After the embarrassing failure at Sunday’s vote, PAS has plenty of time and opportunity to learn from its mistakes and shift to a reactionary type of policy, making sure that all its ardent critics and competitors are eliminated before the next truly significant ballot
Vladimir ROTARI, RTA:
As passions cool down after the local elections, the country’s political and expert groups are trying to make sense of the results and introduce them to the public in an opportunistically convenient way. Thus, the authorities’ critics speak about its major defeat at Sunday’s voting - which is hard to argue with, based on the final figures. “Loyalists” suggest not to overdramatize the situation, saying that the elections were subjected to unprecedented external influence, and even so, a lot of citizens expressed support for the country’s European course.
In general, the topics of European integration and Russian hybrid threat, which are the core of the ruling party’s foreign and domestic policy for the last two years, were exploited to the maximum in the runup to the local elections. This was illustrated quite vividly last Friday, when, on the eve of the traditional “day of silence”, two briefings by the SIS head and the Prime Minister, as well as an address by Maia Sandu, resonated very well with each other.
The head of the intelligence service spoke about Russia’s interference in Moldova’s political processes, including elections, through Ilan Sor’s political parties, the latter’s cooperation with Vladimir Plahotniuc, vote-buying and plans to topple the government. Dorin Recean, who spoke after the meeting of the Commission for Emergency Situations, also spoke about Russia’s plan to “subordinate Moldova to its interests” and the billion lei invested by Moscow in a hybrid war against the republic. In closing, the head of state nearly repeated what the prime minister had said and urged everyone to vote correctly, “not to hand over our home to thieves and liars”.
Many experts now argue that betting on these two ideological constructs did not work, that they were deeply detached from the population’s real needs, and this, among other things, predetermined the ruling party’s weak result. This is partly true, but it is also important to look at the overall picture. In my opinion, PAS did not set a goal to win the local elections at all costs. Yes, it seems as if the ruling party resorted to unique measures like withdrawing one of its main competitors from the race on short notice and the mass blocking of information sources. However, these are not purely tactical steps, but part of a strategy, as I mentioned earlier in the context of cleansing the information field.
The ruling party’s main task is to ensure the permanence of Moldova’s European course, for which it is given full carte blanche in domestic politics. We see how European integration is gradually becoming a backbone of the country’s very existence. All development and future projects are linked to it, references to it become an obligatory component of any public speech of the country’s leadership. It is the necessity to follow the path to Europe that justifies all the non-democratic steps, such as violations of the Constitution, legislation, and individual rights of citizens. Thus, European integration in Moldova receives a kind of supra-legal status.
I think that after the opening of negotiations on accession to the European Union, which should happen soon, the ruling regime will go further by initiating the consolidation of the European course directly into the Basic Law, making it unavoidable. Such a case has already happened in neighboring Ukraine.
What is this fraught with in practice? With the fact that the authorities will have even more opportunities and legal grounds to suppress any political elements that contradict the meaning of “European Moldova”. Any parties and politicians who are not, let us say, absolute supporters of European integration will be at risk of being declared an “obstacle” to Moldova’s European choice, entailing removal from the ballot or even a complete ban.
In this context, the defeat in the local elections is a disappointing and offensive mistake, but nothing more than that. Especially since it was not a completely deafening failure. 300,000 votes are still a lot, hundreds of primars and leadership in most districts is a result that can be presented to development partners as acceptable. Besides, with the use of administrative resources and the pressure on municipal authorities that took place during the election campaign, PAS will somehow be able to keep the situation under control.
Therefore, next year I expect political repressions to intensify in the country under the pretext of defending the European path. I also have no doubt that these processes will take place with full Western support. The opposition likes to quote certain European politicians, deputies, lawyers, etc. who criticize the Moldovan authorities for non-democratic steps, immersing themselves and the electorate in the illusion that sooner or later the West will punish the ruling party. That’s not true, inductive methods do not work here. A real indicator of losing favor with Washington and Brussels would be public criticism from, for example, the top EU bureaucracy or at least at embassy level, which is not the case at all. On the contrary, the head of the EU delegation to Moldova has rather taken the role not of a critic but of the Moldovan leadership’s barrister, diplomatically justifying the stunts in its policy. There are no landmark steps such as freezing the financing that was applied during the period of the captured state.
Under the current circumstances, the real opposition has few options left to pursue conventional political struggle. The choice seems to be reduced to a limited number of options. The first one is to get approval directly from Western curators, ensuring immunity and a narrow range of opportunities to criticize the authorities and compete: this is probably the way Chisinau Mayor Ion Ceban has chosen. The second is to agree with the ruling party on a model of cooperation and to adhere it. The third is to switch to a fierce opposition, which in the current circumstances is threatening to the very existence of the force that chooses this option.
Therefore, in my opinion, it is too early for PAS opponents to rejoice at the results of the local elections and predict the ruling party’s imminent demise. It still has enough tools at its disposal to cope with the current crisis, to take into account the mistakes made and shift to a reactionary type of policy, eliminating all its critics and competitors before the next truly significant elections.
The only answer to this can be the unification of all opposition forces, regardless of ideological views, the formation of a situational united front specifically against PAS as a threat to Moldova’s future, the holding of joint protest actions, the imposition of a moratorium on cooperation with the authorities, even at the local level, and so on. However, the experience of political processes in our country gives no reason to rely on such consolidation, especially in the long term.