What Do the Local Elections Show?

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The local elections this year attracted special attention: many experts rightly consider them a teaser of the electoral campaign for parliament. There are many other intrigues as well
 Sergiu CEBAN, RTA: The coming election year is gradually gaining pace, and in the coming months the country will enter another electoral race. Party strategists of the main favorites in this campaign are already restarting their campaign headquarters according to pre-approved plans. Despite the difficult external and internal context, the local elections scheduled for the fall are a good opportunity for all political forces to see their true popularity with the people. In contrast to national elections, a much larger number of contenders always want to participate in the formation of local government. Given the fact that many parties and political leaders were left out of the current parliament, the composition of the next electoral race is expected to be as broad as possible. Based on the interim results of the local elections it will be possible to understand how high the chances of certain projects to qualify for the first league of Moldovan politics are. Although nominally they are preparing for the local elections, in fact there are many signs that the key party structures are preparing the necessary resources for a full parliamentary campaign. However, early elections are perceived as a very realistic scenario. There is a growing consensus that the current parliament is unlikely to complete its mandate, and early voting is almost inevitable. The only question is when and in what context. As a rule, when forming local authorities, the main criterion for choosing in favor of one or another candidate is the plan and program for the development of the community. This year, however, the geopolitical factor is likely to have a serious impact: the clash between Moscow and the West may well be projected onto the upcoming autumn elections. If we proceed from this scenario, two major electoral strategies will clash within the framework of the elections. The first is pro-European, which would offer the citizens integration with the EU and other Western institutions, and inevitably, sever ties with Russia. The second is the centrist one, which will maintain the traditional ties with the key foreign partners, commitment to a policy of balancing and neutrality. For the pro-Western forces, competing fiercely among themselves, the main task is to successfully “plant” the country’s pro-European course in the regions and convince the population that it is the EU funds that will fully ensure the modernization of the country and the development of its regions. If locals believe in this prospect, then these parties will have a chance to get a good overall cumulative result in future parliamentary elections. The left pro-Russian forces, together with pragmatic centrists, are pursuing the goal of getting a foothold at the local level and, on the wave of electoral failure of pro-European forces, to actively develop the theme of early parliamentary elections. And to lay on top of that the need for an internal political reset with the removal of the current government. So far, judging from the first glimpses, this column will be led by the main force that supports the Kremlin – the Socialists, who find it increasingly difficult to keep “the skeleton in the closet” and conceal their bitter inner-party squabble. However, after Igor Dodon began to openly “offer himself” on the Moldovan market of political services and threaten to fragment the PSRM, he received several hints from Moscow (including a strange story about the detention of his brother in Russia) with a proposal to temper his ambitions and not to interfere with Kremlin’s electoral plans in Moldova. The so-called “dark horses” continue to slowly appear in the electoral arena. In recent months, this cohort mainly included capital’s mayor Ion Ceban, and Bashkan of Gagauzia Irina Vlah, along with several relatively well-known figures. In the near future, however, other political start-ups are likely to appear on the electoral scene. There are likely to be flashy comebacks like Renato Usatii. Given the critically difficult socio-economic situation, it cannot be ruled out that one of these nominees will become a sensation and unexpectedly break into big Moldovan politics. We cannot but mention the Unionists, who are counting on their revanche, especially amid the noticeable surge in the popularity of Unionist ideas among the people. There is another important factor. In the special parliamentary elections in 2021, Bucharest invested all of its assets and resources in the victory of the PAS. But after Romania’s active participation in the pro-European destiny of our country, it is very likely that this time it will decide on its own initiatives and try to gather the disparate unionist forces into something common. So, the goal for the autumn elections can possibly be to consolidate positions at the local level, and later to try to bring its own political party to the Moldovan parliament. The capital’s agglomeration, where most of the country’s financial assets are concentrated and a little more than a third of the total number of voters, is probably the main target for the ruling party. Because of this, the struggle for the position of Chisinau mayor is expected to be extremely fierce. It so happens that the residents of the capital traditionally do not vote for a strong economic manager, but prefer a geopolitical criterion. That is why voting in the capital is always Moldova in miniature. The only fundamental difference is that, while on a national scale it is the leftist pro-Russian parties that count on revenge in the local elections, in the capital the PAS and the Unionists will try to regain the lost positions. The planning horizon in the current geopolitical and regional context is clearly very short. It is possible that some sort of adjustments will be needed along the way – and perhaps even very serious ones if the situation in Ukraine begins to scale up putting Moldova at risk. In this case, the current year developing unfavorably for the country or the ruling party could be a pretext for a state of emergency to postpone elections. As of today, prospects for the ruling party are, quite frankly, weak. Heading into the election with the existing background is a sure way to come to defeat. So during the year, PAS will most likely try to find such a trump card. It may not provide a victorious triumph as in the summer of 2021. But, at least, there will be a chance to get a relatively safe result in the local elections and keep the face and reputation of the still leading political force.