CHISINAU, Moldova (AP) — A pro-Russian politician has secured a clear win in a presidential race that many Moldovans hope will rekindle ties with Moscow, near final results showed Monday.
With 99.9 percent of the votes counted, Igor Dodon won 52.3 percent of the vote. Maia Sandu, who ran on an anti-corruption ticket, had 47.7 percent.
Moldovans celebrated Dodon's victory with fireworks early Monday in the semi-autonomous Gagauzia region, home of many ethnic Russians.
The Socialists' Party leader promised to be a president to all Moldovans and said he seeks good relations with the nation's neighbors, Romania and Ukraine.
The Moldovan president represents the country abroad, sets foreign policy and appoints judges, but needs parliamentary approval for major decisions. The change in the way the president is being elected, however, is expected to bring the post more authority.
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 voted by Parliament which obliges taxpayers to reimburse the $1 billion, but hasn't called for a thorough investigation or to find those responsible for the heist. It is doubtful that he would be able to cancel a law already approved by the legislature.
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.
The president is in charge of foreign policy but he 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.
Dodon, who was economic minister from 2006 to 2009, may try to consolidate authority around himself, Brett said.
Brett said the result suited 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.
Moldovans voting in Britain, Ireland, France and Italy lined up for hours and ballot papers ran out. Sandu said the elections had been badly organized.
Alison Mutler in Bucharest, Romania contributed to this report.