The most unexpected blocs with the only unifying motive – to stay in politics and gain access to resources, will be the crucial result of the ruling party’s failure in local elections
The Party of Action and Solidarity failed in the regional elections held on Sunday. Not only Chisinau and Balti were lost. The ruling party did not win an absolute majority (50% plus 1 vote) of municipal councilors in any district, nor was it able to promote any primar in the first round in the municipalities.
Repressive measures against the opposition, freedom of choice, freedom of speech and media had the contrary effect, adjusting the population’s electoral behavior. In addition, they were criticized by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, EU bodies and, expectedly, Russia. Despite the Western carte blanche, all these violations will certainly have a long-term effect and will still have a negative impact on the country’s future prospects.
In any case, the voters’ verdict was disappointing for Maia Sandu’s regime. On average, taking into account the reduced turnout, PAS received half as many votes as in the snap parliamentary elections in 2021. And this is despite the fact that the right-wing pro-European parties, its main competitors, performed quite mediocrely. Only the rebranded projects of Vlad Filat (Liberal Democratic Party) and Vlad Plahotniuc (Social Democratic European Party) gained some ground.
There is a stalemate situation in most localities - PAS is in the lead on the list and receives all the rights to make coalition decisions. However, the potential partners are ideological opponents of the regime, previously repeatedly accused by the authorities of “pro-Russian vector”, “accountability to oligarchs” and vote-buying. Most of them cannot even be considered right-wing parties, and all of them actively criticized the authorities during the pre-election period.
The situation in the Stefan-Voda district, where PAS gained 32% of the votes, is extremely indicative. However, the PSRM, the Social Democratic European Party and the League of Cities and Communes Party, which was actually established only this year (the first party congress was held on 26 March in Edinet), also performed relatively well in the region.
The media rushed to report about the formation of a coalition between municipal councilors from the PAS and PSRM, which would allow them to have a stable majority. The Socialists have so far denied the formation of such a bloc, apparently continuing to haggle over some key issues for them, especially control over Balti, the security of Igor Dodon, who was elected to the Chisinau municipal council on PSRM lists, or access to resources.
All in all, the PAS-PSRM coalitions at the local level only at first glance seem something paradoxical. The Socialists ranked second in the number of seats in district councils - 256 (against 357 for the ruling party). Willy-nilly, in many cases they will be “doomed to cooperation”, which Igor Dodon’s party, despite all the criticism of the authorities, will obviously seek.
In Stefan-Voda, for instance, a coalition that would disqualify the ruling party could easily be forged. For this purpose, it is only necessary to supplement the natural alliance of Socialists, Communists, League of Cities and Communes with the Social Democratic European Party associated with Vlad Plahotniuc. This could be greatly facilitated by Vladislav Cociu, the primar elected in the first round, who represents the League (LOC). In such a scenario, PAS would not even be able to block the municipal council meetings and would simply lose control over an important region of the country. However, such an alliance is not yet taking shape.
A similar situation is observed in Chisinau, where the ruling party and Ion Ceban’s project (MAN), who was re-elected in the first round, each gain 20 mandates in the municipal council. In theory, Ion Ceban, who comes from the Socialist Party, is quite capable of organizing the capital’s administration with the support of his current and former party-mates, but we are likely to see some cooperation between PAS and the political force of the incumbent primar.
Nevertheless, the authorities, which retain control over the presidency, government and parliament, are in a difficult situation at the local level. In order to maintain its dominant position in the country, the regime will have to show uncharacteristic flexibility, at least minimally share the “pie” and make difficult compromises.
However, there is nothing unusual, even if we look at the practices in the European Union. For example, Spain, where Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez of the Socialist Party agreed to a coalition with the Basque and Catalan separatist parties to form a government. The latter put forward a number of tough conditions such as the transfer of Catalan railways under local control, cancellation of multi-billion-dollar debts to Madrid and amnesty for the leaders of the 2017 protests. Collectively, these demands have already provoked serious protests. In fact, the fate of the Spanish government is now determined by political players who hate Spain and oppose its territorial integrity.
We can assume that PAS coalition decisions will not cause such significant difficulties in the moment. Much will depend on the behavior of potential partner parties and the conditions they will formulate. Let’s recall that after Vlad Plahotniuc was expelled by foreign diplomats, the Party of Action and Solidarity in the ACUM bloc and PSRM already formed a partnership, and at that time “Moscow’s hand” allegedly controlling Igor Dodon did not embarrass Prime Minister Maia Sandu in any way.
The question is what kind of rider Igor Dodon (besides solving all his problems with criminal cases) and PSRM will formulate if such a coalition is discussed. In addition to access to resources, the socialists may demand solutions at the central authorities’ level. For example, at least a minimal normalization of relations with Moscow and Tiraspol, a review of the decisions to ban broadcasting of TV channels and the operation of the media, an easing of anti-Russian sanctions and restrictions on entry into Moldova, and an end to the policy of withdrawal from the CIS.
According to the election results, there are localities where PAS may enter into coalitions with the party projects of Vlad Filat, Vlad Plahotniuc and even Ion Chicu, although the latter is now actively urging the opposition not to cooperate with the ruling party. It is still unclear to what extent the latter is ready for such compromises. Nevertheless, this will be finally clarified after the second round of local elections.