Did Ceban Get ‘an Irresistible Offer’?

Home / Analytics / Did Ceban Get ‘an Irresistible Offer’?
Sergiu CEBAN
Chisinau Mayor Ion Ceban was one of the candidates with the best chances to win the presidential race against Maia Sandu. The public refusal to participate in the elections is an extremely strange step, but easily explainable given the current nature of the country’s political system
On Monday, the capital’s primar, Ion Ceban, finally put an end to the question of whether he will run for president this autumn. After refusing to enter the race, he passionately declared his intentions to remain the head of Chisinau until the end of his mandate in order to “transform the city together with the professional team of the MAN party and fulfil the electoral promises”. In addition, the mayor accused Moldovan politicians of provoking hatred, discord and division in society, thus deepening the frustration of citizens. Of course, Ceban tried to be as convincing as possible and demonstrate that his decision was justified and not forced in any way. He even reminded that Moldova is a parliamentary republic, where the president does not really decide much and is unable to fundamentally change the situation. This is allegedly why MAN is preparing for parliamentary elections. However, if we consider the latest sociological surveys, people trust the mayor of Chisinau the most among the main cohort of politicians. At the same time, he has the lowest anti-rating, while the “leader” by this indicator is still Maia Sandu. Moreover, earlier Ceban repeatedly said that he did not rule out his participation in the presidential campaign, but in the end, it turns out, he changed his mind. On the eve of the press conference, he made the announcement that he would soon reveal further political plans after consultations with his party colleagues, and that the decision would not be influenced in any way by internal or external factors and recommendations. This flirtation with the public and the expert community gave rise to expectations and predictions that the MAN leader had waited for time and decided to enter the electoral process, especially amid the difficult search for a single opposition candidate. But it wasn’t to be. The Mayor deceived the expectations of the public, which looked somewhat strange and unnatural. After all, Ceban could continue to hold the intrigue and keep silent, stirring up interest to himself and his political formation. Now it seems that such a public and unambiguous refusal was one of the principal requirements and part of some behind-the-scenes agreements. It is also noteworthy that Ceban’s briefing took place the day after the signing of the Pact for Europe. This is another sign that MAN is still part of the bloc of alternative pro-European forces and intends to take part in the selection of political formations that will participate in the parliamentary elections in 2025 and ensure Moldova’s further pro-Western course. Nevertheless, it is worth trying to understand what actually influenced the decision of the capital’s mayor to opt out of the presidential race. After all, with such good background information, it is safe to say that the refusal to participate in the elections is not based on any rational considerations. Therefore, it can only be explained by purely political reasons. Version one. Ion Ceban expected that Moscow would force Igor Dodon to withdraw from the race, which would guarantee the primar’s entry into the second round and a good chance of beating Maia Sandu. However, it appears that other reasonings have taken over in the Russian capital, and the Socialist leader will run for office. Ceban’s participation in the elections without a guaranteed direct sparring with Sandu could indeed lead to a serious image blow, including for the mayor, who used the trust of the people of Chisinau and the post of mayor as a springboard to enter the country’s top political league. Version two. In previous analyses we have repeatedly written about the fact that Ceban could make a real competition to the incumbent president and put her re-election in question. Sandu is undoubtedly an iconic figure for the current political regime in Moldova and an appointee of the West. Therefore, I assume that the capital mayor was clearly explained in one of the Western embassies how “unreasonable” his nomination would be and that he should not challenge the geopolitical interests of the West in Moldova. To put it simply, Ion Ceban was made to realize what a political plight and the fate of a ‘lame duck’ might await him. At the same time, it is quite likely that in return he received the necessary guarantees that he could become a part of the respectable pro-European tea party with good chances to get into the new parliament and even to be integrated into the future configuration of power in Moldova. In fact, if Ceban had shown what he is made out of and followed his heart and political instincts, he could have reached the national level faster at the expense of the elections. And unlike the promotion of the party, most likely, there would have been those willing to invest in Ceban’s campaign to prevent Sandu from getting the second mandate. And even a second place in the presidential race would have given the mayor of Chisinau much more recognition and leadership, on the basis of which he would have led MAN to the parliamentary elections. Sandu’s example shows that losing in the second round to Dodon in 2016 did not put an end to her political career. On the contrary, running in a broad electoral campaign across the country only opened her path to big politics. On the other hand, the refusal to participate in the elections and to complicate things for Maia Sandu weakens the arguments of his opponents and supporters of the incumbent government, who tried hard to fix the image of Ion Ceban as a disguised ‘Kremlin agent’. Media close to the authorities, bloggers and experts were actively “working out” the capital’s mayor even after Monday’s briefing. With his refusal, Ceban seems to signal that he is not going to prevent the re-election of the political symbol of the regime and thus pays tribute to Maia Sandu for her merits in promoting Moldova on the European path. Given this “grand gesture”, it is easy to imagine that the Chisinau mayor will be temporarily removed from the constant information pressure and the criticism will be weakened - but only until the moment when MAN and its leader become the ruling party’s rivals in the parliamentary elections. Anyway, for now Ceban can focus on party building, as his formation, judging by opinion polls, still falls short of the parliamentary pass rate. MAN still has not opened up to the Moldovan electorate, lacking the extensive network of regional structures that are an indispensable attribute for any political force willing to get into the main legislature. Alas, in politics, you always have to make hard choices and decisions for yourself, and great options are the exception rather than the rule. Ion Ceban probably had to weigh a lot of things up to the last to trend towards a certain choice. Obviously, it was not without increased pressure from the outside, both from the ambassadors responsible for Moldova and from Ceban’s political partners in Romania, through whom our politicians are also strongly influenced. Anyway, the case of the capital’s mayor is a good example of how political processes and power structure in Moldova are constructed from outside, and how even our officials are not confident in their decisions, let alone the state as a whole.