To win the next presidential race, Maia Sandu and her entourage will have to solve several complex tasks at once
In a few days, it will be three years since Maia Sandu won the second round of the presidential election. At that time in her election campaign she actively spoke out in favor of fighting corruption, joining the European Union, settling the Transnistrian conflict and building pragmatic relations with European countries, Ukraine, Romania, the USA and Russia. Her main task was to unite the politically and ideologically disjointed Moldovan society.
There were a lot of expectations from the new president, and to some extent it is too early to draw final conclusions. On the other hand, her mandate’s remaining year is unlikely to allow any fundamental successes to be achieved. Thus, we can talk about the implementation of most of her election program.
While Sandu’s popularity was on the upswing three years ago, the results of the ruling Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS) at the local elections, which is directly associated with the head of state, recorded a steady negative trend and a high probability of losing power. The completion of the voting automatically triggered preparations for the national elections next autumn.
The PAS poor performance, of course, encouraged the opposition forces, so most likely the election headquarters will not be closed, but switched to the presidential campaign mode. In addition, the pro-government media are actively fueling rumors that representatives of the Socialist Party, together with Igor Dodon, Ilan Sor and other concerned parties, met in Moscow last week to “compare notes”. It does not even matter how true this information is, because it is already clear that Moscow is preparing for the next electoral cycle in Moldova in order to achieve the main goal of preventing Maia Sandu’s re-election.
The statements of the PSRM that they will not form a coalition with the PAS in the district councils are the first signal that this time compromises between the authorities and the opposition are unlikely to be possible. Apparently, the Kremlin has already given strict instructions not to play along with the ruling party and to keep it in opposition, where possible, at least at the local level. The PAS leadership itself is making the task easier for the socialists by expressing its intention to form alliances only with pro-European forces.
If the opposition camp understands roughly what strategy should be followed, it is more complicated for the incumbent president’s entourage. Perhaps, after the local elections, Maia Sandu is facing a dilemma as to what to base her election campaign on, as it is unlikely that it will be possible to win solely on geopolitics. Experience shows that the candidate’s status and other changes in the European integration course have a favorable impact on just one third of voters, while the rest are guided by completely different criteria. This contrast is very noticeable in district centres and large municipalities, where, despite the rapid warming of relations with the EU, socio-economic tensions among the population continue to grow. Therefore, unlike in the 2020 election campaign, when Sandu was able to criticize her main opponent, who had been discredited by then, she will have to face citizens’ discontent and answer a lot of uncomfortable questions throughout the next year.
The traits of the president’s personality had a direct impact on her perception by others. Thus, for three years Sandu has shown herself as an absolute political egoist, unable to cooperate with other party and public leaders. The long stay in the “comfort zone” of her beliefs and illusions will have to be interrupted with the beginning of the active election campaign. And then Maia Sandu will familiarize herself with the situation in the country with her own eyes and not from the reports of her advisers.
Moldovan revanchists are also thinking about who could be a real competitor to the current president. Although, admittedly, their task is much simpler: it is not about victory of a particular candidate, but preventing Maia Sandu’s re-election. As the experience of the elections in Chisinau shows, the candidate from the ruling party may well be outrun by a representative of the young politicians’ new generation. At the same time, the general presidential elections still have a number of important nuances and require a more careful approach.
For example, it is likely that the “anti-Sandu” campaign will be modelled on 2020 patterns, when almost all political forces united against Dodon, who was made responsible for all the failures of state policy. Certain signs of consolidation are now also appearing. A number of pro-European and Unionist parties, as well as leaders of social and political movements marginalized by the PAS and the president, are ready to challenge Sandu in order to break the ruling party’s monopoly and clear the way into big Moldovan politics.
Such a scenario is well within the plans of those who will work on the task of preventing Maia Sandu from being elected in the first round. Although the chances of this are already minimal, given that even the previous elections, where she had a much more favorable starting position, she was able to win only in the second round. If it takes place in the new elections, it will probably be the worst development for the presidency’s political technologists, as the probability of the opposition uniting around one alternative candidate will considerably increase.
The election of a new president, given the concentration of power in the PAS hands, will lead to another inter-institutional crisis. It is not certain that the next head of state will be able to provoke snap parliamentary elections for a quick political reset in the country. However, for certain forces, including external ones, internal political instability in Moldova is already a good result, which will inevitably affect our support for Ukraine and the process of European integration.
By the way, as the local elections have shown, the loyalty to the pro-European course of the population’s majority of the population is not converted into high percentages on the electoral scoreboard and is not particularly reflected in the rating of Maia Sandu and the PAS. At the same time, postponing the start of the official EU accession negotiations will be a very bad signal, which will point to big doubts among the member states about Moldova’s pro-European course. This, in turn, may deprive the incumbent president of her only trump card.
In the near future, the campaign against Sandu will gradually gain momentum and firm up. Most likely, several toxic plots will be launched in order to weigh the president with “heavy burdens” and reduce the maneuverability and coordination of actions. It is to be assumed that the issue of former Prosecutor General Alexander Stoianoglo and the CES’s decision to remove the Chance party from the elections will be actively discussed. In other words, the main task is to pour a whole array of difficultly administered crisis topics on the presidency, which will disturb the pro-European moods of the authorities.
Attempts to smoothly warm up the protest mood with the aim of resuming rallies and street marches cannot be ruled out either. It is likely that this time the approach to the organization of events will change (Sor’s participation will not be pronounced) and, for instance, Ion Chicu’s proposal to consolidate all opposition forces in the struggle against the current regime will be supported.