TIRASPOL, Moldova - The veteran leader of Moldova's breakaway Transdniestria region appeared well in front after a Sunday election in which he ran for a fifth term against the wishes of his former patron Russia.
But Igor Smirnov, a 70-year-old Russian who has ruled the territory of half-a-million people for 20 years, seemed likely to fall short of the 50 per cent required to avoid a second round of voting, an exit poll showed.
The poll, by the Vektor agency, gave Smirnov 47.38 percent of the vote, while Moscow-backed parliamentary speaker Anatoly Kaminsky was in third place with 22.6 percent, surprising many analysts who believed his endorsement by the Kremlin made him the strongest challenger.
Instead, Yevgeny Shevchuk, a former parliamentary speaker who was mooted as a possible successor to Smirnov a year ago but whose star seemed to have faded, was in second place on 23.2 percent, the exit poll showed.
Preliminary results were expected on Monday at 0800 gmt.
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