CHISINAU, Moldova (AP) — A pro-Russian politician has secured a clear win in Moldova's presidential race, final results showed Monday, an election that many Moldovans hope will rekindle ties with Moscow.
In the full count, Igor Dodon won 52.2 percent of the vote. Maia Sandu, who ran on an anti-corruption ticket, had 47.8 percent. Russian President Vladimir Putin invited Dodon to visit Moscow and said he looked forward to developing bilateral relations.
In her first comments after the final results, Sandu said the elections were neither free nor fair and accused opponents of using "dirty methods" including the media and administrative resources, against her. She called for the resignation of authorities responsible for organizing the elections.
International election observers said Monday "fundamental freedoms (were) respected, but polarized media coverage, harsh rhetoric detracted from the process."
On Monday, up to 3,000 mostly young Moldovans marched to the offices of the Central Election Committee in Chisinau shouting "Down with the Mafia!"
Anger had also flared on Sunday after Moldovans voting in Britain, Ireland, France, Italy and elsewhere lined up for hours and ballot papers ran out. Sandu said the elections had been badly organized.
Dodon's victory was celebrated with fireworks early Monday in the semi-autonomous Gagauzia region, home of many ethnic Russians.
Dodon, leader of the Socialists' Party, announced himself the victor at midnight Sunday and called for calm, vowing to be a president for all Moldovans, regardless of their political views. He said he seeks good relations with the nation's neighbors, Romania and Ukraine.
Putin congratulated Dodon and said the outcome of the elections demonstrates Moldovans want to have a balanced foreign policy." The statement said the Russian leader is willing to develop bilateral relations within an existing friendship agreement.
Romania's president, Klaus Iohannis, was cooler and more reserved in his remarks, saying the new president should fulfil his mandate "with wisdom and balance," and respect "the constitutional attributes" of the post.
Iohannis added that the only way to offer Moldovans a prosperous future was to have internal political stability and a commitment from state institutes and politicians to "consolidate the process of reforms" that will modernize the country and "support the European path which directly benefits all Moldovans."
Moldova's president represents the country abroad, sets foreign policy and appoints judges, but needs parliamentary approval for major decisions. However, the office is expected to gain authority because Dodon is the first president in 20 years to be directly elected rather than being chosen by Parliament.
The 41-year-old Dodon, who painted himself as a traditional Moldovan with conservative values, tapped into popular anger over the approximately $1 billion that went missing from Moldovan banks before the 2014 parliamentary elections.
Dodon says he will move to rescind a law which obliges taxpayers to reimburse the $1 billion, but Parliament would have to agree. He hasn't called for a thorough investigation or to find those responsible for the heist.
He wants to restore ties with Russia, which placed a trade embargo on Moldovan wine, fruit and vegetables in 2014 after Moldova signed an association agreement with the European Union.
However, the president cannot cancel the association agreement, which was ratified by Parliament.
"The new president will continue to pursue an active pro-Russia policy," said Nicolae Reutoi, senior analyst at Alaco, a London-based intelligence consultancy. "However, in practice, he will have to work in tandem with the ruling coalition, which declares itself pro-European."
Another analyst called Dodon "an authoritarian populist."
"He promised everything to everyone," said Dan Brett, a commentator on Moldova and an associate professor at the Open University.
Brett said the result suits the pro-European government in power since 2009 because "he is cut from the same cloth as them and they share the same self-interests."
Sandu, a former education minister who heads the Action and Solidarity Party, said the former Soviet republic would have a more prosperous future in the EU.
Sandu needed a high turnout to hope to win, but the final turnout of 53.3 percent was less than she had hoped.
Alison Mutler in Bucharest, Romania contributed to this report.