By Alexander Tanas
CHISINAU (Reuters) - Moldova's pro-European and pro-Russian parties took roughly equal shares of the vote in local elections, results showed on Monday, upsetting forecasts of a big win for the pro-Moscow camp.
A businessman linked to the disappearance of $1 billion in a banking scandal that plunged the country into political turmoil served up a further surprise by winning a mayoral ballot.
Sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine, Moldova is one of Europe's poorest countries. It is trying to reorient its economy towards the European Union after economic turbulence in Russia, its main trading partner, hit the pace of its own growth.
But economic mismanagement and a failure to tackle corruption mean nostalgia for Soviet times remains high among large sections of the population.
With 98.5 percent of votes from Sunday's mayoral and regional elections counted, Moldova's electoral commission said pro-Russian and pro-European parties were virtually tied.
In the capital Chisinau, neither the incumbent mayor, pro-European Dorin Chirtoaca, nor pro-Russian candidate Zinaida Greceanii gained the 50 percent of votes required for a win. A second round will be held in two weeks.
The biggest single upset was in the central town of Orhei, which elected Ilan Shor as mayor with just over 60 percent of votes.
In May an international report named Shor as a key beneficiary of a scandal that saw $1 billion - equivalent to one eighth of Moldovan gross domestic product - disappear from three of the country's largest banks.
Shor, who denies the accusations, will not gain immunity from prosecution in his position as mayor.
Thousands took to the streets in May to demand the government find guilty parties in the banking swindle and last week Prime Minister Chiril Gaburici, who had accused prosecutors of moving too slowly over the case, tendered his resignation.
His departure, which has yet to be approved by the President, has forced pro-European parties to try and form a new broad coalition with communist and liberal parties. If this fails, a fresh parliamentary election could be called.
(Writing by Alessandra Prentice; editing by John Stonestreet)