Overshadowed by a banking scandal, ex-Soviet Moldova votes in its first direct presidential election since 1996.
Foreign Policy reported in Sep 2016 that two years ago, nearly US $1 billion disappeared from Moldova's banks in a mysterious financial scheme that sparked a political crisis still burning today. The magazine noted that the missing money amounts to roughly 12 per cent of the GDP of Moldova, the tiny nation between Romania and Ukraine that is Europe's poorest country.
Figures in the governing pro-Western Alliance for European Integration (AIE) of President Nicolae Timofti are heavily implicated. The fallout has included massive protests in the streets of the capital Chisinau, five short-lived prime ministers and a presidency opening for the leader of the Socialist Party, Igor Dodon. His presidency would move the country decisively closer to Moscow.
Though not part of the ruling AIE, the Socialists hold the most seats in parliament after a surge in the parliamentary election of Nov 30, 2014.
Foreign Policy sees Dodon's main rivals for the presidency as the Western-aligned politicians Andrei Nastase, who has built a reputation railing against the country's judiciary, and Maya Sandu, a Harvard-educated economist and former education minister who has promised to tackle corruption.
Date written/update: 2016-09-28