Moldovan rebel region votes in presidential run-off

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 25, 2011 8:28 AM
Moldovan rebel region votes in presidential run-off

CHISINAU (Reuters) - Moldova's breakaway Transdniestria region voted on Sunday in the second round of a presidential election that pits a popular politician against a candidate backed by Russia.

Parliament member Yevgeny Shevchuk received 38.5 percent of the vote in the first round on December 11, followed by parliament speaker Anatoly Kaminsky with 26.4 percent.

President Igor Smirnov, who has run the mainly Russian-speaking territory as an independent fiefdom since it broke from Moldova and fought a brief separatist war against Moldovan forces in 1992, was voted out as he came third.

Unrecognized internationally, Transdniestria relies heavily on Russian financial and political support for its half a million people. Moscow still has about 1,500 troops in a ragged strip of land along Moldova's eastern border with Ukraine.

During his campaign, Shevchuk, 43, focused on issues such as corruption and nepotism. He quit as parliament speaker in 2009 after a stand-off with Smirnov over how much power the veteran leader should be able to exercise constitutionally.

Kaminsky, 61, who succeeded Shevchuk as speaker, was endorsed by Russia and has also accused Smirnov's government of failing to tackle corruption and develop the economy.

Russia indicated last month it was tired of the government's unwillingness to negotiate with Moldova.

Moldova, one of Europe's poorest nations and with ambitions to join the European Union, views Transdniestria as an integral part of its territory and has a big stake in the election result.

Despite Shevchuk's significant first-round lead, the outcome of Sunday's vote could be different as it was not clear which candidate would be favored by supporters of the eliminated Smirnov, who won about 24 percent in the first round.

Moscow said last week it would disburse $300 million to Transdniestria next year, an announcement that Shevchuk's camp considers was timed to boost Kaminsky's ratings.

Also playing into Kaminsky's hands, Smirnov's government has attacked Shevchuk, accusing him of being an agent of the West.

(Reporting by Alexander Tanas; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Alistair Lyon)