Moldova elects a new president, who is seen as friendly to Putin

Near final results show a clear victory for a pro-Russian politician in a presidential race that many Moldovans hope will rekindle ties with Moscow and break those with the European Union.

Igor Dodon tapped into popular anger over $1 billion that went missing from Moldovan banks

Socialist Party presidential candidate Igor Dodon leaves after a press briefing in Chisinau, Moldova, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016. Dodon, the pro-Moscow candidate for president, has over 50 percent of the vote in Moldova's election Sunday and said he was headed to victory, with just under 98 percent of the vote counted.(AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda) (The Associated Press)

Near final results show a clear victory for a pro-Russian politician in a presidential race that many Moldovans hope will rekindle ties with Moscow.

With 99.9 per cent of the votes counted early Monday, Igor Dodon won 52.3 per cent of the vote, while Maia Sandu who ran on an anti-corruption ticket, had 47.7 per cent.

Mouldovans celebrated his victory with fireworks early Monday in the semi-autonomous Gagauzia region, where many ethnic Russians live.

Dodon promised he would be a president to all Moldovans. He tapped into popular anger over the approximately $1 billion that went missing from Moldovan banks before the 2014 parliamentary elections.

He wants to restore ties with Russia, which placed a trade embargo on Moldovan wine and fruit after it signed an association agreement with the European Union.

Dodon said he he would push for early parliamentary elections next year to sweep out a government that favours closer ties with the European Union.

New elections would mean yet more instability for Moldova, where a $1 billion graft scandal in 2014 badly damaged trust in pro-EU leaders and resulted in the prime minister being jailed.

The impoverished country has had four premiers since then.

Students take part in a rally against Moldova's Socialist Party presidential candidate Igor Dodon after a presidential election near the Central Election Commission in Chisinau, Moldova late Sunday. (Gleb Garanich/Reuters)

Anti-EU talk, but some doubt

Dodon told Russian broadcaster Rossiya 24 in a phone interview that voters "united and voted for friendship with Russia, for neutrality, for our orthodoxy, for the country's union."

"A very serious combat is ahead but we are ready for this combat," he said, referring to an election that he wants to bring forward to next year rather than wait until 2018.

Anti-EU rhetoric proved rewarding elsewhere in eastern Europe at the weekend: a pro-Russian candidate won the presidency in Bulgaria and, on Monday, the Kremlin congratulated both Dodon and Bulgaria's Rumen Radev on their victories.

Dodon has called for a snap election before, but his call for one so soon after his victory suggests he and the government could be at loggerheads from the start of his presidency.

Moldovan presidents are more than figureheads and have the power to return laws to parliament and dissolve the assembly in certain situations, although executive and legislative power lie with the government and parliament.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Pavel Filip said the government and new president would need to work together in Moldova's best interest, and said that its path towards greater EU integration "cannot be reversed."

Dodon's Socialist party wants to scrap that agreement in favour of joining a Eurasian economic union dominated by Russia – a policy backed by many Moldovans who suffered financially from the goods embargo and a broader economic downturn.

In October, an ambassador from one EU member state, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that Dodon had privately told diplomats his party would not jettison the EU accord.

With files from Reuters