Moldova in the Shadow of European, American and Russian Elections

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Anton ŠVEC
2024 will determine long-term political trends, since electoral processes in key countries and regions may entail transformations on a global scale. Moldova will be directly affected and will probably change itself
This year will witness elections that will determine the development trajectory of the political system and foreign relations in almost 80 countries around the world. The votes in the European Union, neighboring Romania and the United States, as well as our own presidential elections and the referendum on European integration will be decisive directly for Moldova. Internal and foreign electoral processes will largely establish the background of the republic’s development in the medium term. Depending on the outcome, they may lead to the preservation of the current pro-Western anti-democratic regime or its crisis and downfall. Examples immediately come to mind of how domestic political change affects the nature of the policies of countries and organizations. Last year’s revenge in Poland by globalist and westernist Donald Tusk instantly improved this country’s deplorable relations with Germany and Ukraine. In turn, Robert Fico’s premiership in Slovakia (along with Hungary’s long-term position) is rocking the pan-European consent on the Russia-Ukraine conflict - Bratislava has stopped arms shipments and has already lifted its ban on cultural ties with Moscow. As members of the so-called Visegrad Group, Hungary and Slovakia still support Moldova’s EU membership. However, in doing so, they are stirring discord in the Russia’s containment and NATO enlargement policies, which has become mainstream in recent years and into which official Chisinau is trying hard to fit. The 2024 electoral and political season in Moldova begins with a diplomatic conflict over the holding of Russian presidential elections on the territory of the republic. The three-day vote will take place between 15-17 March. There are no doubts about the future winner, but the Kremlin is jealous of turnout figures, encouraging it in every possible way and aiming for at least 50-60% support for Vladimir Putin from all Russian citizens eligible to vote. Hence the diplomatic appeal to Chisinau to ensure conditions for holding elections on Moldovan territory. Last time, in 2018, we had 27 polling stations open (24 of them in the Transnistrian region, where more than 200,000 Russian citizens reportedly live), including in the capital. The MFAEI claims that the Russian request is under consideration, but the ruling regime is hardly interested in helping to organize the Russian presidential election. In addition, PAS probably expects that the official refusal of Russia’s request will force it to react symmetrically and not to open polling stations in Russia for the referendum on European integration (it is rather difficult to imagine how voting and campaigning on EU membership would be organized in present-day Russia) and presidential elections (if they are to be held by popular vote rather than in parliament). It is obvious that the vote of Moldovan citizens living or temporarily staying in Russia will not provide the authorities with required results, so the simple interest is reduced to the fact that the plebiscite in Russia will not be held at all or will be organized as badly as possible. European Union parliamentary elections will be held this summer. According to numerous forecasts, the largest faction of the European People’s Party (26.5% of mandates) risks losing its key status. Anti-immigrant, anti-globalization, nationalist parties and other Eurosceptics are expected to increase their representation in the European Parliament. Ursula von der Leyen, who has lost the confidence of the EPP, risks losing her post. Charles Michel has already announced his willingness to give up his position as head of the European Council for a mandate as a MEP. Roberta Metsola also has little chance of remaining at the helm of the European Parliament. All the current EU leaders are extremely favorable to our leadership, having established personal friendships with Maia Sandu. Their departure may drastically change the situation. Meanwhile, the European Parliament is directly involved in the issues of financing and membership of new countries in the Union. In case of a significant reform (and even the programme of the most traditional and pro-European EPP implies a lot of changes of conservative focus), the ruling regime runs the risk of suspending its European integration plans, as well as losing its financial and political support, including regular “approving” resolutions of the European Parliament. The U.S. and Romanian elections scheduled for late autumn are also quite unpredictable for PAS and Maia Sandu. In the USA, Donald Trump is leading in the polls, radically opposing the course of the American establishment, especially on issues of principle for Chisinau, such as NATO activities and support for the warring Ukraine. The 45th U.S. president, who dreams of regaining his office, is very successful in the Republican primaries – significant rivals Vivek Ramaswamy and Ron DeSantis have already dropped out of the race, having declared their support for Trump. Nikki Haley, the former U.N. ambassador, is still in the race, but may quit as early as this week. The legal issue of the ban on running in certain states remains open, but beyond that, Donald Trump’s lead among Republicans seems unassailable, as does his ability to defeat the Democratic nominee, who will predictably be the elderly Joe Biden. In addition to fears of global transformation, Donald Trump’s rise to power may indirectly affect the Romanian electoral situation. Bucharest is dreaming of a reshuffle with the aim of strengthening Romanian influence on NATO executive structures – the Alliance’s Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoana plans to return to Romanian politics and immediately to a high post, while incumbent President Klaus Iohannis intends to compete for the post of NATO Secretary General. The current Moldova’s regime would benefit from such appointments, allowing it to abandon its constitutional neutrality, which contradicts the PAS party ideology, and to start negotiations on accession to the Alliance as soon as possible. However, the arrival of Donald Trump in the White House threatens to upset all the plans, as the post of NATO Secretary General is likely to go to former Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who is favored by the main Republican candidate in the United States. It is problematic to predict how a politician who has long kept Romania and Bulgaria out of the Schengen Area will act at the head of NATO, and how this will change Romania’s domestic politics. We cannot rule out that Bucharest will face a period of turbulence, which will automatically weaken the Chisinau lobby in Euro-Atlantic institutions and lead to the risk of destabilization in Moldova itself. Without a clear reliance on NATO, the EU and Bucharest, Maia Sandu may be deprived of financial, political and informational resources for a successful electoral campaign, including in terms of effectively playing on the topic of Russian threat and the Euro-integration and Western shield as a way to counter it. Such a scenario may be especially painful amid the doubtful legitimacy and legality of the internal political procedures planned by the authorities for October. It is illegal to hold a constitutional referendum alongside the popular presidential election. The recommendatory nature of the plebiscite will devalue the idea of EU integration. If the presidential election is returned to the parliament (which guarantees the victory for Maia Sandu), the legal and political connection of her candidacy with the course of European integration will be lost, as well as disintegration tendencies will be triggered – there are no parties in the parliament representing the regional interests (in particular, Gagauzia and Transnistria), therefore, Maia Sandu will be considered solely as a president from PAS and not the entire people of Moldova, her legitimacy will be undermined. Thus, 2024 will be a year of risks and challenges for the incumbent government in Moldova and around the world. The current authoritarian regime will predictably follow the path of “tightening the screws”, hyping up the Russian threat and provocations. We can only guess where the country will end up if it loses the support of its traditional patrons.