A reformist candidate won the vote, but in an ominous sign for upcoming national elections, the outcome was nixed on a dubious technicality.

On June 3, Andrei Nastase of the reformist Dignity and Truth (DA) party was elected mayor of Chisinau, Moldova’s capital, with 52.57 percent of the vote, defeating the Socialist Party’s Ion Ceban in a hard-fought runoff. Ceban was an ally of President Igor Dodon, and his defeat by an upstart candidate who had emerged as a leader of anticorruption protests was widely seen as an overdue shake-up of the country’s graft-ridden political scene ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for December.

Less than two weeks after the runoff, however, a Chisinau court invalidated the outcome on the grounds that both candidates had allegedly engaged in illegal campaign activities by encouraging voters via Facebook to turn out on election day, after the end of the legal campaign period.

The decision to annul the results based on such a minor violation raised concerns that the ruling was politically motivated. If true, this would be an alarming indication that democracy is weakening in a country with ambitions of eventually joining the European Union (EU). Moldova’s government institutions have long been a source of disappointment for citizens, civil society groups, and the international community due to their failure to tackle widespread corruption and implement much-needed reforms. However, until the mayoral election debacle, there had been hope that the system was open enough to allow new political forces to compete and drive democratic progress.

The shared…