CHISINAU, Moldova – Moldovans directly elect their president on Sunday for the first time in 20 years. Both candidates in the presidential runoff are economists in their 40s, but the similarities end there. Here's a look at them and the issues:
WHERE IN THE WORLD?
Moldova is a landlocked, agricultural nation of 3.5 million, bordering Ukraine and European Union member Romania. In politics, there's widespread public anger over high-level official corruption in one of Europe's poorest states — particularly about $1 billion that was looted from Moldovan banks just before the 2014 election. More than 30 mainly junior officials are being investigated over the heist but many say the probe is too slow and hasn't targeted senior figures.
WHICH WAY TO GO?
Igor Dodon, the favorite in the presidential race, wants the ex-Soviet republic to return to the Russian orbit, while rival Maia Sandu believes the country would secure a more prosperous, predictable future in Europe.
WHAT IS DODON'S PLAN?
Dodon is trying to channel Donald Trump's U.S. victory into Moldova's runoff. The 41-year-old who paints himself as a traditional family man is harnessing anger with the pro-European government that has been in office since 2009. Socialist Dodon plans to cozy up to Russia, which has punished Moldova with a trade ban on Moldovan wine, fruit and vegetables for signing an association agreement with the EU.
Dodon says Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, is Russian territory, a comment that didn't go down well in Ukraine. But he's hedged his bets recently, saying he also seeks good relations with the EU and Ukraine.
Dodon is backed by the pro-Moscow branch of the Moldovan Orthodox Church. Despite Trump's three marriages and two divorces, Dodon calls Trump "a supporter of Christian values."
WHAT DOES SANDU WANT?
Ex-World Bank economist Sandu is running on an anti-corruption ticket, which resonates with many after $1 billion bank heist. Supported by young voters and Moldovans working in Western Europe, Sandu, 44, has been criticized by an Orthodox cleric for being unmarried and childless.
Sandu is known for her uncompromising approach to corruption, which cost her the nomination to be prime minister in July 2015. She was education minister from 2012 to 2015, winning praise for reforms, such as updating textbooks and introducing cameras into exam rooms to stamp out rampant cheating.
Sandu says a crackdown on graft will lead to improved living standards, decent wages and pensions above subsistence level.
HIGH TURNOUT HELPS WHO?
Sandu's best chance of a victory is a high voter turnout. Some 800,000 Moldovans work abroad and send remittances back home. They can vote if they go to their local embassies or other special voting stations.
WHAT DOES THE PRESIDENT DO?
The Moldovan president represents the country abroad, sets foreign policy and appoints judges, but needs parliamentary approval for major decisions. The change in the way the president is being elected, however, is expected to bring the post more authority.
Alison Mutler in Bucharest, Romania contributed to this report.