Ongoing Trends of the Presidential Elections in Moldova

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Sergiu CEBAN
The pre-election background is becoming increasingly complex and diverse. The smooth launch of protests amidst experienced managers leaving the PAS, the search for a single opposition candidate and a strong pro-European nominee create an unpleasant trend for Maia Sandu’s election headquarters
The hectic socio-political life of the last weeks has little by little supplanted the main event of this year in Moldova - the presidential elections. In the meantime, whatever issues are on the top of the agenda, one way or another, all political processes in Moldova in the coming months will revolve in the orbit of the race for the president’s position, which is gaining momentum. If last autumn local elections were a kind of technical analysis of the balance of forces on the Moldovan political field, the personality of the national leader will largely determine the entire architecture of power for the next five years. At this point, the incumbent president’s team is making final preparations and creating all the necessary conditions for Maia Sandu’s victory. In general, however, it is still difficult for experts to see what exactly the various centers of political influence in the country are up to, with the exception of certain above-water reliefs of the large electoral iceberg. Along with the presidential elections, Moldova will hold a referendum on accession to the European Union, which Maia Sandu intends to use as a springboard to the second round of voting. The idea from the point of view of political-technological cunning is quite original, because now the situation with pro-European sentiments in the society is quite stable. According to some sociological polls, about 57% of our fellow citizens support the foreign policy course on European integration. At the same time, we cannot exclude curious variants, when voters will confidently say “yes” to the EU, but will not vote in favor of Sandu. This scenario is quite probable, given that one of the most recent opinion polls indicates support for Maia Sandu from only 25% of respondents. At the same time, the figures of the collective image of the alternative candidate are close to 30%. The most important indicator is the total amount of undecided voters, whose number is about 40%. Thus, a large number of the country’s citizens are waiting for concrete proposals (candidates) from our political class. Given the fact that Igor Dodon concentrates a significant amount of electoral support (which, however, is not enough to defeat Sandu), the prospects of defining a single opposition candidate will largely depend on how the Socialist leader behaves. It is obvious that Dodon is not ready to end his political career and will not simply invest his electoral ratings to anyone. So far, PSRM speakers hint that the party may not nominate its own appointee and support a single candidate together with other formations. The Socialists are already discussing this issue with other political parties. However, knowing Igor Dodon’s political temper, it seems that after a series of such contacts, he will eventually propose his candidacy as the most “conditional” candidate. Meanwhile, the centre-right pro-European flank is undergoing a largely planned process of integrative consolidation of party projects in order to find a niche for electoral growth and absorb the withering PAS rating. Thus, last week Dignity and Truth Platform, League of Towns and Communes and Party of Changes formed a single political bloc. It is expected that among the first steps of the new formation will be the search for a common candidate for the presidential election. As the main driving motives, the leaders of the three parties state the need to unite democratic and pro-European forces, a conscious movement towards European integration and an understanding of the danger of oligarchic forces returning to power. Much more interesting events are unfolding around MAN leader Ion Ceban, who, after a series of scandals with the ruling party, decided to enter into a coalition with the Socialists in the capital’s municipal council. At the same time, Ceban held consultations with the official representative of the European Social Democratic Party of Romania in Moldova, Iurie Ciocan. Apparently, experts’ predictions about the establishment of a powerful political project with a view to the presidential and parliamentary elections are becoming quite tangible. It is precisely such a political formation, which, with the political support of Bucharest will absorb the personnel and other resources of various political groups that have been largely left out of power, will be able to compete with the Party of Action and Solidarity. It is also impossible to ignore how often the former head of the MFAEI, Tudor Ulianovschi, who had previously had a good job on the North American continent, but for some reason decided to return to his native land, began to appear on the airwaves. Although in rather ornate manner, the ex-minister did not rule out his possible participation in the presidential race. Taking into account the fact that he held his position in the PDM government, I assume that Ulianovschi will be the nominee of mentioned political project, which is still in the shadows. It is of fundamental importance that the strategic plan in this case envisages the nomination not of an apolitical opposition candidate, but of a worthy alternative to Maia Sandu, a figure with a pronounced pro-Western reputation, who would be legitimate for Washington and Brussels. One of the important factors in the presidential race will be the vote of the Moldovan diaspora. How much our compatriots in Russia will be able to participate will depend on how the issue of organizing the voting of Russian citizens in Moldova at the Russian presidential elections will be resolved. The latter have already become an additional point of irritation in the relations between the two states. This time our authorities have taken the toughest possible stance and threaten to take action if Moscow reopens polling stations in the Transnistrian region. In turn, the Russian CEC chair says that Russia has always favored the voting of Moldovan citizens on its territory. As weird as it may seem, such a principled attitude of Chisinau may well be explained by the search for an excuse to open as few polling stations as possible in Russia in autumn. Although only the first month of 2024 has passed, we can already say that the electoral background is becoming increasingly complex, diverse and politically exciting. The smooth launch of protests amidst experienced managers (Olesea Stamate and Oleg Tofilat) leaving the PAS, the search for a single opposition candidate and a strong pro-European nominee create an unpleasant trend for President Maia Sandu’s electoral headquarters. Nevertheless, the final electoral panorama is not yet visible, and it is likely to become clearer within the next two months. Only after that, it will be possible to definitely predict the participants of the main battle for the president’s position.