Moldovan president's allies score well in local polls

FILE PHOTO: Moldovan President Maia Sandu speaks at the USAID "Democracy Delivers" event at the Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice, in New York City

By Alexander Tanas

CHISINAU (Reuters) - Voters in Moldova on Sunday returned a large number of town councils friendly towards President Maia Sandu's drive to join the European Union, but one of her allies warned areas that backed its opponents that they would be getting less public funding.

Sandu warned before the election that pro-Russian forces in the country, particularly fugitive business magnate Ilan Shor, had funnelled money into Moldova to "buy" voters.

After Sunday's runoff votes, Sandu's Party of Action and Solidarity control a little more than a third of nearly 900 councils in the country lying between Ukraine and Romania, an outcome the party saw as a success.

Shor's allies were barred from running two days before the first round and he complained from exile in Israel that the ruling had cost him electoral success.

Voters in Moldova's second city, Balti, elected a representative of "Our Party", a group that calls for Moldova to cultivate favourable ties with all its neighbours, defeating a rival from the Russia-friendly Socialist Party.

An independent won in Comrat, a town in the south where one of Shor's allies had won a regional vote earlier this year. And in Calaras, a PAS candidate will now head the local council.

Ion Ceban, running under a party he founded, was re-elected mayor of the capital Chisinau in the first round, though the president's supporters suggest he may hold pro-Russian sympathies.

Igor Grosu, speaker of Moldova's parliament, said those areas that returned councils hostile to Sandu's pro-European drive risked getting none of the generous funding provided in the past three years by the European Union.

"Those who voted for the representatives of bandits and of those countries that do not wish us well, will bear responsibility for their choice," he said on Vocea Basarabiei television. "Those localities that voted for mayors with clear pro-European views will be the first to benefit from the support coming from European Union countries."

Shor was sentenced in absentia to 15 years in prison for his part in a huge bank fraud. A party bearing his name was later outlawed by the Constitutional Court.

Shor's supporters were barred from running under another party banner on security grounds two days before the election's opening round - including Arina Korsicova, his star candidate in Balti.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said in a report after the first round that the decision to bar some candidates had "limited voters' choice and resulted in uncontested races in some smaller localities."

(Reporting by Alexander Tanas; Editing by Ron Popeski and Will Dunham)