Opinion: “The Democratic Party is Trying to Woo the Voters by Means of Banal Populism”

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On September 15, Vladimir Plahotniuc, coordinator of the ruling coalition in Moldova (and even of Moldova itself), announced a serious change in the strategy of the Democratic Party he leads. The “new course”, according to legend, will imply abandonment of geopolitics and means a focus on Moldova and its citizens. The most powerful politician in Moldova said exactly the following:
“For a long time people have been convinced that problems can be solved only by upholding pro-European, pro-Russian, pro-American, unionist views, shaping the erroneous opinion that someone outside of Moldova will take care of us. So the politicians distanced themselves from the people. But the problems of people remained the same, as they are not solved geopolitically, but only with the help of good domestic policy. Therefore, henceforth PDM is a pro-Moldovan party, for all Moldovans”.
The reaction to the briefing of Plahotniuc was like “circles on the water”. Unionist parties and the pro-European opposition called statements by the leader of the Democratic Party a coming-out and an abandonment of European integration. The Socialists’ Party of Moldova became hysterical due to the unceremonious interference of the right-flank partner in that sphere of rhetoric and politics, in which the left was always pioneers. Some confusion, curiously enough, is observed among diplomats and foreign partners: the message of Vladimir Plahotniuc was intended for them not least of all. For experienced experts in Moldovan politics, such a ‘turn’, however, did not become a surprise. In my opinion, we should not overestimate the potential of its influence on the electoral processes in the country. Firstly, Vladimir Plahotniuc’s speech became a logical continuation of the actions and rhetoric of the PDM of recent months, and therefore did not become a novel for the prepared and already ‘warmed up’ public. Consider this: in an interview on the eve of the Independence Day of Moldova (where the leader of the PDM confessed that he was “captured by the desire to develop Moldova”) Plahotniuc, in fact, announced his recent statement: “We have already begun to change the paradigm of building international relations. This autumn you will see what new and interesting approaches the DPM will use to show that we still stand by our pro-European convictions, remaining to a large extent the pro-Moldovan party”. There hardly could be a clearer hint at the events that followed up in the middle of September, isn’t it? Secondly, the more logical the strategy, the less chance of losing. The PDM was repeatedly and quite reasonably criticized for the excessive exploitation of the geopolitical trump card in its electoral campaigns. The democrats loved Europe and hated Russia way too vividly and deliberately. Statements by Prime Minister Pavel Filip on the irreversibility of the European course of Moldova literally co-existed with the ban on Russian television channels, the expulsion of embassy officials and periodic articles on the “Russian threat” in American press, obviously, written by prominent Moldovan politicians. For several years, the Democratic Party has successfully manipulated minds of Moldovan citizens owing to geopolitics and, most likely, will continue to do so. And in order to reduce the intensity of criticism today, statements that are meant to be a ‘smokescreen’ are being made. Thirdly, the appeal in the Plahotniuc’s statement to the real aspirations of citizens – which for sure care more about clean entrance halls than about Iran’s nuclear program – is of a typically populist nature. This pure populism enjoys the increasing confidence of the population and has already brought politicians into power in the US, Hungary, Poland, Italy, complicating life in Germany, Sweden and other EU countries. Either way, the emphasis on domestic policy and the “economic needs of the common man” works. In this sense, it should be remembered that the promising electoral resource of the democrats is, first of all, local bureaucracy, bureaucrats and public employees more or less satisfied with their position, as well as businessmen close to the authorities, plus cousins, friends, guards and other entourage. These people are not categorized according to ideological preferences: among them you are equally likely to meet both fierce unionists and people tightly bound by common interests with the EU or Russia. Half of them has relatives working in Europe, another half – in Russia. Therefore, the “ProMoldova” message is precisely designed to gather the maximum voices of this very varied audience. Jumped on this idea, Vladimir Plahotniuc provides the Democratic Party with the voices of its core electorate. But this is not the main thing. Changing the strategy, albeit at a rhetorical level, expands the room for political maneuver after the February elections. Declaring his pro-Moldovan orientation, Plahotniuc already forms a hypothetical prototype of the coalition with the socialists of Igor Dodon, if it is required on the basis of the election results. By the way, earlier on the initiative of the PSRM, positions on the Transdniestrian settlement and on the national security of the Republic of Moldova were significantly brought together, the main threat of which was unanimously recognized the military presence of Russia in Transdniestria. Now the shared outlook affects the even more sensitive sphere of domestic and foreign policy. Platforms come together day by day due to the steady movement of both political formations towards each other. It is obvious that changes in the strategy of the Democratic Party are both rhetorical and electoral move, which gives the actual leadership of Moldova room for maneuver. We expect at least a few more such loud vociferous steps from both the current Moldovan authorities and their political opponents and ‘junior’ partners. Therefore, we should be calm about this. Now it is much more interesting to follow the upcoming changes in the composition of the Moldovan government announced in the same statement by Vladimir Plahotniuc.