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Moldova Holds First Direct Presidential Poll Since 1990s


An elderly woman casts her vote at a polling station during presidential elections in Chisinau, Moldova, Oct. 30, 2016.

Moldova voted Sunday in its first popular presidential election since the 1990s that could move the former Soviet republic closer to the European Union or to closer relations with Russia.

Election authorities declared the vote valid after the turnout reached the minimum eligibility requirement of one-third. The preliminary results are expected within hour after poles close at 1900 GMT (3 p.m. EDT).

The European Union, the United States, and Russia are seeking more influence over the small agricultural country of 3.5 million inhabitants, located between EU member Romania and Ukraine.

The favorite of the nine candidates running for president is Igor Dodon, a 41-year-old pro-Moscow political figure who heads the Socialist Party and who has taken advantage of widespread dissatisfaction with the pro-European government, which has been in office since 2009.

Moldova plunged into political turmoil in 2014 with the disappearance of $1 billion from the banking system. Street protests erupted and the International Monetary Fund and the European Union froze aid to Moldova.

Former prime minister Vlad Filat, one of five prime ministers in three years, was implicated, handcuffed live on TV in parliament and later imprisoned. Many Moldovans believe that other members of the pro-EU elite were complicit in the scam.

Since then, Moldovan parliament has passed anti-corruption laws, mandating public officials to disclose their assets and making the misuse of EU funds a criminal offense.