Expert: New Year Bodes No Good for Moldova

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Sergiu CEBAN
The current government in the new year will surely have to work hard in fire department mode in order to contain dangerous hotbeds of crises in time and not to lose control over the situation in the country.
So here comes the new year of 2023, which promises to be no less difficult and unpredictable than the past 2022. The mere pre-New Year’s news item concerning an increase in the price of fuel, taxes, and excisable goods, with only a slight increase in social and budgetary payments, completely nullifies any desire to look at the future with optimism. Despite the fact that the authorities closed the year relatively successfully in terms of suppressing the opposition, nevertheless, the internal political situation remains under tension and under the influence of external forces. The main factor will be the local elections scheduled for autumn – this will be an important interim cross-section, the results of which will reflect the electoral preferences of the population and the position of the current government. The content of the program with which Maia Sandu will go into her election year 2024 will largely depend on the note on which this year will end. There is no doubt that the leaders of political revenge settled abroad will continue to probe the ruling regime and look for weaknesses in order to give it a fatal blow and instigate early elections along with local ones. Recent opinion polls show that leftist populist parties are slowly gaining ground, and they will certainly try to convert their popularity into appropriate political capital and parliamentary representation. Most likely, the struggle for the leadership of the capital will be one of the most exciting political battles of the year, and its results will have a strong influence on the final outcome of the next parliamentary elections. Chisinau mayor’s office is a key stronghold for any political force in the country, where almost half of the population resides, and with a very active and progressive civic stance. Besides the fact that the capital is the center of political and international life of the state, in Chisinau as it is known more than half of incomes of the republican budget are generated. For this reason, the leaders of the ruling party have already openly declared that one of the strategic tasks of PAS in the coming local elections is to prevent the re-election of the current mayor and the leader of MAN party Ion Ceban. The noticeable calm in the European integration after the candidate-country status will hopefully be replaced by a new breakthrough in the relations with Brussels. It is about negotiations on accession between Moldova and the European Union, which our government plans to start by the end of the year. But this is probably a very optimistic scenario, because much depends on the outcome of the armed conflict in Ukraine and the overall dynamics of processes in the EU. In the meantime, our citizens have to be content with the eulogies of European officials and the next tranches of financial aid to cover holes in the budget. It cannot be ruled out that we need another European loan to prepare for the next winter, to pass the cold season as quietly and deficit-free as possible. The situation in the world and on the markets clearly signals that we have all entered a protracted energy crisis. Experts claim that this winter, with Europe’s storage facilities well stocked, will seem like a walk in the park compared to how the EU will try to stockpile gas this summer. It is quite obvious that Moldova is unlikely to find reliable alternative sources of gas and, especially, electricity during 2023. Therefore, a complex combination of interdependencies between the two banks of the Dniester will continue, and the probability of any sharp aggravation will not be so high, unless, of course, external factors come into play. At the same time, by the end of last year many noticed suspicious activity around the Transdniestrian settlement. Perhaps this is a hint that this year, for the first time in a long time, we will see an initiative prepared by the authorities for the peaceful resolution of the conflict. It is difficult to say exactly how appropriate it is now, in a situation of complete regional uncertainty, to give light to a specific reintegration project. The ruling party’s calculation may be related to its desire to attract the attention of international partners and secure their support in order to exclude even the minimum likelihood of an armed scenario. After all, it is likely to lead to disastrous consequences, not only in terms of lengthening the process of European integration, but also the great risks of losing territories, sovereignty or even statehood. All of the above will take place against the backdrop of an ongoing war in Ukraine. By the end of last year, the sides rejected any peace proposals and missed all chances to agree not only on a winter truce, but even at least on a Christmas truce. Because of this, all military experts almost unanimously predict in the coming months another armed escalation and a new phase of hostilities, as well as Russian strikes on critical infrastructure, which will be increasingly destructive. In this view, our government will no doubt continue to distance itself from any relations with the Kremlin, consistently severing all existing ties and minimizing its participation in intergovernmental formats with a leading role for Moscow. Most likely, after the neutralization of some pillars of the Russian political influence, the authorities will tackle the main body – the Moldovan Metropolitan Church in order to weaken its leading position in the spiritual life of the country. Summing up, it is safe to say that this year may become one of the most difficult in the modern history of the republic in terms of the volume of crisis manifestations and tensions. Thanks to the openness of external partners, the government, one way or another, will have at its disposal the instruments of financial injections or borrowing to cover the budget deficit. However, there are also a number of risks that could dramatically worsen the overall situation in the state. First and foremost, there is the electoral populism of the authorities and the opposition, which will hinder the implementation of some unpopular reforms. In addition, there remains the threat of a significant crisis in the economy due to the emigration of investment and business if the regional security situation continues to deteriorate or gets out of control altogether. In addition, there are clearly problems that have so far eluded not only ordinary people but also seasoned experts. The government team, the president and the parliament clearly do not envy them, because over the next twelve months they will often have to work in fire department mode in order to localize dangerous hot spots in time and prevent loss of control over the overall situation in the state.