“PAS Fears the Truth”? Why Sociologists Are Fleeing Moldova  

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Christian RUSSU
The polling data show a rather deplorable picture for the ruling regime: its anti-rating has reached an unprecedentedly low level. In response, the authorities resort to the traditional methods trying to shut down the activities of undesirable sociological centers in Moldova
In March, two sociological agencies from Moldova presented public opinion research not in Chisinau, as it was usually done, but in Bucharest. These are centers with solid experience: The Institute for Development and Social Initiatives (IDIS) Viitorul and the Institute for Marketing and Sociological Surveys IMAS. The public’s bewilderment at such “migration” of Moldovan sociologists across the Prut River to present the poll results was soon replaced by shock. It turned out that the reasons were not the lack of free premises in the capital or the desire to expand the audience, but banal fear. As it became clear, over the past three years not only media community has felt all the charms of PAS authoritarian methods, from blatant censorship and criminal prosecution to the closure of electronic media and TV channels, but all Moldovan sociological centers as well are under serious pressure. With the unconditional support of their Western partners, the incumbent authorities have subjugated most of the centers that monitor public attitudes. Without the political lobby from the PAS, it has long been almost impossible to obtain any external funding for sociological surveys, so it is now a matter of mere survival for applied sociology in the country. Yet, for some pet non-governmental structures who position themselves as “independent” or even “opposition” (such as the WatchDog community of experts led by Valeriu Pasha and Sergiu Tofilat), this situation has opened up unprecedented financial prospects. However, the problem is that the population is not looking at the ruling party more positively, and the latter prefers to hide unpleasant news about its rating. The reason is not only in the unwillingness of Maia Sandu’s entourage to spoil her mood, but also in the desire to preserve the monopoly of external support, the only real attainment of these years. Left without a piece of “budget pie”, local sociological agencies have experienced all the “charms” of being in opposition, being subjected to harassment in social networks and mass media, and even outright blackmail. Before each field survey, they face political pressure, which brings a lot of trouble. External companies ordering surveys from Moldovan colleagues are forced to refuse to cooperate with them due to the political conjuncture. Let’s take IMAS. Its director, Doru Petruti, admitted that the British Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR) cancelled a contract with IMAS for several thousand dollars a few hours after the results of the latest surveys, quite embarrassing for the authorities, were published. The sociologist, who ten years ago was labelled in expert circles as a “servant of pro-European parties” from the then alliances, called PAS actions an unprecedented abuse of power. As they said, such things didn’t happen either under Voronin or Plahotniuc. This extraordinary situation forced IMAS and other companies to relocate to Bucharest and look for partners there. Good news is that Romania retains its interest in the internal political processes in Moldova. As for the sociological centers controlled by the authorities, they were simply forbidden to publish reports on the results of polls “inconvenient” for PAS. However, the truth will out, and it is symbolic that unpleasant facts were revealed not only by provincial sociological offices, but also by the International Republican Institute (IRI) from the USA. The poll, which, by the way, was also not published, but was presented to Moldovan politicians, showed depressing figures for the ruling party. Maia Sandu’s anti-rating was higher than that of all well-known Moldovan politicians, including the notorious oligarch Ilan Sor: 57% of respondents manifested an unfavorable attitude towards her. After the news about the disastrous rating of the current regime spread, Moldovan “opposition” sociologists also received more attention. Someone has to explain the country’s state of affairs. And IMAS data indeed confirm a radical change in public attitudes to PAS over the last three years and, most unpleasantly, the deteriorated perception of the West-promoted narratives. It is extremely revealing that after two years of war, 40% of Moldovans want Vladimir Putin in power. The perception of Ukraine is also far from positive. It turned out that the carte blanche and huge assistance given to PAS played against itself. And now its anti-rating drags down everything else, and impunity only encourages it to tighten the screws, discrediting European values and the overall process of European integration. Imposing a referendum alongside the presidential election is viewed in the same light by the population causing resistance. Only 10% of Moldovans believe that gas prices in the country are correct and are not linked to corrupt schemes. Moreover, the more the authorities try to convince us that everything is right and correct, the more distrust arises. 70% of respondents believe that the justice situation has worsened over the last three years. 70-75% of citizens note that Maia Sandu is not involved in solving domestic issues, and the real rating of the incumbent president is only 15% of the reported 35-40%. 40% of the PAS electorate is frankly disappointed and will be looking for an alternative in the next elections. History is repeating itself. This fall will see another protest vote, but if in 2020 Maia Sandu benefited from it, now she risks serious damage. The most interesting thing is that there is no rational explanation for the behavior of the ruling party. Attempts to impose on the public the illusion that support for the authorities is as high as ever are doomed to failure a priori. We can recall that before last local elections there were also biased polls that showed an even higher rating of the ruling party than it was before the parliamentary elections. However, the reality, as we know, produced quite different results.