Any Promise for the United Opposition Front?

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The second round of local elections in Ungheni shows that even very different ideological forces can cooperate against PAS. However, it will be extremely difficult to repeat this subsequently
Vladimir ROTARI, RTA: In a couple of days, the second round of the local elections will take place in just under a third of the country’s localities, which promises certain intrigues. The main ones include: who will get Balti and whether PAS will be able to take the primar’s seat in at least one municipality, especially in such an important one as Ungheni. In any case, the general post-election balance of power was clear even after the 5 November vote. On the one hand, it confirmed the downward trend for the ruling party, which has lost almost half of its voters in two years. On the other hand, it showed that it still has quite large core of supporters, which, combined with the diaspora’s votes, gives it a chance to compete for a good result in the presidential and parliamentary elections. Nevertheless, even hypothetical victories in these elections are unlikely to be outstanding: we can predict a second round in 2024 and a much smaller number of seats in 2025. Such prospects should encourage PAS to monitor attentively the processes in the opposition camp, which may include its potential allies in future coalitions, both at the local level now and at the national level in the future. The ruling party’s problem is that it has become too toxic partner, cooperation with which is fraught with immediate image and electorate losses. The ruling regime has been labelled “Plahotniuc’s heirs”, and there is no sign that it is going to adjust its domestic policy course, making one blunder after another. The experience of two years of one-man rule in favorable conditions - with a state of emergency regime and full support of the West - obviously negatively affects both PAS’s contractual capacity and its level of the current Moldovan realities’ critical perception. The active use of administrative resources in the elections, which continues in the form of the country's leadership’s visits, including Maia Sandu, to the localities where the second rounds with the participation of the ruling party candidates will take place, has not added to its popularity either. In such a situation, it is no wonder that the opposition forces, at least rhetorically, have to disassociate themselves from PAS and respond to the broad demand of society, which would like to see the opposition as a real counterweight to the authorities. Almost immediately after the elections, former prime minister and PDCM Chair Ion Chicu made a proposal to unite, also calling on everyone not to form a coalition with the ruling party. And yesterday, Irina Vlah launched her political project with the simple name “Platform Moldova”, and its main motive is to consolidate the opposition. We can assume that Chicu, who, by her own admission, has good relations with Vlah, may become one of the first allies of the new association. Generally speaking, the ex-bashkan of Gagauzia seems to be a good “rallying point”, at least better than Ilan Sor, whose unification initiatives this year and last year went unanswered for obvious reasons. On the other hand, Vlah does not have a high anti-reputation rating or a trail of criminal cases and corruption scandals. In recent years, she has smoothly “recoloured” herself into a modern pro-European politician, while reasonably not renouncing her past ties with Russia. The latter provide the representatives of the ruling regime with an excuse to call her a “Kremlin agent”, but they attach this label to almost all opponents, thus devaluing its significance. Therefore, it will not be a big surprise if a large opposition bloc starts to form around Vlah’s platform or some other association. Especially in conditions when criticism of the regime comes from all sides of the country’s political spectrum and even from the “fathers” of Moldova’s European integration. The second round of local elections in the municipality of Ungheni, where a situational coalition of PSRM, CUB and PLDM formed in support of the opponent to the ruling party candidate, is an example of how forces completely different in their ideological attitudes can cooperate against PAS. It will be difficult, but not impossible, to scale this up. I have recently expressed the opinion that only the formation of a united opposition front can be a symmetrical response to the strengthening of authoritarian tendencies in the PAS government. Its formation is especially important from the point of view that at any moment it may require shift to more active methods of political struggle, if the authorities dramatically increase repression or, say, start obvious military preparations. This will require mass protests, which none of the opposition parties can organize alone. At the same time, I am rather skeptical about the prospects for the formation and successful functioning of such an opposition bloc over a long distance. It is appropriate to recall the most famous case of an independent unification of ideological opponents against the undemocratic ruling regime - the 2015-2016 protests, headlined by the left-wing PSRM, the right-wing DA Platform and the populist Our Party. Images of Dodon, Nastase and Usatii leading protests of thousands through the capital’s streets still look quite unusual. However, those protests demonstrated the weakness and vulnerability of such temporary alliances, culminating in a cunning trick of returning general presidential elections and inserting the Socialists into the power structure, first as a systemic opposition and, after the 2019 elections, as a partner in the ruling coalition. Russia and the West prevented this scenario only thanks to diplomatic intervention. I estimate that we probably will see a similar development in the next few years as quite high. Paradoxically, the party that will be the most successful in tugging the protest electorate by criticizing and fighting PAS has the best chance of being in coalition with it at the end of the next elections. It is known that our politicians have never been particularly principled, and almost every one of them will be ready to seize the opportunity to gain respected status and access to the country’s governance. Only regional or geopolitical changes can radically affect this layout. Or the ruling party itself, whose anti-democratic steps will push it out of the zone of tolerance, deprive it of Western support and turn it into a political pariah - but it is quite debatable so far.