The Imminent End of “Good Times” in Moldova

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Sergiu CEBAN
Let’s summarize the preliminary results of the local elections, which did not only become a sensitive defeat for the ruling party, but also highlighted a number of remarkable trends
Yesterday’s local elections, for the most part, were held. Citizens came to elect 898 town and village primars and 11058 local councilors for the next four years. According to the Central Electoral Commission, more than 3,900 candidates applied for the positions of mayors, and more than 56,000 people were registered as local councilors. The final voter turnout exceeded 41%, i.e., it was approximately at the level of the previous elections in 2019. Meanwhile, the high voting activity of the age categories (with a margin of almost 10% in favor of women) indicates the real age-gender picture of the population living in Moldova today. That is, the overwhelming number of able-bodied citizens are outside the country and for obvious reasons could not participate in local elections, which, moreover, do not provide for the opening of polling stations abroad. The last week before the elections was the fiercest. Most likely, the main reason was the results of closed polls, which showed an unfavorable outcome for the ruling party in the upcoming vote. In a hurry, the authorities made several ideological and political maneuvers to (re)persuade people to vote for the PAS. At the same time, by the evening of the election campaign’s last day, a decisive blow was dealt to Sor by banning his new political organization Chance, which, however, was legally very dubious. Despite all the attempts to neutralize the dangerous opponents, somehow the ruling party’s bad expectations were more than justified. Of course, there are still a number of localities where the second round will be held in a fortnight, but we can already draw 10 preliminary conclusions about the local elections.
  1. Raw numbers say that the ruling party received more than 300,000 votes, i.e., about a quarter of all those who came to the polls yesterday. If we compare it with the parliamentary elections of 2021, when about 775 thousand citizens, including the diaspora, voted for the PAS, we can talk about a twofold drop in its rating in just two years in power. In general, 2/3 of Moldovan electors voted against the PAS, supporting other forces.
  2. The ruling party’s speakers are trying to pass off as a success the leading result of the PAS in 19 district councils, as well as the election of 240 of its primars. However, a good result of the local councilors is no guarantee that the PAS will not remain in opposition. It will face a difficult choice: either stay true to its pro-European ideals, or enter into unpleasant coalitions with representatives of Sor, Dodon and Plahotniuc. In addition, we should not rely on the absolute political loyalty of those primars who were forced to run under the yellow banner.
  3. In the mayoral elections in 36 district centres and municipalities of the country, the ruling party candidates came out on top in only 6 cities. Just as importantly, out of 11 municipalities, only one PAS candidate made it to the second round. In fact, neither in the capital, nor in the second most strategically important city, Balti, the authorities failed to offer a worthy alternative and lost miserably. The example of Orhei is worth mentioning, where 48 hours before the vote, Sor’s structures ensured a convincing victory even for their reserve candidate.
  4. Chisinau became one of the most painful defeats for the PAS. The traditionally right-wing voters in the capital’s suburbs gave their votes almost overwhelmingly to the incumbent mayor, Ion Ceban, thus providing him the way to big Moldovan politics. An identical result for Ceban’s party and the ruling party in the capital’s council is likely to force the PAS into a coalition with MAN and thus legitimize Ion Ceban as a respectful pro-European politician.
  5. According to the results of other parties in the regions, we can say with certainty that the local authorities will be as patchy as possible. This, in turn, will affect the political processes in the country, as well as the upcoming presidential race next year. The tension in which the preparation for the local elections took place gives reason to say that the presidential campaign will be even more challenging, dirty and fierce. As we know, any “warm welcome” of Maia Sandu in the districts ends with a scandal and emotional breakdown of the president. But the main thing she will have to realize is that the PAS electoral slogans about the European choice, the Russian threat and the war in Ukraine have hardly worked now and are unlikely to work later. The electorate is not frightened or worried by this; people need other messages, which the party leaders and the president do not have yet.
  6. The ruling party gave its best, acting along the lines of the “top” electoral practices of previous communist and oligarchic regimes. But even this did not help it to defeat its rivals, who are backed by revanchist oligarchic forces and political formations supported by Moscow. The final result clearly shows that the PAS lacks the capacity and potential to secure a convincing victory for its project of Moldova’s future.
  7. In the 2020 presidential and 2021 snap parliamentary elections, citizens made a clear choice in favor of country’s pro-European and pro-Western course. Despite the fact that the elections have a predominantly local significance, thanks to the authorities’ efforts, they have acquired a traditional geopolitical nature for Moldova, and their results are viewed in terms of the state’s future foreign policy course. The first thing reflected in the voting is a large percentage of electors in the country with anti-European views or skepticism about EU integration. Although we should admit that it could not have been otherwise, as the elections took place amidst fundamental geopolitical restructuring in our region.
  8. The Kremlin tested various electoral technologies in Moldova, making several different bets. At the same time, Sor and his political projects proved to be the most pronounced factor of aggressive intrusion into Moldova’s electoral processes. Various forms of influence tested on the Moldovan electorate seem to have been a kind of warm-up before the much more important battle for the president’s post.
  9. Of course, the elections’ overall result, which showed a twofold decrease in support for the PAS, allows us to raise the question on the legitimacy of the ruling party’s monopoly position, primarily in parliament, and the need for snap parliamentary elections. Meanwhile, it is too early to say that the PAS is turning into a political corpse and can be written off. Even the current support can ensure a good result in future elections.
  10. Among the main trends that can be identified from the voting results are that the elections clearly did not work to refresh the atmosphere of a pro-European course in Moldova; the war in Ukraine has had no strong impact on the political views of Moldovans, including a loyal/tolerant attitude towards Russia; the inevitable end of the PAS monopoly rule; the population of the country remains divided both in terms of political views and the state’s development vector.