CHISINAU, Moldova – A pro-European Union candidate easily won the runoff vote for mayor of Moldova's capital and biggest city Monday, in an election seen as a test of whether the former Soviet republic moves closer to the EU or to neighboring Russia.
With all the votes counted in Chisinau, incumbent Dorin Chirtoaca had 53.54 percent of the vote from Sunday's ballot with pro-Russian challenger Zinaida Greceanai, a former prime minister, trailing at 46.46 percent.
Moldova, which declared independence in 1991 after the Soviet Union broke up, is located between Romania and Ukraine. Last year, it signed an association agreement with the 28-nation EU, angering Russia, which then banned some of its fruits and vegetables. That hurt the largely agricultural nation, one of Europe's poorest.
Chirtoaca's victory is a boost for Moldova's pro-European parties, who hold a slim margin in Parliament and struggle to remain united.
"I feel like a newborn," said the 38-year-old Chirtoaca. "Being elected for a third time ... means trust, joy and gratitude."
Parties have said they will begin negotiations for a new government after the runoffs. Former prime minister Chiril Gaburici resigned on June 12 amid a probe into the authenticity of his high school diploma and university degree.
Fireworks exploded in the capital just before midnight when it looked like Chirtoaca would win another four-year mandate. He has been mayor of this city of 1 million since 2007.
However, leader of the Socialists' Party, Igor Dodon, claimed the ballot was flawed by irregularities. He said the pro-Europeans were "celebrating too soon. We don't recognize the result of the elections. There were too many irregularities," he said early Monday
Runoffs were being held in 458 towns in this country of 4 million. Some 348 seats were already decided in the first round.
Turnout across the country was 47.5 percent, slightly lower than in the first round on June 14 but it was higher in the capital, 48.8 percent.
Renato Usatii, a pro-Russian businessman, won outright on June 14 in Moldova's second-largest city, Balti, and pro-Russian businessman Ilan Shor won in the eastern town of Orhei.
Moldovan officials, meanwhile, have been investigating the disappearance of $1.5 billion from state-owned and private banks before the parliamentary election last November, and Shor is being investigated in that probe.
Alison Mutler in Bucharest, Romania, contributed to this report.