How Presidential Campaign Is Undermining the Party in Power

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Christian RUSSU
The planning of Maia Sandu’s re-election has put the entire power vertical in Chisinau under nervousness and stress, which threatens a new intra-party crisis in PAS
The principles of political management prescribe the participants of electoral campaigns to consolidate all internal resources as much as possible before the decisive struggle and to coherently follow the elaborated programme of preserving or coming to power. The general outlines of the ruling PAS strategy were prompted by its de facto leader and main candidate – it is turning the vote for an office with formally representative functions into a momentous political event. However, in order to fulfil the plan to hold a national referendum on accession to the European Union on the same day as the presidential election, the ruling party has to go through a long 10 months, which threatens further loss of ratings and growth of protest moods. The main menace is not the opposition brought to corner, both on the left and right flanks, but its own incompetence and internal discord. For all her authoritarian antics, Sandu cannot yet afford simple and reliable combinations exploited by dictators in the east. Take, for example, Ilham Aliyev, who simply rescheduled the presidential elections in Azerbaijan planned for 2025 until February of this year. The idea is obvious – Aliyev wants an easy re-election amidst the landmark return of Karabakh, realizing that he is unlikely to have such ratings as he has right now, so it’s worth minimizing any risks. It would certainly be more beneficial for our leader to hold elections as soon as possible, preferably last year, after a positive decision on the start of negotiations on our country’s EU membership. This alone would be enough for political technologists to accomplish Sandu’s presidential campaign. But reality, alas, does not yet allow to change the game rules to such an extent. The regime has to resort to complex scenarios using all the captured state institutions, which must be formally functional, at least somewhat effective and have responsible and loyal persons in the leadership. And that’s usually a problem for our kingdom-state. Thus, for the second time Parliament has to amend the Electoral Code to take into account all the hidden hazards that will emerge during the preparation of elections and referendum. This time, Sandu herself had to come up with the legislative initiative, which can be considered as a manifestation of irritation with the inability of the deputies to envisage all the difficult moments related to the president’s ambitious plans during the two readings. In order to properly convey their own opinion to the PAS deputies, they were summoned to the presidency right on the day of the snap session. Bickering in the government and squabbles between party groups and security agencies not only did not subside after the “referendum decision”, but also gained new impetus. The forthcoming 8-9 months will be marked by the struggle not of candidates for the post of the president, but of the persons who make up the entourage of the current president, as well as those invited from outside and already vested with power. Everyone is trying to use the current moment to strengthen their positions and prepare for the next election campaign, where they will have to compete for a place on the party list or secure a job regardless of developments. For instance, let’s take Dorin Recean. The prime minister is increasingly trying to portray himself as a strong and charismatic leader. In addition to demonstrating his extensive activity in the government, Dorin Recean has already repeatedly stood out within the parliamentary corridors, stigmatizing the enemies of the state, trying to make an impression as a worthy candidate for a place in the top five of the future PAS electoral list. However, the prime minister’s endeavors have met with resistance from all the major party clans, especially when he ventures into alien territory: whether it be justice, financial flows in infrastructure and energy, customs and border police. All these factors almost brought about his resignation a few weeks ago, but the development partners managed to prevent it. Hence the prime minister’s retreat to the outer perimeter, where he can always rest and replenish his portfolio in the hope of improving ratings at home. The Davos venue in the Swiss Alps was an actual gift, where Recean let himself “frolic” after another domestic political ordeal. The prospects for Recean to retain his premiership until the autumn events are quite ambiguous, even with the opinion of Moldova’s main foreign friends about the prematurity of changes in the existing power configuration. Nicu Popescu, formally subordinate to the prime minister, tired of the local squabbles and longing for a return to a sedate life among the Brussels bureaucracy, became a victim of circumstances, even though he received the honorable post of the accession negotiations coordinator. Added to the fear of losing a sane and responsible minister was the lack of party agreement on his successor. Several candidates appeared in Parliament at once, considering justified their ambitions to take over the post of MFAEI head and the wrongful practice of granting it to figures without a PAS party ticket. But the most serious intra-party squabbles were caused by the struggle for the post of Prosecutor General. The desire of one of the clans to ensure its control over the prosecutor’s office through another change in the procedure for electing its head (by a simple majority, without scoring points) triggered serious debates in the corridors of power. Our “civil society”, which had been silent until then, was urgently involved as the mouthpiece of the discontented. As a result, yesterday’s specially convened parliamentary session ended with the forced withdrawal of the bill from voting in the second reading. The consequences of the case are yet to be assessed, but it is safe to expect an intensification of the artificial storm into which the “yellow ship” will be caught on its way to the autumn plebiscite on their, in fact, credibility.