TIRASPOL, Moldova Former parliament speaker Yevgeny Shevchuk won the presidential election in Moldova's breakaway Transdniestria region, the territory's election authority said Monday, the second setback for regional power Russia within two months.
"According to preliminary results, he (Shevchuk) received 73.88 percent of votes while his opponent Anatoly Kaminsky received 19.67 percent," Central Election Commission chairman Pyotr Denisenko told reporters.
Shevchuk competed against current speaker Anatoly Kaminsky, who was backed by Russia, in a run-off Sunday.
Kaminsky's defeat comes after a Kremlin-endorsed candidate lost a presidential election in November in Georgia's rebel region of South Ossetia, leading to court battles, public protests and legal chaos.
Kaminsky indicated he would not challenge election results.
"...I recognize Shevchuk's victory," he told Reuters.
President Igor Smirnov, who ran the mainly Russian-speaking territory as an independent fiefdom since it broke from Moldova and fought a brief war against Moldovan forces in 1992, was voted out in the first round on December 11.
Not recognized internationally, Transdniestria relies on Russian financial and political support for its half a million people. Moscow still has about 1,500 troops in a strip of land along Moldova's eastern border with Ukraine.
Transdniestria is the most westerly of the former Soviet Union's "frozen conflicts" - ethnic disputes that flared into wars when the superpower collapsed and remain latent and unresolved two decades later.
SHEVCHUK INSISTS ON INDEPENDENCE
Talks with Moldova have failed to make progress under Smirnov who insisted on sovereignty while Moscow suggested Transdniestria should be part of Moldova with a special status.
Shevchuk, 43, fell out with Smirnov in 2009 after suggesting constitutional reform to limit presidential powers. His campaign in this election focused on fighting corruption and nepotism.
Although he has not spoken in favour of rejoining Moldova, Shevchuk has called for compromise solutions that would make travelling and doing business easier for Transdniestrians.
"The issue of joining Moldova is beyond the president's powers. It is up to the people who clearly showed their preference at a referendum on September 17, 2006," Shevchuk told Reuters after he was declared winner.
In the 2006 referendum, 97 percent of Transdniestrians voted in favour of winning formal independence from Moldova and joining Russia. Moscow, however, has never approved such an idea and Transdniestria has no border with Russia.
At the same time, Shevchuk said he would seek to build "good neighbourly relations" with Moldova and Ukraine, continuing talks to resolve the dispute over sovereignty with Moldova.
"My first task will be to work with our neighbours to ensure free movement of people and goods," Shevchuk said.
(Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Louise Ireland)