The Triumph of Geopolitics in Moldova’s Local Elections

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Sergiu CEBAN
Local elections this autumn and the 2024-2025 electoral campaigns will show the real potential of pro-Western and pro-Eastern influence in the country, as well as possible variants of Moldova’s geopolitical future
Not much time is left before the local elections scheduled for November. Therefore, the coming weeks are likely to witness a more vigorous pre-election activity of electoral headquarters, campaigning, and official nomination of candidates for mayors and local councils. This time the vote has received a special domestic political status, as it is seen as an important prologue to the presidential (2024) and then parliamentary elections (2025). More than 50 political parties are preparing for the electoral race, since the results of the subsequent national campaigns depend directly on who will control local authorities. Of course, the leading political forces pay special attention to Chisinau, but no less serious struggle will unfold for other major cities of the Republic - Balti, Cahul, Soroca, Comrat, and so on. I would like to believe that our voters will be guided primarily by socio-economic criteria, when making a conscious choice. Instead, however, geopolitics reigns the ball in the country just as in previous decades. For this reason, absolutely all elections in our country are split along the foreign policy vector, and polarization of political moods and views in society is becoming more acute. So, we can say that the main electoral battle will unfold between two conventional political camps, pro-Western and pro-Eastern. The first one is bracing to keep the voters in its geopolitical frame and under any circumstances won’t let the country’s Euro-Atlantic course be reversed or slowed down. In this, they expect help from the West, which is expected to send additional resource support and more or less clear positive signals about Moldova’s European prospects in the near future. The PAS needs to pull itself together even before the elections and prepare for the fact that power will have to be divided. For this, they need to abandon political egoism and try to establish a dialogue with future potential partners in the pro-European coalition. The results of the November elections will give the ruling party opportunities to prove itself at the municipal level in terms of finding common ground and compromises with other pro-European forces. PAS held the previous local elections in opposition, so it still does not have sufficient local support. Most likely, the ruling party will seek to improve its 2019 result and ensure a more or less comfortable on the ground, primarily through administrative resources. It’s probably already used to the maximum, given the number of accusations voiced not only by the left-wing opposition, but also by its pro-Western colleagues. The voters, disappointed with PAS, will clearly bet on other pro-European projects. Such an electoral boost to the growing parties should be a reason to rethink their own electoral programmes. The focus on developing post-election success and strengthening ties with the pro-European electorate instead of constant criticism of the government would be a good solution. It is necessary in order to take over a large part of the electorate, which the “yellow” party will continue to lose. The pro-Eastern (pro-Russian) camp is also making thorough preparations for autumn. However, given the noticeably declining level of support for Russia among the population, it is possible that Moscow political experts have adjusted their long-term election strategy and are already launching quasi-European projects to ensure that the cumulative result in the local elections will be at least close to 50%. On the other hand, with all the current activity, the Kremlin places a major bet on the parliamentary elections. The maximum plan is to achieve a result that will make pro-European forces negotiate with Moscow through its political puppets. The minimum plan is to prevent pro-Western forces from forming a stable power structure and keep the country in a political crisis and controlled instability for as long as possible. Moscow, having realized the futility and limitations of the presidency, will probably not make excessive efforts to promote a loyal candidate to the presidential post, although Maia Sandu’s defeat would be a serious moral blow for the pro-Western camp and would shake the perception of Moldova in the West. For the pro-Eastern camp, an acceptable result would be a confident victory in the parliamentary elections even under Sandu’s presidency, whom the Kremlin would be happy to subject to humiliating political torture because of lacking powers. The elections in Chisinau will be the center stage of the political contest between the pro-Western and pro-Eastern camps. Most likely, this time the electoral battle for the position of the capital’s mayor will be much tougher, implacable and aggressive. Voting in the capital and its suburbs, where almost half of the country’s population is concentrated, traditionally reflects the political mood in society. So, its outcome will determine the direction of the political mainstream in Moldova. Despite all the nuances and constant information attacks, the main favorite in the capital’s race is still the current mayor Ion Ceban. It seems that nowadays the Moldovan electorate prefers such a politician. He has come from a pro-Russian party, but after a sort of rethinking, he is now positioning himself as a pro-European politician, enjoying support from a wide range of voters. According to sociologists, the opposition forces, including those representing the pro-Eastern (pro-Russian) camp, can fully expect a good overall result in the local elections. Regardless of how successful they are, they will try to maintain this “victorious tendency” by promoting the idea that the current parliamentary majority is illegitimate and that snap elections is necessary. By the way, if Ceban is re-elected in Chisinau, we cannot rule out that he will continue his “triumphal march” and try his hand in the presidential race, thus challenging the current head of state. The expert community and analysts have very different perceptions of the upcoming local elections. Some believe that their local nature cannot influence the national level, and the defeat of the ruling party can hardly be considered something catastrophic. Others assume that local voting will be an important political warm-up ahead of the main electoral contests in 2024-2025. In our opinion, the upcoming and subsequent electoral campaigns will show the real potential of pro-Western and pro-Eastern influence in Moldova, as well as possible variants of the geopolitical future for our state.