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Sergiu CEBAN
Maia Sandu’s re-election at any cost is the number one task for her retinue and the entire power vertical. Therefore, while her potential rivals are just deciding on their future political plans, the current head of state has already entered the election campaign, in which even the highest EU officials are involved
Sociological surveys prove that the chances of the ruling party to show a decent result in the local elections are minimal. There is practically no time or opportunities left to change the situation. In these circumstances, it is increasingly clear why Maia Sandu’s retinue has begun preparations in advance for the presidential elections to be held next autumn. So far, the public opinion surveys, especially those conducted by the sociologists loyal to the government, show a relatively stable personal rating of the president and even the possibility of her re-election to the second term already in the first round. In fact, this is the main intrigue of the presidential race, and at the same time the key task for the political analysts of the presidency. Going to the second round is fraught with serious risks, first of all, the opposition’s possible consolidation around the only counter-candidate who can “steal” the victory from Sandu. Apparently, everyone, including the international sector, will work to maintain the president’s rating. The day before, Ursula von der Leyen has visited Chisinau once again and claimed that in early November, the European Commission will present its annual enlargement report with an assessment of Moldova’s progress as a candidate country. It seems to be nothing new, the typical routine statements and a fancy picture. But the fact that the entire media and political emphasis is placed on Maia Sandu, although she has absolutely nothing to do with the practical work on implementing EU recommendations catches the eye. And the parliament along with the government, which are really responsible for this process, remain in the shadows. In addition, the general points of the election programme and its semantic content, which justifies the necessity of Sandu’s re-election, are already becoming clear. In fact, the presentation of the draft National Security Strategy at the president’s level, which is yet to be tested by the parliament, demonstrates the actual hierarchy of the current Moldovan power, and also indicates what will be the conceptual basis of Maia Sandu’s election campaign. In brief, Moldova becomes an anti-Russian geopolitical project, and the Russian Federation itself is declared as the main menace. Obviously, the president has no reason to base her electoral message on the improvement of socio-economic living conditions. And, given the fact that the electoral “good people” project has failed, it is necessary to identify an external enemy and appoint him as the main culprit of the country’s troubles. Thus, Sandu imposes the geopolitical profile of the future electoral campaign on other participants from the start, reserving a pro-European and pro-Western discourse and positioning herself as the only candidate on whom the West has already placed its main bet. In order to consolidate this electoral image, the president is non-stop stamping photo reports of meetings with Western leaders, making foreign trips in order to receive the next meaningless award. Therefore, anyone who tries to present himself as an alternative pro-European candidate will instantly be recognized as a surrogate and placed in the anti-Western enemy camp financed by Reckless techniques used in organizing the local elections amidst the unanimous silence of the Western capitals’ representatives, who do not prescribe what is permissible, once again show that the ruling group can go as far as it wants to keep Sandu in the presidency. The most sophisticated methods can be used: from disqualifying dangerous rivals to returning the procedure of electing the president to the parliament, where PAS has a more than comfortable majority. We must admit that nowadays, of the first three names frequently mentioned in opinion polls, citizens favor Maia Sandu, but they choose her rather based on the least evil principle. Most of the real rivals, who have prospects of electoral growth, are still focused on the current election campaign and are not ready to get involved in the struggle for the presidential post. It is likely that with the appearance of a more or less trustworthy political figure on the political horizon, the situation may change dramatically, and the current president’s popularity indicators will plummet. Among the main contenders is Igor Dodon, who is ready to participate in anything and everything, and especially in the primacy for the position of president. Lately, it is quite noticeable how the Socialist leader is trying to get back into the political game, actively commenting on urgent problems and slightly criticizing his “successor”. Dodon is probably the most favorable opponent for Maia Sandu, so the authorities will treat him with the utmost care and will do everything possible to ensure that he joins the electoral race. Lately, Irina Vlah has also been harsh on Maia Sandu, speaking more and more frankly about the country’s leadership. Experts have been talking about the presidential ambitions of the Gagauz ex-bashkan since spring, and it seems that Vlah will really try to get into the top political league. The same can be said about the capital mayor Ion Ceban, who, unlike Vlah, is consistently growing in ratings and polls, having quite real chances to compete with Maia Sandu. The latest sociological research shows that Ceban is capable of re-election from the first round, and that a coalition between the ruling party and his political organization (MAN) may well emerge in the future in the Municipality of Chisinau. The mayor’s regular meetings with the US ambassador and potential fusion with the authorities look as if Ceban is being offered a pass to the club of loyal pro-European politicians in exchange for his refusal to participate in the presidential race. However, without involvement in the upcoming electoral cycles, the MAN leader is unlikely to be able to accelerate his personal and party ratings to achieve a pass mark in the future parliament. It seems that while everyone is still trying to figure out their future plans, Maia Sandu is getting ahead of the curve, including the electoral timetable, in order to ensure a confident result and office’s retention. However, while she entered the last elections as a promising candidate with goals understandable to ordinary voters, next year she will be perceived as a politician who bears all the responsibility for the country’s domestic and international situation. Pompous meetings with foreign leaders are unlikely to help answer burning questions about why living standards have plummeted, why corruption and smuggling are flourishing, why oligarchs retain significant influence in the country, and why the ruling regime repeatedly disregards the spirit of democracy and the letter of the law for political purposes. Perhaps, in order to cover the shortage of domestic votes, the main focus will be on the diaspora, which Sandu is trying to mobilize by increasing the number of meetings with our compatriots abroad. Another problem could be the president’s distancing from PAS in an attempt to avoid the impact of the party’s high anti-rating. This, in turn, may lead to the opposite effect and weaken her influence on the processes inside the formation. And, given the permanent centrifugal tendencies and the struggle between various clans, any complex conflict threatens the party’s collapse and the loss of unanimity in the current government’s structure, which will inevitably affect the president’s electoral position.