Opinion: “Chisinau Hyped up Presidential Election in Transnistria”

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Sergei CEBAN
Yesterday on the left bank, residents quite casually and, in fact, on an uncontested basis re-elected the current head of the region.  The authorities for some reason created unnecessary excitement for the election, which led to a mini-scandal with Russia
Yesterday on the left bank of the Dniester, election of the head of the region were held, in which the incumbent head Vadim Krasnoselsky was expected to win. Judging by the data of the local CEC, he scored a little less than 80% of the votes of all those who came to the polling stations. Electoral phenomena on the left bank have long become something common to politicians and citizens of the rest of our country. Igor Dodon, for example, in 2016 congratulated Krasnoselsky on his election, and later at one of the meetings even called him “the president of Transnistria”. Maia Sandu, unlike her predecessor, tries to avoid personal contacts with Transnistrian representatives and, obviously, has much less warm feelings for the latter. In fact, there was only one contact at a level higher than the standard negotiations between the Deputy Prime Minister for Reintegration and the political representative of the region, since the victory of the PAS. In October, at the peak of the energy crisis, Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilita called Vadim Krasnoselsky to discuss the prospects for uninterrupted electricity supplies from the Moldovan GRES (Kuchurgan power station) and the state of affairs in the Transnistrian settlement. So it is not surprising that on November 19, answering a question from journalists about Chisinau’s expectations from the election in Transnistria, Maia Sandu reasonably noted that it’s not recognized by the central authorities, because it’s considered illegitimate. And, consequently, there are no expectations about the results. It seemed that everything would end there, and Chisinau would not pay much attention to the next electoral event in the region. However, the bay before, the Reintegration Policy Bureau made an official statement on this issue, indicating that the so-called “presidential elections” will be held “outside the constitutional field and not in accordance with the current legislation of the Republic of Moldova”. Therefore, it cannot be recognized by the Government of Moldova and is considered invalid from a legal point of view. Given that the voting does not meet democracy standards and requirements, the Bureau called on the international community to refrain from statements, media coverage, sending observers or other actions and contacts with left-bank representatives in order to exclude legitimization of the electoral process. Any actions that run counter to these recommendations, according to the Bureau, will be considered by the Moldovan authorities as a challenge to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the republic. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration also spoke in a similar vein, through diplomatic channels calling on all embassies and diplomatic missions to refrain from sending observers and participating in the upcoming illegal election procedure. Although the government’s position on the Transnistrian election has been known for a long time, Tiraspol reacted quite impulsively, appealing to the right of the left bank residents to independently determine their future, and also urging Chisinau not to ignore the opinion of the population, since their approach allegedly hinders “the soonest fair and final settlement of the conflict”. Basically, exchanging accusations cannot be called unusual for the relations between Chisinau and Tiraspol, especially recently. On the other hand, excessive hype has already begun to escalate, and the left-bank administration began to cite the Bureau’s statement for promoting anti-Moldovan sentiments in the local media on the grounds that “Chisinau does not respect the suffrage of Pridnestrovians”. However, the ruling party decided to go further and move beyond rhetoric (it's a pity that this always happens to them at the wrong time). Within a few days, a dozen well-known and not-so-well-known Russian citizens who intended to travel to Tiraspol to observe the local election were deported from the Chisinau airport. For some reason, the press secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration, who was instructed to explain this, literally stated the following: “It is important that individual experts willing to participate in the so-called “election” behave like a welcome guest. Democracy is about following the laws and behaving respectfully. And we politely warned everyone in advance.” Such a step predictably provoked a great resonance in the press, primarily the Russian one, drawing the attention of the Russian Foreign Ministry. Immediately, another analogy with Vlad Plahotniuc began to emerge, it was during his reign that Russian journalists and various figures heading to the Transnistrian region were frequently expelled from the airport. Everything would be fine, but on the eve of the vote on the left bank, a representative delegation of Russian deputies and senators arrived in Chisinau quite calmly without even hiding the goals of their visit – monitoring the elections of the head of Pridnestrovie. In the capital, Russian representatives had no problems meeting with the BoCS deputies, and also had a separate conversation with Igor Dodon. It is striking, but with regard to the official Russian delegation, whose presence, unlike mostly little-known political scientists and experts, multiplies the legitimacy of the vote, the country’s leadership seemed to keep mum. That's why the “special operation at the airport” looks even less consistent, causing only additional questions. Including whether it was really directed only against Transnistria, or someone additionally wanted to sharpen relations with Moscow. The editorial board of RTA deliberately avoided the regular election of the head of the left bank (which, unlike the previous two campaigns, was initially devoid of any intrigue), preventing increased attention to it, since it is the close interest in this topic that is important for the Transnistrian administration. The whole process followed a long-planned scenario, and therefore was not of particular interest and did not promise any shifts important from the point of view of changing the situation in the Transnistrian settlement. Chisinau was well aware that the financial and political elite ruling on the left bank of the Dniester would not let go of the reins of government over the region in any way. Also, our authorities could not fail to understand that at the moment they do not have any effective ways to influence the results of the “election”. The most reasonable course of action in these conditions would be minimal interest in the vote, stressing objective gaps in the democratic nature of the event (refusal to register opposition candidates, sharply reduced turnout, lack of a real election campaign, etc.). Instead, Tiraspol was actually presented with the expulsion of Russian citizens (who will now go negative on the republic’s leadership on various Russian sites for a long while) and increased hype, which more than overshadowed the facts not entirely pleasant for the left-bank administration. We can say that the authorities have made another blunder without considering all the consequences. Few surprises there.