Political Results of the First Half of 2024 in Moldova: What’s Next?

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Sergiu CEBAN
The overall domestic situation not only has not improved at all over the first six months, but, frankly speaking, continues to deteriorate
Well, the first six months of the year are over. The period is not completely typical to sum up the results, but given the accelerated dynamics of events both in and around the country, it is quite appropriate. Before the end of last year, we tried to identify the main trends of 2024 which will set the tone for the socio-political processes in Moldova. They included presidential elections, European integration, the war in Ukraine, relations with Russia, centrifugal sentiments in the regions, and unionism. The overall situation in the country has not improved in any way over the first six months, but, to be frank, continues to deteriorate. Although the society hasn’t openly expressed its protest mood in the form of a mass street rally, there are objectively more reasons for people’s dissatisfaction. The ruling party still has a long trail of scandals accumulated over this year. At first glance, the political regime still seems quite robust, but according to all the laws of the genre, it will almost inevitably face a grim outcome. The upcoming presidential elections and the accompanying referendum on constitutional amendments remain one of the main leading topics. They are at the center of the country’s political life, despite the limited powers of the head of state. Lack of confidence among Maia Sandu’s campaigning team that she will be smoothly re-elected is the reason for tightening the internal political course and cracking down hard on any opposition, including the closure of political and media projects. The further it goes, the more the presidential race looks like a farce with an attempt to predetermine the scenario and the result of the vote. However, the PAS political technologists have not managed to make it linear and follow a set track. Sandu’s team is not sure that everything will go “as usual”. And despite all the signs of the split among the opposition, it is not ruled out that this is a tactical game and that during the active phase of the election campaign the political revanchists will not launch an unexpected attack. The European integration process has equally grabbed the public’s attention. Of course, the main result here is the official start of negotiations with Brussels. Yet, a reservation should be made that in this case we are not talking about Moldova’s advancement towards the EU. Alas, but our country has been stalled for several years, without any progress in any of the positive indicators. Therefore, the success of European integration is entirely the merit of European officials, who themselves brought the European Union closer to us. But this makes our “success” more fragile and dependent on the moods in the EU – should they change, European officials may stop turning a blind eye to all the current problems in Moldova. The European path has virtually replaced the project of state development, and has become a national strategic idea, which, as the current authorities envision, will have to be approved by the citizens in a general referendum. At the same time, the internal political tendencies in Europe which have manifested themselves following the results of election campaigns in key countries, more than clearly indicate that the continent is on the verge of serious political transformations that will directly affect Moldova. Relations with Ukraine and the ongoing hostilities certainly remain an important factor. During the first six months, the situation in the Ukrainian conflict has changed dramatically from what it was in previous years. Moscow has held the strategic initiative for a long period of time, while Ukraine is struggling with mobilization, reduced Western supplies and the threat of internal political instability. Meanwhile, during this year Kyiv has largely ramped up its political influence in Moldova with far-reaching plans. The appointment of an extraordinary figure, Alexei Danilov, as ambassador points to an increase in the level and number of tasks that the Ukrainian authorities set for themselves in relation to our country. Apparently, the neighbors fear that the freezing of the conflict may offer Chisinau quantum leap prospects of integrating into the EU, which, to put it mildly, they are not happy with. Relations with Russia predictably continue their downward spiral. As early as December 2023, Maia Sandu ruled out the possibility of “friendship” between our countries. There are no signs of improvement in the foreseeable future, but new pretexts for a further break with the Kremlin are likely to appear in the run-up to the presidential elections. Moreover, a similar Russian event on the left bank of the Dniester was used as a pretext for another round of quarrels and mutual demarches. The Kremlin is no longer considering prospects of any partnership dialog with the current authorities in Chisinau, and is therefore openly fostering alternative political projects to replace them. The situation with Gagauzia and the Transnistrian region is worse than ever. Attempts to split Comrat into several competing groups that could challenge Ilan Sor and his associates have failed, as has the fiscal pressure on the autonomy. As a result, the region becomes a fiefdom of Moscow and Sor, who provides targeted support to the residents of Gagauzia and probably ensures preferential access of local businesses to the Russian market. The Transnistrian settlement has remained in a state of a sluggish confrontation. At certain moments, however, one could notice a slight desire on the part of Chisinau and Tiraspol to add predictability to their relations. However, the intermediate results are that the two sides do not enjoy much positivity and they cannot even agree to jointly sign innocuous declarations of peace. The issue of unionism and further rapprochement with neighboring Romania has completely receded into the background. On the eve of 2024, political and expert circles were increasingly talking about a unique “window of opportunity”, which opens up the possibility for a decisive step towards each other, as well as to satisfy Bucharest’s leadership ambitions in the traditional geopolitical area. However, it seems that someone in Chisinau has grown weary of the “big brother’s” tight embrace, and Maia Sandu’s election campaign carefully sidesteps the issue of Moldovan-Romanian integration. We can also review the spiritual life of the country, which, despite the secular nature of the state, is affected by political factors. Because of this, Moldova has been in the throes of an ecclesiastical crisis since last fall and in the first half of this year. The long-standing conflict between the Moldovan and Bessarabian metropolises is apparently becoming irreversible and is slowly dragging Bucharest and Moscow, the main beneficiaries, into it. Unlike the first six months, the second part of the year promises to be much more eventful in terms of domestic and foreign policy. The outcome of the presidential election will largely determine the nature of the parliamentary election campaign, which will start immediately after the presidential race is over. The political fall will define the outcome of the big three-year electoral cycle in our country and whether we should expect a complete political reset of the authorities.