Gagauzia ahead of November 1: is there alternative between “the two evils”? Op-Ed by Veaceslav Craciun



Only one month before the presidential elections, the Autonomous Territorial Unit of Gagauzia, which often arouses interest in the national election campaigns, remains a bastion of calmness and predictability. It seems that Igor Dodon already secured the votes of locals. And he didn’t need to make special effort for the purpose. His main opponent Maia Sandu, showing recently a vague interest in the region, didn’t become involved in the struggle for the sympathy of Gagauz people. During the time that remained until “day X", the main question remains: how suitable is this situation for the residents of the autonomous unit and to the local leaders?...


Veaceslav Craciun

Particularities and potential of Gagauz voters

Gagauzia, by its electoral potential, outstrips any big district of the country. According to the Central Election Commission, the electoral lists for the future presidential elections include 131,118 persons. The figure is by approximately 25,000 higher than in Bălți, which is the second largest city by population in Moldova.

But the particularity of the Gagauz voters is not only numerical in character. It resides in the consolidated voting. Looking retrospectively at the election campaigns in the region, both those prior to the presidential elections and those prior to the parliamentary elections, we will see: with small exceptions, the Gagauz people tend to always make a unanimous choice influenced by their pro-Eastern orientation and by the increased attention to the region’s powers. Those forces that managed to find the “key” to the heart and conscience of the southern voters (a conventional “left” of the capricious political coordinates in our country), even with average turnout, obtained an impressive number of votes – a reserve that offset the failures in the “difficult” districts and that contributed 4-5% to the national score. Similarly, losing the trust of the autonomous unit’s residents in time, these forces were unsuccessful at the next elections.

Dodon’s “monopoly”

Igor Dodon, who competes for a second term in office, is the last beneficiary of the Gagauz support. In 2016, of the 834,000 votes obtained in the runoffs, over 66,000 were given to him by inhabitants of the region. For comparison, Maia Sandu obtained 748 votes in Gagauzia. Also, in the last parliamentary elections, the Socialists, whose informal leader continues to be the incumbent President, easily gained two uninominal seats in Comrat and Ceadâr- Lunga-Vulcănești constituencies.

One can wonder if these figures really show Dodon’s popularity. Assessing his electoral successes, we should take an important moment into account: during the past four years, the President didn’t fight for the loyalty of the people of Gagauzia and acted from the position of monopolist. He was helped by two things in this regard: absence of serious competitors who could have and would have wanted to become involved in the solving of the region’s problems that could have been included in their political objectives, and, secondly, the allied relations with the administration of the autonomous unit.

Dodon remains a favorite of the region’s inhabitants even if many of the political commitments made to the Gagauz people as President and as the leader of the Socialists remained undelivered for now. Gagauzia next month will probably be again the subject of his statements. But this is not the level desired by the autonomous unit. For now, we cannot say that the region occupies a separate place in Dodon’s electoral strategy. As the voters dig only to the pleasant rhetoric, no one will spend yet additional forces and resources.

Maia Sandu’s “self-isolation”

Maia Sandu, who in 2016 achieved a modest result in Gagauzia, recently suggested that things will be different this time. At the end of this August, she gave a number of broad interviews to a series of media outlets in Comrat, including the public TV channel RTG. Concomitantly, on social networking sites she published pictures taken in Comrat of her and local politicians and public figures. Among them are many former Democrats and colleagues of the ex-Bashkan who probably represented the nucleus of the PAS branch in the region.

These actions generated particular expectations as to the change of the political situation in the region. But Maia Sandu’s activism in the region stopped here. The locals haven’t heard the position of Dodon’s main opponent as to the key problems faced in the region. The people of Gagauzia can only share Maia Sandu’s attacks on the incumbent President, but to secure support the politician needs solid arguments, a so-called “positive agenda” to show that she can give what Dodon cannot.

Even the appearance of party organizations of Maia Sandu in the region is a relative success. Surely, it is a big step forward in the party’s history, but this step should have been taken much earlier so as to help the PAS leader overcome the political isolation with respect to the Gagauz voters. During the month preceding the elections, Maia Sandu will definitely resort to informational replies that will refer to Gagauzia. But without a well-thought-out strategy, these timid attempts to encroach on the monopolist’s position will not be successful.

The lesser evil...

It is not for the first time that the situation seems to be a choice between two evils for the inhabitants of Gagauzia. The “bigger evil” is Maia Sandu, who does not yet offer something clear and hasn’t yet made effort to dispel the myths that have accompanied her since the last campaign. The “lesser evil” is Dodon, who hasn’t yet met the expectations, but “at least does something”. Such a choice is a trap for the Gagauz voters. In search of a way out, some of the local politicians suggest boycotting the presidential elections. These argue that the massive non-participation in elections will mean a political protest of the Gagauz people after which the country’s authorities will concentrate their attention on the region’s problems. It is highly improbable that the boycott will produce the expected effect on the masses, at least because only some of the activists, who do not have organizational and media resources behind, plead for this.

In any case, the idea of reviewing the relations with the political administration of the Republic of Moldova remains topical for Gagauzia. For some of the politicians in Chisinau, this means risks, while for others – opportunities. Only the Gagauz political leaders and society can become the initiators of the dialogue concerning the new principles of relations with the authorities or the opposition.

Veaceslav Craciun
Publicist Veaceslav Craciun completed master’s degree courses at the University of European Studies of Moldova, specializing in international law. Professional interests: regionalism, political processes in ATU Gagauzia, the region’s relations with the central authorities of the Republic of Moldova.

IPN publishes in the Op-Ed rubric opinion pieces submitted by authors not affiliated with our editorial board. The opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily coincide with the opinions of our editorial board.

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