Dodon’s Presidential Plans: Attempts to Keep a Foot in Three Camps

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Sergiu CEBAN
The Socialist leader is playing a cunning political game to become Maia Sandu’s main rival in the presidential election and to compete with her again in the second round of elections
As the hectic political season of 2023 is smoothly reaching its end, preparations for next year’s presidential campaign are becoming increasingly clear. Party structures continue to reap the benefits of November’s local elections, trying to unite in small groups and tentatively nominate their candidate for the presidency. For them, next autumn’s vote is a convenient opportunity to determine their future strategy for the parliamentary elections based on the results. Experts anticipate that by the spring of 2024, when the holidays and Euro-integration euphoria subside, various candidates will appear on the electoral horizon, bringing many electoral surprises with them. In the meantime, sociologists are looking into the already evident nominees, modelling different variants of the second round which the incumbent president Maia Sandu will almost unambiguously enter. Amidst this, the current regime is beginning to work against the most dangerous competitors, among whom is undoubtedly the capital’s mayor, Ion Ceban. After TV8, a television channel close to the presidency, released an investigation about the donors of the MAN party created by Ceban, pro-government activists appealed to the Prosecutor General’s Office to investigate the financing of the Chisinau mayor’s election campaign. Of particular interest is, of course, the electoral behavior of the main socialist Igor Dodon. As I expected, Dodon’s restart and repositioning did take place after all. Yesterday, the long-awaited PSRM congress was held, following the results of which many expected the return of the ex-president to the chairmanship. On the eve of the congress, the media and social networks began to criticize Dodon’s political ambitions and his desire not only to remain in Moldovan politics, but also to reach again the highest state office. At the same time, if earlier the official authorities had contemptuously ignored the bankrupt “appointee of Moscow”, this time the PAS information network decided to protect its old opponent from attacks and attempts to spoil Dodon’s political revitalization. Yesterday’s PSRM party meeting was preceded by an ostentatious opinion poll, hastily written in the office of the IMAS sociological firm. This poll seems to have been designed to politically comprehend Igor Dodon’s return to the cheers of the triumphant masses, 62% of whom, it turns out, no longer want Sandu as president. Apart from the fact that he is recognized as the leader of the opposition with a large lead over his closest rival, the poll indicates without the slightest doubt that Dodon will easily beat Sandu in the second round. Thus, due to this sociological poll, two points are made to the electorate – the Socialists’ informal leader should become the main electoral rival of the current president, and also the key figure on whom Moscow will bet. Following the congress, Dodon was not (re)elected PSRM chair. He explained this outcome by the intention of his fellow party members to first adjust the statute, register it with the State Services Agency, and only then elect a leader. It is noteworthy that, speaking at the plenum, Dodon did not miss the opportunity to hint at some attempts to raid the PSRM, switching to Russian to refer to the addressees and executors of this insidious plan. Now, logically, Dodon, more than anyone else, should save his political brainchild by taking lead at all costs. Without going into the details of the changes made to the party documents, they do not bring anything fundamentally new for the voter and loyal supporters of the Socialists, but mainly concern Dodon and his future electoral programme. Thus, at yesterday’s congress, the Socialists decided not to oppose Moldova’s accession to the European Union, but only conditioned that any integration should be preceded by a national referendum. Anyway, the procedure presupposes such an expression of will, and Sandu has repeatedly stated this. Thus, the PSRM is already doctrinally turning into a pro-European political formation and playing along not only with PAS but also with Brussels, which expects internal political unity around the idea of EU accession on the part of both the Moldovan authorities and the opposition. All this indicates that the Socialist’s informal leader has long ago formalized an unofficial partnership with the ruling elite. The agreement in principle was most likely reached by the middle of this year, when PAS began to thoroughly prepare for a multi-stage electoral campaign. As a result, the Supreme Court of Justice rejected the Prosecutor’s Office’s request to extend the ban on Dodon’s departure from the country after 180 days of house arrest and 300 days of prohibition to leave Moldova. At the same time, no one has dropped criminal cases against him, so there is something to keep the main socialist on a tight leash. A while ago, speculations were voiced in the press and among experts that Dodon, along with other Moscow appointees, was travelling to Russia to coordinate further joint actions. Although he denied the likelihood of a meeting at the same table with Sor, he still travelled to Kazan. According to the official version - to celebrate the birthday of one of his sons. It is difficult to identify the real motives of this trip. However, it is possible to assume that someone tried to dissuade the PSRM leader from getting involved in the presidential race. Nevertheless, it would be very naive to think that Moscow could openly oppose Dodon and force him to stay out of the way and go into the shadows for a while. He has respectable patrons in the Russian Federation who have invested substantial funds in the Dodon-PSRM political project. In addition, any sudden movements in the run-up to the presidential elections are too risky, including for the Kremlin. Any imprudent decision could lead to the ruination of the fragile compromise on which the unity of the “bloc of Communists and Socialists” is based, as well as derail all Russia’s plans for the electoral autumn of 2024. Meanwhile, following the PSRM congress, Igor Dodon intrigued the press by stating that he has already been president and at this stage is not considering his participation in next year’s elections. Moreover, he expressed his readiness to find a compromise to appoint a single opposition candidate to run together and oust Maia Sandu. Few people were surprised by the slyness with which Dodon lent his hand to his fellow opposition members, while leaving himself room for maneuver. It would be appropriate to recall that just a few weeks ago, the informal socialist leader called the nomination of a single opposition candidate a “strategic mistake”. Everything points to the fact that Dodon’s election campaign has already been written in details, and his triumphant nomination is only a matter of time. In brief, the sequence of actions may be like this: registration of the charter, election as the chairman, lack of compromise on a single opposition candidate, presentation of the electoral programme based on the renewed party status, nomination. It is difficult to say yet what the real reasons for postponing the return to formal leadership in PSRM are. The reasons for this may be purely political and technological, as any electoral strategy has its own timing and stages. We cannot rule out that they wait for the most appropriate context for the official launch, and for this purpose it is necessary to assess what the competitors will start with. Dodon’s plan may well be aimed at neatly fitting in with the presidential campaign in Russia. In addition, as a result of Putin’s re-election, Dodon seems to hope for certain personnel changes in Russian institutions, as well as the removal of certain high-ranking individuals who block his advancement through the Moscow corridors, both in the physical sense and as a political project of the Kremlin in Moldova.