Evolution or Revolution? What’s Happening on the Left Flank of Moldovan Politics

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Vladimir ROTAR
Igor Dodon’s resignation as the head of socialists foreshadows the coming changes in the center-left political camp of the republic. But what will they be like?
Whilst the ruling party is making all the same mistakes, taking more and more political knocks, the wind of change on the center-left flank is picking up. The core parties have more or less recovered from the crushing defeats of November 2020 and July 2021, and are now focused on reconstruction processes in order to approach the next election cycles in the best possible way. The major changes were expected closer to the end of the year when the republican congresses of the Socialist and Communist parties are due to take place - yet, the hottest news seems to have already arrived. It was, certainly, Igor Dodon’s announcement about resigning as the PSRM chairman and giving up his deputy mandate. The ex-president said that he no longer sees the point of being in parliament and can perform other functions more effectively, “I believe that my role as leader of the opposition will be much more active outside the parliament, from village to village, from house to house, from district to district. Therefore, I decided not to be tied to the parliamentary agenda. As soon as the parliament approves the waiver of the mandate, I will be able to become more active. I want to visit all the villages of Moldova.” Dodon also said that he accepted the offer to head the Moldovan-Russian Business Union. A backup in case of prosecution? Even against the background of the current energy crisis, the statements of the former head of state have created quite a powerful news opportunity that has caused a wide response from the public and experts. Many are wondering what’s exactly behind such a sudden decision. As you know, Igor Dodon has always been quite zealous about leadership in the party, which he repeatedly referred to as his brainchild. Even last December, when appointing a new, at least formal, chairman of the party seemed logical (Vlad Bartincea or Ion Ceban were supposed to take the position), this did not happen. As a result, there are quite a lot of versions right now, and which of them is closest to the truth will probably become clear a bit later. But it is already possible to highlight three major cause-effect schemes that could interpret the unexpected move of the Socialist Party leader. The first one was actively broadcast these days by representatives of the ruling Action and Solidarity party who didn’t really hide their gloat and moral satisfaction with this event. For example, the PAS vice-chairman dubbed it as “a predictable removal amidst the demoralized opposition.” “The opposition is demoralized and is now paying for all the mistakes made in recent years, but our priority is to focus on improving the lives of citizens. Dodon will do what he has been doing so far – personal economic relations, personal benefits,” Mihai Popsoi said on one of the Moldovan TV channels. Many observers directly linked Dodon’s voluntary and imminent resignation to the dramatic events in the Prosecutor General’s Office. The “raider seizure” of the institution followed by expulsion of Alexandr Stoianoglo as one of those remaining who disobeys the PAS has in fact removed the last obstacle on the way to large-scale criminal proceedings against the enemies of the new government. Since Vlad Plahotniuc and Ilan Sor are not in the country and their return to Moldova is impossible, at least now, the former president naturally becomes the number one target. Igor Dodon, of course, stated that he was not afraid of being persecuted by the PAS, and therefore voluntarily lost his immunity along with his deputy mandate. But here one should understand that, firstly, this immunity is largely illusory (it will be a piece of cake for the parliamentary majority to remove it), and secondly, judging by Stoianoglo’s case, the authorities will not even need serious justifications in order to have Dodon arrested while a weighty folder with charges is compiled against him. In this regard, Igor Dodon’s resignation from institutional positions can be considered as a desire to be on the safe side and prepare a back-up option in Russia in case the authorities decide to come to grips with his personality. A tactical withdrawal into the “shadows”? The next two scenarios, one way or another, are interconnected and can be implemented in parallel. First of all, let’s look again at that very Monday briefing by Dodon where, among other things, he shed light on future internal transformations in the PSRM. As he notified, the post of the party’s chairman will be eliminated, and the party itself will be led by a collegial body consisting of five members of the executive committee headed by the executive secretary. The current PSRM leader may be granted the status of an “honorary chairman” at the congress. Therefore, Dodon’s “dismissal” may well become “fictitious”, while his key influence on internal party processes will be retained. The point is to depersonalize the formation a bit, separating its image from the personal image of the ex-president who was largely affected by corruption scandals (the ever-remembered story with the bag became a kind of metaphor at all) and last year’s election defeat. Igor Dodon’s excessively frequent and dramatic change of heart, sometimes within a few weeks or even days, has definitely played a negative role. Therefore, by breaking the association of the PSRM with its creator, the government is trying to breathe new life into the party, involving the broader masses of center-left voters who did not dare to vote for the party or even come to the elections due to personal prejudices against the ex-president. Dodon himself can still focus his efforts on a personal rebranding, seeking to reinforce business ties between Moldova and Russia within the framework of new responsibilities, implementing small social and infrastructure projects, as well as skillfully criticizing the new government, constantly making comparisons in favor of his rule that are unpleasant for the current leadership of the republic. Given current events, the latter does not seem too difficult. And if Dodon’s rating is up again, then at the right moment he has all the chances to officially take over the party again, and if not, to keep on controlling the situation, formally remaining in the “shadow”. New leaders for the center-left flank? Finally, the events that have taken place can be interpreted as a gradual decline (or temporary suspension) of ex-president’s active political career, who will have to give way to a new generation of leaders – or one leader – which he did not publicly allow until recently. If this is true, then it is obvious that this decision was made with certain hints from Russia, where Igor Dodon has recently traveled to almost more often than during his presidency. Moscow, as colleagues noted, apparently, has engaged in regrouping its forces in Moldova. I think that in the foreseeable future, in any case, the PSRM will remain at the center of any Russian projects of the political structure of our republic, even if the diversification of conditionally pro-Russian forces does take place. On the other hand, the simultaneous consolidation of the center-left forces is obviously underway – the parliamentary faction of the Bloc of Communists and Socialists continues to function in a single composition, despite the statements by the PSRM and PCRM leaders, the idea of merging the two forces has not died. It is expected that its prospects will finally become clear already in November-December. And after that, the hypothetical formation can accept other “leftists” into its ranks. At the same time, for many ideologically similar political parties, the figure of Dodon is too toxic, and therefore unacceptable for any relations. There have already been many cases when the PSRM received signals from outside about possible cooperation, but only with the condition of the departure of its chairman. Therefore, due to the luggage of the former internal political struggle that has resulted in numerous failures, new enemies and electoral defeats, Igor Dodon is really not the best candidate for the role of the single center-left flank representative (which both Moscow and the PSRM itself can see). Yet, according to some reports, Vladimir Voronin may fit. The chairman of the PCRM recently said that he was also planning to leave the leadership of his party, but, apparently, events are developing at a very high speed, and therefore the plans are most likely to be changing. Voronin’s advantages are that he is: a) the most famous figure; b) the president whose tenure is widely perceived as the best in the history of modern Moldova; c) a politician whose anti-rating is not the highest one – at least, it’s lower than that of Dodon. It is clear that in this case the main calculation will be based on the population’s nostalgia for the times of the noughties, when the country seemed to be really moving forward. Typically, this bet practically did not play in the last early elections, when people voted en masse for the changes associated with PAS, that is, the future, not the past. At the same time, the disastrous results of the pro-European rule can radically change the situation and convince the finally disappointed society to prefer stability and predictability to another “pie in the sky”. However, it is quite possible that another candidate will be put forward – for example, from the second line of socialists, like Vlad Batrincea, or the current mayor of Chisinau Ion Ceban, who has long been preparing to take a new step in his political career. Plus, there is more than enough time for maneuvers – unless, of course, things in the country will require new early elections.