Unable to boast of great socio-economic achievements, Maia Sandu plans to mobilize the electorate in her support through a referendum repeating Plahotniuc’s trick in the 2019 parliamentary elections
Everyone has nearly concluded that the socio-political life in the country is fading for the period of New Year and Christmas holidays, but then the incumbent president Maia Sandu gave an occasion to continue the cycle of reports on the preparation for the presidential elections. The majority of our citizens are either not interested in politics yet or not anymore, but experts started to comment on the president’s speech with great eagerness.
“I have pledged to do everything in my power to fulfil the mission of European integration. We have received support for this course from the Member States and we need your support, dear Moldovans, in order to succeed. We still have many important steps to take and I am ready to continue, if you will give your trust to obtain a new mandate in 2024,”
Sandu said in her video message to the citizens. In addition, she proposed to the parliament to hold a popular referendum on the accession of our country to the European Union next autumn.
Thus, the current president has finally declared her intention to run for a new term. We must admit that her campaign headquarters chose the most opportune time to launch the election campaign. There is still a slight whiff of pro-European euphoria in the air after Brussels’ decision to start negotiations with us, and the Christmas and New Year festive background softens the negative emotions that the current ruling regime provokes in people.
Despite any possible resistance, Sandu’s electoral bid, in fact, sets the tone and content of the entire election campaign, which will be fully oriented towards the European integration course. Judging by the plan of political technicians from the presidency, all those who seriously wish to participate in the presidential race will have to incorporate “pro-EU code words” into their programmes. Any other narrative, even the most accurate, threatens the presidential candidate with instant disgrace and a barrage of accusations of being pro-Kremlin, with collateral legal consequences. Thus, only pro-European candidates will remain “in the game”, and Sandu will obviously be “more equal than others”.
To enhance the effect, the president’s campaign headquarters decided to use the electoral trick of the PDM and Vlad Plahotniuc in the 2019 parliamentary elections and offer the Moldovan electorate a populist referendum. With such a pre-election plebiscite, the authorities hardly aim to definitively and irrevocably close all speculations about the foreign policy choices of Moldovans. Perhaps, it is planned to present the mass participation in the referendum as an implicit indicator of broad nationwide support for the head of state. In other words, a seemingly good event will eventually be turned into a rehearsal of voting for Sandu.
Many people have already noticed how obvious the cooperation between PAS and the Socialist Party has become recently. You couldn’t help but notice the clear political accompaniment between the two political formations regarding this referendum. This refers to the ideas voiced during the recent PSRM congress that any external integration of Moldova - west or east - can only take place on the basis of a referendum in which the citizens of the country together with the Transnistrian region must obligatorily take part. It turned out that the statements of the Socialist leader Igor Dodon became a kind of spoiler for the start of Maia Sandu’s election campaign.
Sandu’s entry into the electoral arena becomes a kind of culmination point for the motley opposition and entails the need to make a choice. In fact, some party structures which have apparently already been “reached out”, are signaling their readiness to support Sandu. At the same time, they put her “outside the brackets” and call to distance herself from PAS, which is supposedly responsible for all the socio-economic and political failures of recent years. Ion Ceban, Chisinau mayor, was the first to respond and agree to play by the rules proposed by the president. And even if he plans to try his hand in the race, it is only to prepare for the parliamentary elections.
It seems that the political technologists in the electoral headquarters are betting on the greatest possible mobilization of the pro-European/Unionist electorate, so that in the second round, everyone will rally around the incumbent president. The second equally important task is to stimulate the absenteeism of the centre-left electorate, which, being the main carrier of protest sentiments, if properly active, can quite scuttle Maia Sandu’s re-election plans for a second term.
The first chords of the electoral play clearly show that Sandu cannot boast of any socio-economic successes over the past three years. For this reason, the video accompanying the President’s address is full of exclusively geopolitical accents. That is, following the classic rule of our country’s political history, if there is nothing to boast about, always offer the population a geopolitical choice, even though it did not help “Team Europe” to avoid a painful knockdown from the voters in the recent local elections.
If we talk about probability as of today, Sandu has quite good chances to be re-elected. The personal rating has clearly jumped upwards after the decision of the European Union to start negotiations with Moldova. But the main electoral risk is that there is still almost a whole year ahead, and the pleasant refreshing taste of European integration success is unlikely to last that long. At the same time, judging by the budget for 2024, there are hardly any prospects for the economic situation to improve.
We should undrestand that in 2020 Sandu was elected as a majority president. Her rhetoric, slogans and messages at that time were as smooth and devoid of geopolitical overtones as possible. In addition, an important factor was the vote not so much for Sandu, but against Dodon and the politicians of the time. Simply put, Sandu stirred a call of hope among Moldovans who believed her. However, it is far from certain that the European perspective opened up will eventually outweigh all the disappointment regarding the “good times”.
As a result, people may vote for the European choice in the referendum, or for a candidate who favors a pro-European course of the country’s development, but not for the incumbent president. Meanwhile, even in case of defeat in the elections, Maia Sandu may well continue her professional path as prime minister and get down to EU integration, and in 2025, from a high prime ministerial position, lead PAS to the next parliamentary elections.