Young Moldovans fight corruption as election nears
For Andrei Trupceac, the breaking point came when courts in his native Moldova overturned the results of a local election that had been won by an opposition candidate.
"That day I understood that justice doesn't work here," said the 30-year-old, one of thousands of people who protested the decision last summer in the Moldovan capital Chisinau.
Trupceac is now part of a wave of young Moldovans, in the country and abroad, campaigning against corruption ahead of a general election on Sunday.
A week before the vote, he handed out anti-corruption leaflets in the small town of Orhei, north of Chisinau in this poor ex-Soviet republic wedged between Romania and Ukraine.
Last year the country ranked 117 out of 180 nations in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index. The NGO warned the government was putting pressure on activists.
The World Bank meanwhile said in a recent report that Moldova was "captured by oligarchic interests".
"Successive governments promised to combat corruption and transform the judiciary... but little has changed on the ground", it noted.
- 'Used to corruption' -
Some in the country's large diaspora have decided to come back from work or study abroad to protest corruption before the election.
Among them are Alex Mihailenco, a 33-year-old who works as a start-up developer in London and is behind a movement called "Free Moldova".
"Sunday's legislative elections are an opportunity to try to heal the country," he told AFP in Chisinau.
"Moldovans have got used to daily corruption, they think it's the same in all countries, but it's not true," he added.
"Free Moldova" uses online donations to print informational leaflets and posters, he said.
Maria, a 27-year-old who declined to give her last name, had also temporarily returned to Moldova from Britain for the vote.
She welcomed the birth of civil society in her home country, though many compatriots did not understand the need for such a movement.
"It's something new which has nothing to do with our Soviet heritage," Maria said.
The pair are among almost 800,000 Moldovans, of a population of 3.5 million, who work abroad and send money to their families back at home.
These transfers -- estimated last year to total around $1.2 billion -- are the equivalent of 20 percent of Moldova's gross domestic product (GDP), according to the World Bank.
- Dirty money -
Sunday's election is shaping up to be a three-way race between the pro-Russian Socialist party of President Igor Dodon, the ruling Democratic party, and a pro-European alliance.
Moldova signed an association agreement with the European Union in 2014, but Moscow still exerts a strong influence in the region.
In rural areas, young activists are received with hostility and accused of being paid by "foreign interests".
But those campaigning to clear dirty money out of politics insist they have no ulterior motives.
Lilia Nenescu, a 25-year-old anthropology graduate based in Chisinau, said she dreams of "changing the world, as naive as this sounds".
"We don't want to see our country governed by oligarchs anymore, even if they give electoral presents and are buying votes," she added.
The candidacy of Ilan Shor, a businessman who is currently appealing a prison sentence over a billion-dollar fraud, is for many a symbol of the rot at the heart of Moldova's political system.
He is all but guaranteed to win a seat, despite his conviction.
In Chisinau, Adina Raetchi was going door-to-door to encourage people to get informed about their candidates and then turn out to vote.
"Corruption is present in all areas, including education," the 21-year-old law student said.
"I would just like there to be a change to the justice system -- this is essential if young people are going to have a future in the country."
© 2019 AFP