CHISINAU, March 22. /TASS/. Gagauzia, the autonomous region in southern Moldova, is due to hold the elections of its governor on Sunday, with 10 candidates competing for the post.
The elections will be monitored by the representatives of the European Union and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries, local and international public organizations. The first results will be announced overnight to Monday.
Opinion polls say that Irina Vlakh, calling for closer ties with Russia and the CIS, a loose alliance of former Soviet republics, is the favorite to gain the seat.
According to Moldova’s Intellect Group, Vlakh could win already in the first tour as she is likely to get 57% of the votes. The former mayor of Comrat, the region’s capital, Nikolai Dudoglo, is expected to come second with 23% of the votes.
Valeriy Yanioglo, the deputy of the current governor Mikhail Formuzala, could get around 8% of the votes. Formuzala is resigning after two terms. If no one gets more than 50% of the votes, the second tour will be held in two weeks.
Experts say Vlakh is the leading candidate due to the support of Moldova’s Socialist Party that received the majority of seats in the country’s parliament during the November elections. Some 60% of Gagauzia citizens back the party.
The members of the Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma - actress Yelena Drapeko and Russian former professional boxer Nikolai Valuev - and many other public figures have recently visited the region at the invitation of the socialists to support Vlakh.
The election campaign in Gagauzia, where citizens have been traditionally calling for closer relations with Russia, comes amid the standoff with Moldova’s authorities who have declared the course towards integration with the European Union.
In February last year, a referendum was held on the territory of the tiny autonomous region in which more than 98% of participants called for the country’s integration in the Customs Union (Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Armenia).
Chisinau dismissed the referendum as illegal and launched criminal cases against its organizers. Moldova’s President Nicolae Timofti suggested an entry ban to Gagauzia for the Russian lawmakers who he said "interfere in the country’s domestic affairs."
In comments to move, the Socialist Party leader, Igor Dodon, told TASS: "These are the world famous celebrities and how Timofti, who has not ever visited Gagauzia during the years of his presidency, is planning not to let them there?"
The speaker of Moldova’s parliament, Andrian Candu, told journalists that the country’s central authorities were not meddling in the election process and would respect the choice of Gagauzia’s citizens.
"We will cooperate with the future governor whatever political party he represents," he stressed.
Meanwhile, earlier this week, Moldova’s authorities declared persona non grata Dmitry Kiselev, the director general of Russia’s International Information Agency Rossiya Segodnya, and journalist Andrei Kondrashov, as well as the VGTRK TV crew.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Friday these Moldova’s actions are the "flagrant facts of violations of international commitments on ensuring the freedom of speech."
The Gagauz people live mainly in southern Moldova and in areas adjacent to Ukraine. They speak the Gagauz language and are Orthodox Christians. Some theories say the Gagauz people descend from the Turks who settled in the Eastern Balkans (Bulgaria).
Gagauzia received the status of an autonomous region in 1994 following the Moldovan parliament’s decision. This allowed resolving the Gagauz problem in a peaceful way.
The problem emerged in late 1980s when the Gagauz citizens proclaimed independence. Chisinau said the move was illegal and in November 1990 armed volunteers led by Prime Minister Mircea Druc were sent there to suppress the independence supporters. The bloodshed was prevented by the Interior Ministry’s forces deployed there by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.