Intrigues of a New Political Season

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Sergiu CEBAN
The local elections will surely be one of the main events this autumn, but beyond that, the upcoming political season is fraught with lots of intrigue and conflicts
The holiday period is gradually coming to an end, the celebrations of independence and national language days will soon be left behind. Any day now, the country will enter a new political season. It is hard to say will this autumn be as hot as the previous one, but it will not be calm for sure. The ongoing processes in the domestic and foreign policy conceal a lot of questions and points of tension that will determine the course of events in the country in the coming months and in the first half of next year. One of the main events in autumn, of course, will be the general local elections, which, according to the long-held expert opinion, are considered a final rehearsal before the presidential and parliamentary campaigns. From the first weeks of September, the participants in the electoral race, in an attempt to pull the Moldovan voters to their side, will launch a campaign machine backed by fierce criticism of the authorities, aggressive rhetoric and heated disputes. Because of this, growing social tensions and political agitation in society will rock the country. This, in turn, will reduce the level of internal political stability with the risk of sporadic protests on various acute issues. The first in line, of course, are the farmers, who will soon harvest their crops and will be able to more insistently demand assistance from the government. At the same time, there is no guarantee that the SOR party, which has gone underground, will not dare to launch a new wave of street protests, which significantly spoiled the life of PAS last year. First of all, the results of the elections will help to answer the main question: what is the real level of legitimacy of the current government. In addition, the results of the voting will provide important empirical data that will make it possible to put together at least a rough outline of the republic’s political spectrum over the next few years. We can expect an informal start to the presidential race as soon as the local campaign is over. If electorate punishes the ruling party, the authorities’ opponents will try to keep such public sentiments heated in order to build on the success in the next stages of voting in 2024 and 2025. The end of the first electoral cycle is likely to bring the topic of resignation or retention of the current government until the presidential election back into the domestic political arena. Clouds have been gathering around Dorin Recean’s cabinet for a long time. And now growing discontent is observed not only among ordinary citizens, but also among pro-government clans, which still cannot accept the fact that Recean’s candidacy was imposed on them by external partners. Therefore, the final figures on the voting scoreboard may well become the cause of intra-party disputes and attempts by various influential groups to regain control not only over the “fat departments”, but also over the prime minister’s post. The process of European integration, the prospects of which will become more or less clear by the end of this year, will certainly play one of the important roles. The factor of opening EU accession negotiations will in any case be closely linked to local elections. But in view of the calendar, it is more of a prelude to subsequent campaigns. Despite the significant dependence of European integration on the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, nevertheless, we still hope that the Moldovan issue will be considered separately. Besides, experts reckon on the fact that the Kremlin will not be given a chance to seize the initiative from the West in Moldova and achieve geopolitical revenge here. Therefore, Washington is likely to find convincing arguments for Brussels to start negotiations with Chisinau, albeit protracted ones. In addition, Gagauzia will remain a significant disruptive factor in the coming months, as internal squabbles continue between local economic and political groups and Ilan Sore’s team, which has invaded the autonomy. Judging by what is happening in the People’s Assembly of the autonomy, a sustainable compromise between the opposing camps is hardly possible now, given such sharp contradictions. However, the probability of a temporary “truce” is quite high, as it will allow everyone to concentrate on the local elections, and after their results continue to negotiate from new positions. The Transnistrian settlement, for all its acuteness, seems to remain on the periphery of the central authorities’ attention. At the same time, PAS will continue the tactics of controlled escalation to make Tiraspol more pliable and force it to make certain concessions. But if everything is quite predictable on the internal perimeter of the Transnistrian issue, the external situation is becoming less and less foreseeable, especially because the key players in the negotiation process continue to drift away from a common understanding of the future picture in our region. In addition, the potential closure of the OSCE Mission to Moldova by the end of the year, as well as Western retaliation against such actions by Moscow, could lead to the destruction of the fragile balance between the banks of the Dniester. One of the reasons provoking Moldova’s instability is the situation in the energy sector. If there is certainty in the issue of natural gas purchase that there will be blue fuel and even at relatively low prices, the electricity sector is still in the zone of special risk. At first glance, the source of electricity supply has alternatives, but nevertheless, the interruption of gas supply to the left bank will create serious social-economic tension on both banks of the Dniester. In turn, this will have corresponding political consequences, which will not lead to accelerated reintegration, but rather to a change in the status quo with the most unpredictable effect. The Russian-Ukrainian conflict certainly contains a lot of risks, as it impacts not only Moldova, but also the European continent as a whole. The lack of a clear perspective in this armed confrontation will prolong the state of uncertainty, forcing the Moldovan authorities to continue using the emergency regime. Despite the fact that the conflict is taking place on the territory of a neighboring state, its abrupt slowdown or freezing will not take Moldova out of the frontline zone, and the post-conflict period will be quite difficult for the Moldovan political elites. Relations with Moscow, which seem to have passed the point of no return, have only fueled the Kremlin, which with enviable persistence seeks to exert a decisive influence on the internal political processes in Moldova. Despite all the efforts to minimize Russia’s influence in our country, it is obvious that Russia has not exhausted its possibilities and will continue to create hotbeds of tension to reduce the legitimacy and credibility of the current authorities. In the next six months, the attacks are likely to shift towards a specific target, i.e. President Maia Sandu, in order to knock out her steady rating and leave no chance to be re-elected.