CHISINAU, Moldova (AP) — Moldova's presidential election will go to a runoff between the pro-Russian front-runner and a pro-European candidate who both tapped into widespread anger about corruption.
With almost all ballots counted Monday, Igor Dodon had 48.3 percent, falling short of the majority of votes needed for outright victory in the first round. In the Nov. 13 runoff, he will face Maia Sandu who scored 38.4 percent.
Dodon's strong result in Sunday's voting reflected widespread dissatisfaction with the pro-European government which has been in office since 2009. Moldovans are angry about the more than $1 billion that went missing from the banking system in 2014 and accuse authorities of covering up the loss.
Moldova's president shapes the country's foreign policy and appoints judges but major decisions need approval from Parliament, where pro-European politicians have a majority. However, this is the first time Moldovans have elected a president by popular vote in 20 years, giving the post more authority and influence.
Dodon, 41, has pledged to "restore broad and friendly ties with Russia," a message that resonated with voters in northern Moldova and in a semi-autonomous region, Gagauzia. On Monday, he urged voters to turn out for the runoff saying "the first round shows very clearly, Moldova wants a left-wing government."
The relatively low turnout of less than 49 percent helped Dodon, a former Communist Party member who styles himself as a traditional Moldovan. Many young Moldovans, who generally do not vote for Dodon, stayed away from the polls.
Sandu, a former World Bank economist, also did better than expected with her promise to be tough on endemic corruption.
She heads the Action and Solidarity Party and has earned praise for reforms that she pushed through when she was education minister from 2012 to 2015. To stand a chance of winning in the runoff, she needs a high turnout.
"Sandu represents the best chance for change but she is running against vested interests in the media and in politics," said Dan Brett, a commentator on Moldova and an associate professor at the Open University. "Even if she wins she will face very real difficulties in effecting change, so embedded are the anti-reformists in all areas of Moldovan life."
Moldova is a landlocked nation of 3.5 million between Romania and Ukraine.
Alison Mutler in Bucharest, Romania contributed to this report.