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November 14, 2016

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, final results showed Monday. 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.

Later Monday, up to 1,000 mostly young Moldovans marched to the offices of the Central Election Committee in Chisinau shouting “Down with the Mafia!” Anger 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. 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.

Moldova’s president represents the country abroad, sets foreign policy and appoints judges, but needs parliamentary approval for major decisions. However, the office was expected to gain authority because Dodon was 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 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.

Alison Mutler in Bucharest, Romania contributed to this report.

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