Irina Vlah and Big Moldovan Politics

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Sergiu CEBAN
With the launch of “Platform Moldova”, the ex-bashkan of Gagauzia has made a serious statement of intent to enter the top league of Moldovan politics. But in order to gain a foothold there, Vlah has to do a lot so that she is no longer perceived as a provincial leader but as a national-level politician
So, the local elections are finally over, but the prolonged “electoral marathon 2023-2025” is just gaining momentum. The second round’s main peculiarity was a pronounced electoral absenteeism, especially clearly manifested in Balti, where for the second time in a row the central authorities offered to the citizens to choose between the two candidates most appropriate for Chisinau. PAS failed to win the position of mayor in any of the large municipalities, content with victory in villages and small localities. In general, the second round did not fundamentally change the overall picture, which showed the real socio-political situation in the country and, most importantly, the negative trends for the ruling party. Against this background, preparations for the next electoral cycles - presidential and parliamentary elections - are becoming more and more evident. Thus, the ex-bashkan of Gagauzia, Irina Vlah, announced the launch of her own political project - the public association “Platform Moldova”. At a press conference, she said that the changes of the last two years have led to the degradation of democracy and to a decline in citizens’ trust in the authorities. According to her, since independence, Moldovan society has never been so divided and the gap between the elite and the people so big: “Moldova has never had such a bad government as it has right now”. The former head of Gagauzia believes that the high expectations of citizens turned into a big depression, as a result of which the authorities focused on foreign (geo)politics. In addition, the social sphere, where a lot of problems have accumulated, faced by the overwhelming majority of the population, have dropped out of their sight. She also mentioned the massive media censorship. Irina Vlah decided to establish her socio-political project “open to all solidary citizens and professionals who are willing and able to contribute to the development of the country” to remedy the situation. She is also urging the opposition to come under her command, which, according to her plan, should join forces against the PAS dictatorship. Based on the available information, we can conclude that Vlah is in favor of strengthening the “internal vector”, while not yet revealing details of further plans for her platform and its integration into the big Moldovan politics. Not a day later, the ex-bashkan and the ruling party have already squabbled and exchanged “political jabs”. In particular, PAS deputy Radu Marian, who is largely responsible for the socio-economic situation in Moldova, apparently took the criticism as a personal challenge and stated that a “Kremlin platform” had been openly and officially established in Chisinau. In his opinion, Moscow wants to turn its agents into “pro-European politicians” in a blink of an eye. Vlah responded by denying her connection with the Russian Federation and said that with such comments the MP had showed his level of education. Back last year, it became clear that Irina Vlah did not consider the position of bashkan as the terminus of her political career. Therefore, she began to openly hint that after the end of her mandate in the autonomy she might take up politics at the national level. The main arguments were accumulated experience, the ability to initiate and finalize her projects, wide international contacts acquired during the years of Gagauzia leadership, as well as the existence of a certain concept that could contribute to the country’s development. Even at the final stage of Vlah’s reign as bashkan, it became obvious that political technologists and image-makers began to work with her, leading her according to a clearly defined plan. First of all, she began to actively oppose the central authorities and to engage in public altercations with Prime Minister Dorin Recean. In addition, the official launch of “Platform Moldova” was preceded by a series of positioning events, the centerpiece of which was the official presentation of her own book “My Profession is a Politician!” – autobiography about the ex-bashkan’s professional path. Initially, there were rumors that the former leader of Gagauzia intended to join the formation of ex-Prime Minister Ion Chicu, thereby Vlah’s political project was linked to the fugitive oligarch Plahotniuc. While confirming good relations with Chicu, she immediately rejected plans to join his Party of Development and Consolidation of Moldova. However, at the same time she expressed confidence that all such political organizations should stand together against the current government within a common platform that would allow to follow the path of European integration. In fact, even with the minimal information that Irina Vlah provided about her project, we can roughly understand the general outlines of this plan and its ideological content in the future. The success or failure of this idea will depend on a whole range of factors, but it is unlikely that she will be able to build her project on sole criticism of the authorities. To enter and consolidate in the top league of Moldovan politics, Vlah will have to do a lot so that she is no longer perceived as a provincial leader but as a national-level politician. It is still difficult to understand whether Vlah is being prepared as a symbol of resistance to Sandu’s regime, but, by all appearances, she seems to be one of the most suitable figures as the main counter-candidate for the president’s post. The ex-bashkan herself does not rule out her participation in the presidential race, formally stating that she has every right to do so. It is likely that the image of the country’s leader that Vlah will offer to the political elites and the Moldovan electorate will consist of several components: an equidistant arbiter, an economic manager who prioritizes domestic rather than foreign policy. Hence Vlah’s appeals to the “left” and “right” to become a unifying force. The extent to which Platform Moldova is a systematic and broadly coordinated project, rather than an impromptu by a team of political technologists, will become clear depending on how various activists, civic leaders and politicians, especially those close to Moscow and other revanchist forces, come under the ex-Bashkan’s banner. If Vlah fails to gather a significant number of supporters and allies under her wing, the project in its current form fails to “take off”, and her personal rating stops at the level of the passing score in the parliament, then, most likely, “Platform Moldova” will switch to the backup scenario. Vlah will probably get involved in the presidential campaign in any case, in order to use it as an additional political springboard. After participating in the national elections, the Platform will be transformed into a party structure, and Vlah will try to transfer her personal rating to the party in order to enter the new parliament.