Moldovans Protest After Mayoral Candidate's Victory Blocked

CHISINAU -- Thousands of people have joined protests on the streets of the Moldovan capital, Chisinau, after a court invalidated the election victory of a pro-Western candidate to the mayor's post.

Demonstrators gathered on June 20 near the city hall, yelling, "Nastase is mayor!" and holding banners declaring, "Our vote is not your whim."

Andrei Nastase, the Dignity and Truth Platform candidate, defeated the candidate of the Moscow-friendly Socialist Party, Ion Ceban, in a runoff on June 3.

Nastase, a prosecutor who opposes local oligarchs and pro-Russian policies in the former Soviet republic, received 52.5 percent of the vote.

However, the Chisinau court ruled on June 19 that Nastase was not the winner of the vote, but did not give a reason, prompting the first street protests later that night.

Nastase, 42, on June 20 submitted an appeal, claiming the ruling was politically motivated. Nastase was one of the organizers of large-scale anticorruption protests in 2015 after the disappearance of $1 billion from the Moldovan banking system.

His Dignity and Truth Platform and the Party of Action and Solidarity have agreed to work together to select candidates for the parliamentary elections to defeat the Democratic Party, which is the main force in the pro-Western governing coalition, and the Socialist Party close to Moscow-friendly President Igor Dodon.

The court ruling prompted expressions of concern by the U.S. Embassy in Moldova and some members of the European Parliament.

The U.S. Embassy said that "the unexpected and nontransparent invalidation of the elections for Chisinau mayor, in which there was a clear winner, is a worrying development."

European Parliament member Cristian Preda of Romania said the parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee would discuss the issue on June 21.

The election was called when Dorin Chirtoaca, mayor for the past 10 years, stepped down after being probed for influence trafficking in a city parking contract. He says the case is politically motivated.

With reporting by AP and Interfax