Shor Wins in Gagauzia: How Will Authorities React?

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Sergiu CEBAN
There is an understanding among the PAS that allowing Shor to gain a foothold in the south would greenlight further success of his party in the national local elections
Now, Gagauzia knows the name of its new bashkan. According to the vote count, the Shor party candidate, Evghenia Guțul, has won. The second round took place amid a new wave of tension in the autonomy. Intrigue persisted until recently as to whether the authorities would choose to remove the winner of the first round from the race. However, the election went ahead as planned. A day before the election, the Moldovan CEC and the General Inspectorate of Police drew attention to irregularities in the election campaign, demanding that the local commission provide explanations as to why one-off cash donations beyond the set limit were stated in the candidates' financial reports. In addition, just a day before the second round, officers of the National Anti-Corruption Centre conducted searches of the managers of Evghenia Guțul’s election headquarters. The fact that the authorities were quite serious was evident from Maia Sandu’s statements. She expressed dissatisfaction with electoral irregularities and promised that Chisinau would work with the local press to produce content in Russian for those who want to hear an alternative point of view. In addition, the president did not like the fact that the law banning some TV channels did not work fully in the autonomy because the local authorities oppose it. Therefore, Sandu plans to set up an anti-disinformation centre, invest in Romanian language courses in the region and communicate more actively with the locals. It seems that in this way the central authorities decided to show their dissatisfaction with the electoral process in Gagauzia and after the passive reaction of the local CEC, they are now looking for a convincing excuse to somehow replay the story of the elections in the autonomy. After the first round, the ruling regime actually lost and was actually left out of the electoral game in a situation when the first place should have gone to one of the two opposition leaders, Igor Dodon or Ilan Shor, struggling for the Kremlin’s political attention. Authorities showing their resistance prompted the residents of Gagauzia to rally precisely around the Shor party. the demonstrative persecution and sanctions against party members, in fact, had a reverse effect. Whereas two months ago Evghenia Guțul was unknown to most of the population of the autonomy, thanks to the central authorities she gained a stable image as a political victim. Therefore, a significant part of the electorate was influenced by an emotional factor when deciding who to vote for. Anyway, the election results are a natural outcome of a rather poor campaign of Uzun and PSRM, while their opponents from the Shor party did their best to mobilize their voters. First of all, this points to a noticeable lack of financial resources of the Socialist Party, as well as the party’s unwillingness to wage a long electoral struggle as an opposition force without access to administrative resources and other levers of political influence. And, perhaps most importantly, Igor Dodon’s triumphant return to big politics immediately ran into a fatal defeat in Gagauzia, which is another confirmation that Dodon is “exhausted”, depriving the PSRM of the prospect of a decent result in local elections. We cannot say that the population of Gagauzia benefited from these elections. Both candidates were absolutely unremarkable figures, a typical product of electoral political technology. The electoral campaign did not become a contest of programmes or prospective models of development of Gagauzia, being limited to a competitive struggle between two political formations loyal to Moscow. The new head of the region is not likely to bargain for any preferences or powers from the political centre, especially in the current regional and geopolitical context. Therefore, the bashakan is likely to be used as a political battering ram against Chisinau, and the autonomy itself will be further marginalised and defeated in its rights. If the elections are recognized and Evghenia Guțul is in office, this would be a victory for the Kremlin in the autonomy and would be seen as the first phase of ‘winning back’ Moldova and a successful rehearsal before the autumn local elections. The region will be headed by an absolutely non-self-governing political figure, who will focus on bickering with the central authorities and provoking the constant tensions with Chisinau, the exact opposite to Vlah who sought some kind of incorporation into the Moldovan political elite during her second mandate. The fact that the capital chose not to remove Guțul after the first round indicates either the center’s intention to accept the harsh reality or its desire to postpone the issue until June. With no convenient candidate in hand, Chisinau has the best chance of cancelling the elections altogether and scheduling a repeat vote after three months, that is, closer to the time when the local election campaign gathers the necessary momentum. All factors combined, the elections have every reason to be cancelled and the Appeals Chamber should have the final say. Although this will surely be preceded by the Constitutional Court's decision to ban the Shor party, which could make it easier to resolve the issue with the elected bashkan of Gagauzia. PAS understands that if Shor is given a chance to gain a foothold in the south, it will be a good reason to further develop the success of its formation in the national local elections. No matter how the presidency prepares for different variants of elections in the Gagauz autonomy, it seems that the final result was the worst one expected by the authorities. Now the relations with Comrat are becoming a big headache for Chisinau, which is in the ‘tug-of-war’ position and will have to act with some damage to its political positions. The May 14 elections symbolically coincided with the 25th anniversary of the adoption of the main law of the autonomy, the Gagauz Charter. The document served not only as a foundation of the region, ensuring its rights and freedoms, but also closed the issue of Gagauz separatism. Now any careless step can open this ‘pandora’s box’ again. On the other hand, it is not certain that the authorities would dare now to escalate relations with Gagauzia and provoke a political scandal ahead of two major (pro-European) events, which are to take place in the coming weeks. Comrat and local political forces may react disproportionately harshly, so the most convenient option for the centre is to take a pause and postpone the decision until next month.