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Almost half of Gagauzia’s eligible voters take part in governor’s elections

March 22, 2015, 15:16 updated at: March 22, 2015, 18:16 UTC+3 CHISINAU

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

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CHISINAU, March 22. /TASS/. High voter turnout is reported at governor’s election in Gagauzia, the autonomous region in southern Moldova, chairman of Central Election Commission Valentin Kara said on Sunday.

"As of 15:30 local time /16:30 Moscow time/, the voter turnout was 42%," he said, adding that voting was being held in calm atmosphere, with no major violations.

According to Gagauzia’s laws, the election is considered legitimate if more than 50% of voters participate in it. In case of second tour, the hurdle is lowered to more than 30%

The elections are 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.

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."

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.

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