Moldovan Lesson for Poroshenko

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Unspoken master of Moldova Vlad Plahotniuc showed a master class on how to maintain control over the country in a huge personal unpopularity and criticism of Western partners. Politician breaks pre-election schemes Most of the forecasts before the parliamentary elections on February 24 in Moldova gave a confident win to the Party of Socialists. At the same time, Vlad Plahotniuc’s ruling democrats, even taking into account the voting in single-mandate constituencies, were predicted to have 20 seats at most. According to surveys of sociologists from the Center for insight in survey research, held in December-January, the Democratic Party could count on 14% of the vote, while the PSRM – on as much as 39%. Nevertheless, the results of the elections were frankly surprising: PDM firmly took second place with 30 mandates, ahead of the opposition bloc ACUM (‘Now’) and not allowing the leading socialists to get far ahead. The pro-presidential PSRM finished first, but won only the Pyrrhic victory without receiving a parliamentary majority. Another remarkable result is the breakthrough of the Plahotniuc’s vassal – Shor party, which bypassed much more experienced competitors-old-timers like communists or liberals. Taking into account the representatives of the Shor party and three independent deputies, the Democratic Party actually collected a controlling stake in the new Parliament. At the same time, there seems to be no evident grounds for cancellation of the election results (none of the participants are talking about this), and international observers have not noticed significant violations. In the end, the democratic leader has reached the main thing: he legalized his power within the country and received the necessary legitimacy at the international level. The main lesson of the last election campaign lies on the surface. For a long time, the ruling government tried to play the geopolitical violin, maneuvering between East and West, but the ‘profit’ within the country from such maneuvers was minimal. Therefore, six months before the elections, the Democratic Party decided to fill the life of the population of the Republic of Moldova not only with abstract geopolitical meanings, but also with tangible material benefits. The growth of pensions, compensations for payment of utility services, road maintenance and food rations: and then citizens tempered justice with mercy, and the chances of the PDM to maintain the power turned from the merest to good. Another obvious but important conclusion: the results of social surveys sometimes differ significantly from the results of voting. For example, on the eve of the Moldovan elections, sociologists asked voters whether they would take part in the voting. As can be seen from the chart, more than half of the voters aged 18 to 29 years were going to go to the polls. However, the data of the CEC showed that in fact only 8.5 percent of voters that age voted. It turns out that the young and change-minded voters, who didn’t take the food rations bait, did not play a decisive role in the elections, although their votes could affect the final balance of power. Poroshenko learns from neighbors The lessons of the Moldovan elections should clearly be of interest to the President of neighboring Ukraine Petro Poroshenko, who approaches the March elections in almost identical conditions of a huge unpopularity and the lost trust of international partners. According to surveys of Ukrainian sociologists, Poroshenko’s poll numbers range from 10 to 13%, which is significantly less than that of the leading showman Volodymyr Zelensky. Vlad Plahotniuc, who in a very short time turned the situation in his favor, should inspire the Ukrainian leader. Apparently, Kyiv has already noted the best practices of the Moldovan colleague: it is enough to look at the recent initiatives of the President. Like the Democratic Party in Moldova, Petro Poroshenko diligently worked on the geopolitical agenda before the elections: the separation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, incorporation in the Constitution of the policy towards the EU and NATO, etc. But the Moldovan example reaffirmed truths: the main expectations of the population are connected, first of all, with the improvement of their own material well-being. In the case of Ukraine, an important role is played by the security factor associated with the conflict in the East of the country and the growth of crime: the demand for peace in Ukrainian society is extremely high. It is not surprising that Poroshenko’s recent statements were characterized by peacefulness and a desire to extinguish the flames of the conflict with Russia. This fully corresponds to the wishes of the population: almost 60% of Ukrainians support diplomatic ways of settlement in Donbas (37% stand for cessation of hostilities and freezing of the conflict, 22% – for granting these territories independent or federal status within Ukraine). Besides the Donbass, they do not forget about the financial incentives. Since March 1, the amount of pension payments will increase by 17-20%, and from this year pensions will be recalculated annually automatically. The increase was announced by Prime Minister of Ukraine Pavlo Rozenko. He noted that the budget “has the necessary resource to increase pension payments”. Moreover, as part of the indexation, from March 1, additional payments are introduced for those pensioners who have a great insurance experience, in the amount of 2400 UAH in two tranches. It is noteworthy that payments will be made exactly before the first and second round of voting. During his tour, the President of Ukraine noted that 3700000 households receive subsidies in the country, 70% of which are pensioners. Besides the strategy of the election campaign, the leadership of Ukraine took from the neighbors methods of rapid pumping up of the budget for electoral populism. For instance, Moldova held an amnesty for cars with foreign registration, reducing the rate of excise duties on customs clearance by 70%. The offer lasted 6 months, and during this time cars should have been cleared and registered in the country: otherwise, the cars were threatened to be removed from the country. The so-called ‘europlates’ amnesty lasted from January 1 to April 1, 2017, but due to the large number of those wishing to legalize their cars, the period was extended until July 1. In November last year, the Parliament of Ukraine also adopted a law that should legalize cars with European plates. The Verkhovna Rada released from liability for violation of the law and gave a temporary 50% discount on customs clearance. The amnesty ended on February 22. 161 thousand cars registered during three months. At the same time, the Verkhovna Rada has registered draft law No. 9522, which proposes to extend the discount for another three months. As for ratings, the example of Moldova shows that pre-election sociology can be tricky. Judging by the polls, the main electorate of Volodymyr Zelensky is young people. Thus, 31% of voters aged 18-29 are ready to vote for him (for Yulia Tymoshenko – 9%, for Petro Poroshenko – 7%). But, for example, among Ukrainians at the age of 50-59 years Tymoshenko heads the poll with 15% of votes whereas Zelensky takes only the third place and 9%. Only 5% of the elderly (60 years) are ready to vote for the showman. Taking into account the Moldovan experience, the main electorate of Volodymyr Zelensky – young people who advocate for radical changes – in reality can ignore the elections. And, as usual, the outcome of the vote will be defined primarily by citizens in older age groups, which are now actively bribed with the growth of pensions and various material incentives. In such circumstances, the high rating of the showman can easily dip, and Petro Poroshenko has a chance to break into the second round.