Why is Moldova Drifting into the Hands of Populists?

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Semen ALBU
Populism in the country has become the main model of public affairs, adopted not only by the Sor Party, but also by other oppositionists, and even by the current regime. Some promise billions of dollars of investments, others – an early European integration, while no one is going to solve the real national challenges.
Judging by many dignitary comments, the ruling team and its hangers-on still cannot recover from the shock when looking at the election results in Gagauzia. Moreover, according to the update by the Election Board of the Autonomy, a candidate from the SOR Party Eugenia Gutul got victorious palms. This is an interesting phenomenon that the vote was won by a person without any political background or, for example, the reputation of a public figure. This is the most spoiler candidate, which rating is made absolutely by “attendants”. Moreover, the victory was by no means in greenhouse conditions – the race included a whole scattering of locally famous politicians, including an ex-bashkan. It turns out that the SOR Party for the second time gave the ruling party a juicy give a flick on the nose, whose “unofficial horses”, both in Balti and Gagauzia, finished low down in the list. Let's say it again, a scandalous party, whose leader left Moldova long ago, is well known as one of the main defendants in the biggest bank theft in the national history and was recently sentenced in absentia to 15 years in prison. And people trust this man and his team more than the PAS, treated kindly in the West. Why? No doubt, the main and most effective Sor’s weapon is populism, in its crystal clear manifestation. Just look what pie in the sky their leader promised to the Gagauz: “We are not politicians, but come from business, where other rules apply. We come and build. The ambitions of the entire Sor Party team are to build Gagauzia and make people’s lives beautiful! We will invest half a billion euros in the region, increase pensions and salaries by 30%, repair roads, build parks, create 7,000 jobs, build a huge amusement park called GagauziaLand, and also an airport in Comrat. Plus, we could reduce utility bills.” As well as free education, healthcare, increased benefits, etc. Of course, such speculative messages would induce you to tick ballot box with the last name Gutul. Of course, you can scold the Balti and Gagauz voters for being infantile and naive, like some of our swaggering experts do. Indeed, the Sor Party programs are more reminiscent of fabulous utopias than something mature, pragmatic, and feasible. But the problem is that the country and its people have been reduced to such a bestial and hopeless existence that people have no choice but to believe in a miracle. Because most of them have no other chance to start living well in this generation. At the same time, accusing (fairly, of course) Ilan Sor of populism, the authorities do exactly the same thing non-stop every day. To be honest, I personally do not see a big difference in the public policy models of the SOR and the PAS. The SOR Party promises to flood voters with money and thus solve all problems, as soon as they get the power. The PAS Party, having already won this power, promises European integration, which, if you please, would also solve all problems. In general, the same fairy tales, but from the other side. Both strategies are focused on “waiting for a miracle”, a kind of turning point, followed by the Garden of Eden for Moldova. The authorities do not shy away from resorting to tactical populist moves. The pension increase that was one of the pillars of the PAS program in the 2021 early elections immediately comes to mind. And before the next elections, tariffs, which are now kept artificially low, would be certainly reduced, despite the improved pricing. Another thing is that the ruling regime will inevitably lose in the demagogic battle, since Ilan Sor plays brighter and easier in this game. Not to mention the fact that its basis – the Orhei brand – is one of the few real “showcases” that you can “touch” and want to have the same in your area, city or village. In contrast to European integration, which has been repeatedly compromised over the past years (including the PAS) and is still something ephemeral for most people. However, until populism triumphs in public Moldovan politics, the real “lesions” of the country remain outside the common attention and efforts. Look at what all our parties, both the ruling and the opposition, are doing: mutual squabbling, issues of war and peace, friendship or enmity with Russia, trying to guess in which geopolitical trench it is better to sit out, etc. Just few people want to deal with real problems: growing poverty, economic malaise (critically and increasingly dependent on external loans) and, most importantly, rapid depopulation, in terms of which we are number one globally (!). Is there a strong concern of the authorities with these issues or a desire to solve them? Not really. After all, it is much more convenient and pleasant to talk about European integration, preferably somewhere abroad, away from our native Moldova, when such conversations look blasphemous against reality. So do not be offended by the allegedly “immature” Gagauz and any other Moldovan voters, as they, having been stoked up on good times, vote for gas-bag politicians. After all, we apparently do not have sound political forces that can offer something else.