Why Is Maia Sandu and Her Party’s Rating Tumbling?

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Anton Shvec
The never-ending series of visits by Western European politicians cannot compensate for the constant blunders of the current administration in running the country. The approval rating of the president and the party she created is rapidly declining, which reflects the growing popular discontent with the plight and failure to find consensus on complex identity issues
Maia Sandu is regularly holding high-caliber international meetings. Most recently, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres visited the country, a kind of landmark, unprecedented visit that many of his predecessors did not dare to make. However, the talks themselves were routine and were marked by no breakthrough, but only by the president reiterating her statements about the need to withdraw Russian troops from the left bank of Nistru River and condemning Russia’s interference in Ukrainian affairs. Meanwhile, in just the past few weeks, Sandu personally communicated with the leadership of Romania and Georgia, with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, with Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausseda and with President of the Council of the European Union Charles Michel. Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilita and Parliament Speaker Igor Grosu likewise were active in international relations, with a number of consecutive visits, often with even more prominent media accompaniment. All these meetings testify to a serious interest in Moldovan affairs on the part of the top West European political leaders, and not only because of the conflict in neighboring Ukraine and justified fears of its export to Moldova. It can also be regarded as a demonstration of full political support for Maia Sandu and the power configuration in the country she has established. This is also confirmed by Moldova’s first participation in the meeting of foreign ministers of the influential G7 club which starts today. However, a major part of our society is asking fair questions about the international vigor of the President and her colleagues. For example, people wonder why the visit of such a high-ranking guest as UN Secretary General ended without any tangible results. After all, when he started his term in 2018, Antonio Guterres claimed that resolving the Trandniestrian problem was a priority. Why does he come when the process is stalled and a breakthrough is impossible? Why hasn’t Charles Michel’s visit brought Moldova any inch closer to EU membership, and why do we hear more and more often the opinions of EU key states about the remoteness of the country’s European perspective? Which then have to be routinely applauded, while keeping a “good face on a bad game”. Why meet at all with the president of a country whose parliament (Sejm) declares Russia to be a “terrorist state”? And why is there no room in the schedule of President Maia Sandu and her team for talks with the leadership of Russia or Belarus – at least, important markets for Moldovan goods, and, in fact, countries that still remain points of attraction for many of our citizens? As a result, Maia Sandu’s international and media vigor, while generally a positive phenomenon, is clearly not sufficient to compensate for the negative aspects in running the state, both objective and subjective, directly resulting from the unprofessionalism and narrow-mindedness of the current government. Economic situation is alarming. The country is facing a serious slump in GDP and trade volumes with the outside world. Gas prices remain extremely high. The cost of fuel and transport services is constantly on the rise. Shifts in logistics and reduced supplies are adding pressure on consumer prices in the domestic market (the annual inflation was more than 27 % already by April), which leads to lower purchasing power of the population. The state of play in air and sea transportation is close to critical. Utility tariffs are constantly growing, although low-priced electricity supplies from Cuciurgan help rectify the situation somewhat. Despite the forecasts, the influx of refugees from Ukraine has not transformed either into investments or into an increase in qualified offers in the labor market - Moldova is used either as a temporary “transit hub”, or by the less advantaged refugees who are not ready to move further west. International investments in Moldovan business under the conditions of the conflict in Ukraine are close to zero, only credits, grants and loans from the US and EU states, as well as a number of international organizations and NGOs remain. Even unbiased sociological agencies report on the collapse of the government's economic policy. Thus, the US International Republican Institute records a worsening situation of the population in March (as compared to February) in such key indicators as “cost of living/high prices”, “low incomes”, “unemployment”, and “corruption”. The unbridgeable crisis in the Transdniestrian settlement does not add to the optimism. The shutdown of industries in the region, the drop in regional imports and the restriction of banking transactions have a direct adverse impact on the budget and economy of the whole of Moldova. Especially given Chisinau’s inability to administer a potential food or economic crisis on the left bank of the Nistru River, where GDP is predicted to decline by up to 20%. Against this background, the government’s political incentives lead to disunity and further social tensions. Even a survey by the pro-government Watchdog organization showed that only 30% of respondents said they fully supported or simply supported the ban of the so-called “symbols of war” as adopted by law. Moreover, 24% and 27% respectively were against or strongly against, although the question was not about St. George’s ribbons but about the “symbols of war”, including the Z and V letters. The central authorities’ decision sparked a scandal in Gagauzia and arrogant criticism from Transdniestria, which were only aggravated by Maia Sandu’s refusal to participate in the 9th of May celebration “due to health reasons” and her rapid recovery for a meeting with the UN Secretary General. As a result, there has been little or no progress in fulfilling campaign promises. The fight against corruption and justice reform take grotesque forms, when lawlessness and legal incompetence are used today to allegedly correct the very same in the past (in fact, to appoint persons trusted by the current government and its supervisors). Blaming the blunders on the force majeure factors stemming from the conflict in Ukraine does not work, despite toying with the “constitutional neutrality” concept overwhelmingly upheld by the population (83% according to recent polls). The sum of objective factors and government mistakes hurts the rating of the incumbent government. Seventy-eight percent of the population feel that there is growing tension in society. The anti-rating of the ruling party of “action and solidarity” is about to cross the psychological mark of 50%. The anti-rating of Maia Sandu has already beaten that of her predecessor, Igor Dodon. The people of Moldova again start wanting early elections. Even according to a Watchdog survey, only 29% of those who made up their minds are willing to vote for the ruling party. The ruling authorities have to urgently fix the economic situation, improve the conditions and well-being of the population, and revitalize cooperation with Russia. Otherwise, the ratings will continue to plummet, which may result in the defeat in future elections or even an early election campaign. The latter is possible if the opposition senses appropriate public mood to lobby for it through a wave of protests.