recently that less than 1 percent of the polling stations it inspected offered full access for disabled would-be voters.

With reporting by Interfax and The Balkan Insight