CHISINAU, March 22. /TASS/. Elections of the governor of Gagauzia, an autonomous entity in southern Moldova, are over as all 65 polling stations closed at 21:00 local time /22:00 Moscow time/, Oksana Nedyalko, a deputy chairperson of the Gagauz Election Commission, told TASS on Sunday.
Preliminary results will be announced overnight to Monday.
"On general, the electoral process was quite normal, with rather high voter turnout," she said. "Two and a half hours before the end of voting /19:30 Moscow time/, the turnout was 52% of the overall number of eligible voters, but data are still coming and the final figure will be still higher." Under Gagauzia’s laws, the elections are considered legitimate if more than 50% of voters /105,000/ take part.
Nedyalko said that candidates’ supporters had reported a number of violations, such as attempts at illegal canvassing and voter bribery, loss of ballot papers and a seal. Several voters said their named had not been put on the voter lists. "We have refereed these complaints to law enforcement bodies," she said.
The canvassing campaign in Gagauzia, which traditionally favours closer relations with Russia, was held on the backdrop of confrontation with the Moldovan authorities, which have embarked on a course towards integration into the European Union. In February 2014, Gagauzia held a referendum, where 98% of voters spoke in favour of integration into the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Armenia. Chisinau declared the Gagauz referendum illegitimate and opened criminal cases against its organizers.
According to opinion polls conducted ahead of Sunday’s elections, the frontrunner of the elections is Irina Vlakh, who advocates closer relations with Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States /CIS/, a loose association of some of the former Soviet republics. She was seen as a shoo-in in the first round of voting. But in case she fails to score 50% of the vote, a runoff election is to be held in a span of two weeks. Her chief rival - Nikolai Dudoglo, the former mayor of the Gagauz capital city of Comrat - was optimistic about his chances to confront Vlakh in the runoff voting. Other candidates include are Valery Yaniglo, a deputy to incumbent Gagauzia’s governor Mihail Formuzal who is leaving the office after two consecutive terms, Dmitry Kroitor, the former head of the Gagauz Autonomy, businessman Ruslan Garbaly, former members of the Moldovan parliament Oleg Garizan and Alexander Stoyanoglo, representative of Moldova’s Democratic Party Sergei Chernev, local administration official ILya Anastasov and Leonid Dobrov, the leader of a non-government organization.