“East vs West” or “Out from the Oligarchs’ Captivity”?! The Moldovans Elect their President

by Svetlana Suveica (Regensburg)

On Sunday, October 30, 2016, the Moldovans elected their president. The turnout for the direct elections1 was 49 %, approximately 6 % less than in the 2014 Parliamentary elections. According to the preliminary results, 48,2 % of votes went to the candidate of the Socialist Party, Igor Dodon, whereas Maia Sandu, the joint candidate of three opposition parties (PAS, PDAA and PLDM), gathered 38,4 % of votes. The second round of elections will be held on November 13.2

One should observe that, whereas the Socialist Party proved to have steady popularity (20,5 % of votes in the 2014 elections), PAS (The Action and Solidarity Party) and PDAA (The Party Truth and Dignity Platform) are young political parties that gained support during the last autumn mass protests as a reaction to the scandal over the 1 Billion-bank theft.3 Several days before the elections, the Democratic Party, which controls the governmental coalition, and against which the mass protests were directed, withdrew its candidate. This was a big surprise, taking into account that over 1 mln. Euros were spent during the electoral campaign.4 This was a calculated move: whereas declaring its further support for Maia Sandu, the withdrawal favoured her political rival. It was very unlikely that the Democrats, whose informal leader, the oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc, directly blamed for playing a crucial role in the bank theft, would support an opposition candidate, whose main slogan was the fight against corruption.

As in previous elections, the geopolitical vectors dominated the electoral rhetoric of the candidates. The Socialists were openly showing that Russia’s steady support in all spheres of life played a crucial role in Moldovan history and was “vital” for the country’s future. During the campaign, Dodon actively promoted his candidacy in districts with a greater percentage of minorities, as well as in the Russian-controlled Transnistria. He openly declared that Crimea was a legitimate Russian territory, which brought up immediate reactions from Ukraine who revised its relations with Tiraspol after the outbreak of fighting in Donbass.5 The Ukrainian Ambassador to Moldova, as well as several Ukrainian deputies expressed their concern over the possible elections of Dodon as Moldovan president.

In her turn, whereas declaring that the future of Moldova lies within EU, Maia Sandu, a Harvard-educated former World Bank employee and a reforming Minister of Education (2012-2015), insisted on anti-oligarchic and anti-corruption slogans, thus expecting to gain the support of every Moldovan, regardless of his/her ethnic origin or geopolitical perspective.

Similar to previous elections, the “ethnic vote” played an important role. The attached map shows that in Chisinau and the central districts where the Moldovans (Romanians) live, the distribution of votes favoured Maia Sandu; in villages and cities with the dominant proportion of minorities, the Socialist candidate accumulated the greater number of votes. For example, around 91 % of Gagauz gave their vote for Dodon; it appears that if the participation in the elections in the UTA Gagauzia was higher, by now Dodon would have been declared as the winner of the presidential elections.

Another interesting fact is that the candidate of the Liberal Party, Mihai Gimpu, who led a campain under the slogan of the union of Moldova with Romania, gathered little more than 1 % of votes; in the 2014 Parliamentry elections the Liberals gained about 10 %. Thus, his praticipation in the governmental coalition, which meant benefitting from the unlawfulness, including of that in the financial sector, proved to be fatal. Nevertheless, the low percentage of votes given to Gimpu does not mean that the Moldovans are distancing themselves from the unionist slogans; they would rather prefer a more pragmatical approach toward the possible (re)union of the two countries. As one recent survey shows, around 28 % of Moldovans support the union of their country with Romania less as a historical legitimacy, but more as a pragmatic way to integrate Moldova within EU, as well to ensure the successful fight of corruption.6

HARTĂ: Cum s-a votat în țară. În ce raioane conduce Maia Sandu și în care Igor Dodon a acumulat cele mai multe voturiSource: http://unimedia.info/stiri/hartA-cum-s-a-votat-in-tara–In-ce-raioane-conduce-maia-sandu-si-in-care-igor-dodon-a-acumulat-cele-mai-multe-voturi-122349.html

The second round of elections will take place in less than two weeks. Whereas Igor Dodon lacks less then 3 % of votes till 50%+1, Maia Sandu would need more than 150.000 votes to win. The low participation in the poll will rather persist; less than 10 % of young people aged 18 to 25, comparing to 29 % of the voters aged 56 to70. The results of the elections will depend on the positioning of the 3d place candidate who gathered 6 % of votes; most likely,  Dmitri Ciubashenko, the representative of Our Party led by the businessman and the mayor of Balti city, Renato Usatyi, a rival of Plahotniuc with strong Russian ties, will support the Socialist candidate. For the parties of the governmental coalition, the most convenient candidate for the Presidency is also Igor Dodon: as a member of Parliament, he remained mostly silent over the bank theft. Nevertheless, there are voices that consider that coalition fears that its positioning „pro-Dodon” might face some (indirect) pressure from the West. Although a new finaincial agreement with IMF was announced as near completion (183 mln. USD for the next three years), it appears thit it will be rather postponed  – till the final results of the elections.

In the second round, the country’s geopolitical orientation towards East (Russia) or West (EU) remains at stake; this will be confirmed by the political discourses coming either from the left or the right political spectrum, as well as from the neighbouring Ukraine, Russia and Romania. There are opinions that in order to win, Maia Sandu would need to promote a clear geopolitical – anti-Russian – message.7 In the meantime, the vote in the 1st round revealed that, besides the declared geopolitical vector, and regardless of the „East vs West” vector – often used as a „scarecrow” by the politicians, the corruption was not to be tolerated anymore and Moldova will continue to strive to get out of the oligarchs’ „captivity”.

  1. This was possible after a change of the legislation by the Constitutional Court of March 3rd 2016 (http://www.constcourt.md/libview.php?l=ro&idc=7&id=759&t=/Prezentare-generala/Serviciul-de-presa/Noutati/Curtea-Constitutionala-a-restabilit-dreptul-cetatenilor-de-a-si-alege-Presedintele), considered by many as a controversial decision. []
  2. Moldova presidential election goes to second round, at:
    http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-37814503 []
  3. One-eighth of Moldova’s GDP has gone missing, at: http://uk.businessinsider.com/one-billion-dollars-disappears-from-banks-in-moldova-2015-5?IR=T []
  4. Bani aruncați în vant. Cum PDM a cheltuit 24 de milioane de lei pentru campania lui Lupu, doar ca l-ai retras, at: http://unimedia.info/stiri/doc-bani-aruncati-in-vant–cum-pdm-a-cheltuit-24-de-milioane-de-lei-pentru-campania-lui-lupu–doar-ca-l-au-retras-122154.html []
  5. See, in this regard, Kamil Calus, The Ukrainian Crisis: A New Context for a Transnistrian Settlement, at: http://turkishpolicy.com/Files/ArticlePDF/the-ukrainian-crisis-a-new-context-for-a-transnistrian-settlement-fall-2014-en.pdf []
  6. (Sondaj) Unirea României cu Republica Moldova, dorită de 28 % din moldoveni, at: http://independent.md/sondaj-unirea-romaniei-cu-republica-moldova-dorita-de-28-din-moldoveni/#.WBcj2fnhA2w []
  7. Dan Dungaciu: Pentru a castiga in turul II, Maia Sandu trebuie să-și asume un mesaj geopolitic, at: http://www.timpul.md/articol/dan-dungaciu-pentru-a-catiga-in-turul-ii-maia-sandu-trebuie-sa-i-asume-un-mesaj-geopolitic-99690.html []

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