Parliamentary elections of 2018, dragon with three heads condemned to swallow each other. IPN analysis

“One final conclusion stands to reason: the goal of the parliamentary elections at the end of next year is to cause repeated elections, aiming at a reconfiguration of the spectrum of political forces, perhaps following the model of the elections of 2009.”

The conclusions of the series of IPN debates entitled “Starting position of parties and potential independent candidates before an electoral year”, which were staged by IPN at the end of last month, are rather sad. The political class begins the struggle as polarized and dismembered as earlier, or even more polarized and dismembered. In general, there is no bigger understanding of the strategic orientation of the country than earlier, if not even less. Inside the groups of parties with close interest, there are fewer questions than it would be necessary for consolidating common messages, while the prospects of identifying a consensus between parties that can pass the election thresholds after elections are almost nonexistent.

“Alternative“ pro-Europeans

The group of parties with an “alternative” or opposition pro-European message, invited to the IPN debate of 23.11.17, (Parity “Action and Solidarity, Party “Platform Dignity and Truth”, and Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova) expressed their interest and optimism in creating a common platform for the parliamentary elections of 2018. The first two parties publicly announced the intention to create a common bloc and several principles based on which this will work. They argued that they need to adapt to the new conditions of holding the elections, based on the mixed-member electoral system, which was introduced in summer, and to cope with the main political opponents – the Democratic Party of Moldova and the Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova – which they consider powerful and that act in concert in particular cases.

A part of the political observers asked themselves why only two parties and not more parties from the start? The question is normal at a time when it seems that there are parties ready to accept this electoral tactic and this fact was demonstrated indirectly by the behavior of the participants in the debate that hadn’t to be convinced long to take part, while a part of the parties that remained outside expressed their regret at the fact that they weren’t invited. This behavior shows that the idea of a coalition on this political segment is in the air, but this could be implemented with difficulty and the effects of such a tactic could be not so unequivocally beneficial for the pursued goal.

First of all, the members and supporters of these two parties that intend to found a bloc should be convinced so that 1+1 resulted in 2 and not less. Such a risk exists as it is anyway about two distinct parties each of which has its own style of communicating with and convincing the voters. Also, the parties and persons that can bring added value to the cause, not disadvantages, even if they have the best intentions, will have to go through a rigorous selection.

The case of the PLDM is relevant in this case. This party says that it went through a real purgatory after the crisis that followed the arrest of its leader Vlad Filat. On the other hand, even if we admit that this is so, the political opponents will extrapolate to the while bloc the attacks to which they now subject the PAS leader Maia Sandu over here PLDM origins and the responsibility for which the party is accused of while being in the government. On the other hand, the future bloc could make use of the local bodies of the PLDM, many of which are kept despite the experienced vicissitudes. The representatives of the PLDM at the IPN debate showed understanding and prudence on the issue, making reference to the international practice according to which it is the parties that gained most of the votes in the last elections and have the greatest visibility in opinion polls that should found and initiate coalitions.

Pro-European unionists and “pure unionists”

The participants in the debate of 24.11.17 represented unionist parties (National Liberal Party, Party “Democracy at Home”, Liberal Reformist Party and National Unity Party, with the Liberal Party rejecting the invitation), whose message has had a more pronounced echo in society during the last few years. These weren’t so sure of the necessity and possibility of a common bloc, but didn’t exclude cooperation on particular segments, especially for choosing candidates in single-member constituencies. These also admit a closer cooperation after the elections if a number of unionist parties enter Parliament.

The dispute of principle between these parties has two levels. The first level, which can be considered ideological, divides these into “pro-European” and “pure unionists”. The first see the European integration as an instrument without which the union of Moldova and Romania cannot be obtained. The others see the union as a final goal that concomitantly means the completion of the European integration process given that Romania is already an EU member. The “pure unionists” appeared on the political map more recently and are represented mainly by the National Unity Party that is managed by the informal leader, ex-President of Romania Traian Basescu. His message concerning Moldova’s non-chance of becoming a component part of the EU for geopolitical reasons can be powerfully stimulating for the supporters of unionists, but simultaneously can generate euro-pessimistic spirits both in the own camp and in other pro-European camps. This powerful message was rather prepared “at home” as the new unionists can poll more votes only by attracting these from neighbors on the political segment, potentially with particular risks.

The second level of the dispute between the unionists is subjective in nature and refers to the fact that the leaders and a part of the members of newer parties come from the Liberal Party, but this party does not accept to even discuss with “traitors”, not speaking about a potential cooperation. This circumstance should be taken into account when considering the chances of forming electoral alliance on the unionist platform, by the example of the alternative pro-Europeans. It seems that they are very slim because, unlike the alternative pro-European group, the unionist parties with more potential and financial resources are not interested in playing the role of driving force in the process. There could be space for the role of mediator between all the unionist currents, played potentially by the National Liberal Party that managed not to destroy the bridges with the Liberal Party, the National Unity Party and other unionists. But the final chances are rather small, as I said.

Despite the progress made during the last few years, the unionists can only enter Parliament with a particular number of seats, but cannot win the elections, as in the case of the other three political platforms. That’s why, after the elections, and in the electoral period, these will also play the role of satellites of the two, official and alternative, pro-European platforms, in each case attracting votes from a platform in favor of another, consciously or less consciously

Parties that say they are pro-Russian or are associated with Russia

The debate of parties from the Eurasian platform was to involve representatives of a number of parties that declare themselves pro-Russian or are associated with the Russian Federation, including the Party of Socialists, the Party of Communists, Our Party, the Party of Regions, the Popular Socialist Party and Moldova’s Patriots Party. Regrettably, as a result of many negotiations, only Moldova’s Patriots Party accepted the invitation and such behavior is an exception against the background of the series of debates that aimed to analyze the starting positions of the political players before an electoral year. All the other three platforms confirmed by participation advanced readiness to address issues typical of an electoral year, respectively, the place and role of each of them in dealing with these.

Such behavior by the pro-Eurasian parties could point to the existence of projects related to the future elections, which they do not want to reveal for now, but it could also be about particular dysfunctionality and uncertainty in this regard. In the absence of relevant actions or statements, we could deduce some of them:

1) At least now, there is no clarity as to the starting pistons of each political entity apart and not too much unity around a common viewpoint;
2) There is no interest and, maybe, capacity for public communication between entities from this political segment, but also with society in general;
3) In this case too, the parties with potential and resources do not accept to play the role of driving force for some “additional wagons”;
4) In the immediate future, bigger or smaller disagreements could appear within this platform.

The possibility of disagreements derives first of all from the coldness with which almost all the parties accepted the invitation to come together for a discussion and secondly from the fact that a part of them expressed their disagreement with their placing inside the pro-Eurasian platform, which, in the traditional meaning of the word for Moldovan society, means “pro-Russian”. The Party of Communists, for example, reminded about the “European modernization of the Republic of Moldova” stipulated in the party’s statutes, while the Popular Socialist Party specified that for it “Eurasia” means the whole Europe, including the Western one, the area up to the Urals and beyond, up to the Far East. Such placing could contain a dose of mistake made by political observers, but the greatest responsibility for this confusion is borne by these parties themselves as they haven’t stated a clear position until now, at least for the own voters.

In fact, I think we witness a distinct phenomenon for this entire platform. Unlike the parties that promote the pro-European course and openly accept the existence of two platforms – official and alternative – most of the parties that declare themselves pro-Eurasian or are associated with the pro-Eurasian course seem to be ashamed to accept this trenchantly, preferring formulas like “with the East and with the West”, “neither with the East nor with the West”, or most of the times use “pro-Moldova” slogans. But a purely Moldovan” development model does not exist in this globalized world that is influenced by the super-states of the world and didn’t show its vitality during the existence of the Republic of Moldova as a state. In our geographic space and system of values, there are only two civilizational development models – European and Russian – and the longer it takes for Moldovan society and the political class to choose the model we should follow, the more painful will be the transition.

In this case too, greater responsibility for the intra-platform relations is borne by the more influential parties, including the Party of Socialists and Our Party, but the relations between these remain rather tense and this is allegedly due to the reciprocal jealousy for the sympathies of Russia, especially of the Russian President Vladimir Putin, or to the wish to gain more by oneself, usually at the expense of neighbors or potential partners.

In this case too, the rule that the invitation to cooperation or at least to nonaggression should be issued by the powerful one for this to be successful remains valid because there is not a long road from disagreements and tension to adversities. The road is even shorter than between love and hate, and when two are fighting, the third wins, potentially from among the other three platforms.

Scarcity of Official European Platform Parties

The Democratic Party of Moldova (PDM) and the European People’s Party of Moldova (EPPM) make up the official European platform of the political spectrum, as far as these are governing Parties and other Parties, referred to as “alternative” during the debate, meet them with vehement opposition. The organizers failed to identify any other Parties willing to state or admit their partnership with the governing coalition. There are two plausible explanations to this: either the pro-European officials will not have any potential partners in the following election campaign, or their potential partners haven’t resolved to make their stances official yet.

During the debates, both the PDM and PPEM have stated their readiness to further our country’s European course, albeit without mentioning joint projects, be it in the form of political blocks, alliances, or coalitions. This situation may be explained by the divergences in the political ideologies of these Parties. However, it is more plausible that the PDM is confident of its capacity to handle the pre-election period on its own, thus avoiding certain premature promises on the post-election distribution of powers with its current coalition partner. It narrows down to the choice and “right of the mighty”, who has the upper hand, but also to the responsibilities that the game of politics entails.

Although a suspect in backstage dealings with other Parties, even with its publicly-admitted adversaries, the PDM leads its own game in the distribution of powers in the Republic of Moldova and, as of yet, we have no reasons to assume that it will change its behavior in the upcoming election year. Furthermore, in order to avoid game-changers during the last stretch before a new electoral cycle, the PDM opted to thoroughly test its fortune with the foreign partner community, which had advised against changes to the electoral system, but also with its political opponents on both flanks, left and right.

The PDM, perhaps more than any other Party, is pushing the preparations for the upcoming elections, working on a massive scale, in a resourceful, sufficiently populist way, aiming to increase its voter pool, and in doing so spend more money than the rest of its potential opponents taken together. According to the weekly Party reports that come in every Tuesday, most of its actions have been following this direction for several months now. This same trend pervades the Party goals stipulated in the resolution of National Political Council that met last week, as well as the decisions of the Political Bureau that met this week. It has been known for a while that the PDM is actively prospecting independent candidates for the uninominal districts, offering support in exchange for cooperation within the newly elected Parliament. Incidentally, the same conclusion can be reached while analyzing the actions the PDM Government towards the Russian Federation, an international player that is as predictable in its reactions, as it is important. Overall, the PDM seems aware of the effects of its actions, leaving little room for us to comment on the strengths and weaknesses of its doings. We could even admit that this tactic might provide the Democrats with many benefits in the pre-election period, perhaps even on Election Day. However, can’t it with equal ease turn against the Party, as soon as the elections end?

Bound to Eat Each Other Up

The public debates that we have referred to, aim to analyze the starting positions of the Parties that make up four platforms, which have emerged during the Presidential campaign of 2016, and are seemingly still valid: the alternative pro-European platform, the unionist platform, the pro-Eurasian platform, and the official pro-European platform. We deem this point noteworthy on the eve of a new election year, since one must — before going to battle against adversaries — identify one’s allies and test their trustworthiness; one must first secure one’s “rear” or, in plain words, mind one’s political neighbors, who deliver a similar message to a common voter pool. One must also mind that, once the battle is over, it is those same “neighbors” that one must cooperate with to maintain “peace”, for at least four years. Only one platform is more-or-less predictable in that sense, i.e. the alternative pro-European platform.

The post-election state of affairs between potential race winners is even less certain.

Surveys show that future elections favor the pro-Eurasian PSRM, the alternative pro-European block, as well as the PDM, the latter evaluated on the criterion of them “knowing what they are doing”, since they are so active and spend so many resources. We can’t exclude alternative scenarios, with the PCRM or the Unionists as winners of this electoral marathon, although under the status quo they can merely assume the role of remote guests at a stranger’s wedding.

One is bound to ponder whether any of the three political favorites is able to pull a single-handed win, such as to form the Government on its own. In a democracy, the political arena mirrors the state of affairs within a society. With a society this divergent, currently no political party could sole-handedly represent more than half of the society. If we do witness a single, unique winner, it might be indicative of unfair play and an infringement of democracy as a whole. That, on the other hand, might be sufficient reason for repeated elections.

Repeat elections might also be the answer, if the winners of the race fail to form a governing alliance and an actual Government. This case provides for few alternative scenarios.

In theory, the PSRM and the PDM will not be able to govern side by side, for this would imply, at least for one of the Parties to renounce its own image, allowing itself to be “absorbed” by the other Party, or even leading to a mutual political annihilation. Besides their public images, each of these Parties would have to give up considerable portions of the support, including funding, they receive from current strategic foreign partners, and this important on a completely new level. A more likely outcome would be for both Parties to opt for repeated elections.

Hypothetically, the PSRM could form a Government on its own, since the Party leaders, along with President Igor Dodon continually insist on this exact outcome. The Party’s solitary claims however, hint towards a scenario in which its pro-Eurasian neighbors would steal rather than add votes to its cause. Meanwhile, outside the platform the battle will be unfold according to the principle of “every man for himself”, unlike the former Presidential one-on-one. This leads one to surmise that it is equally likely, if not more likely, that the PSRM would end up with a shortage of allies.

There is no way the PSRM would ally with the alternative pro-Europeans, because there is no way, and if this would be the only solution left, the solution would then be repeated elections.

A scenario that may stir due controversy, i.e. a coalition between the PDM and the alternative pro-Europeans, is not very likely to happen. First, because potential members of the future alternative political block have repeatedly stated their unwavering reluctance to such a post-election partnership, and they have appreciable reasons to keep their resolve. They would commit political suicide if, in an attempt to secure themselves seats in the next Parliament, they would partner with a Party that has managed to silence most of its opponents and the majority of its former partners, allegedly not always through orthodox methods.

Failure to achieve their own Government alongside Unionists, and/or Communists (why not?) would have the alternative pro-Europeans seeking repeated elections. It seems the PDM is also aware of this eventuality, as it currently insists on openness to post-election cooperation from PAS-PPDA, indirectly holding them responsible in case of failure. This is already a mild hint towards repeated elections.

Evidently, there is a scenario in which the PDM forms its own Government, preeminently supported by the PMs elected in uninominal districts. However, it seems that the initiators of the anti-mixed vote referendum have caught up to this strategy and are planning to thwart it. Either through the annulment of the mixed voting system, if the referendum passes, or through deeper dialogue with their voters, occasioned by the referendum. As such, this option doesn’t exclude repeated elections.

Currently, there is only one possibility to avoid repeated parliamentary elections that will follow the ordinary elections to come at the end of next year. For that, the PDM, which “holds all the cards” in this country, should show its potential partners, left or right wing, that it is “in its strength both just and kind”, as goes a saying from Mihai Eminescu’s “Third Letter”. For their left-wing partners, they should inevitably warm up to the Russian Federation, assuming all of the consequences such actions would provide. For the right-wing, it would mean to fulfill, sincerely and in good faith, the 29 requirements set by the EU (28 plus the political ones) in exchange for micro-funded assistance in the amount of 100 million Euro, and to loosen, sincerely and in good faith, the political, media, and administrative pressures of which the future partners complain. There is enough time for that - one full year ahead.

Otherwise, out of all of the intermediary conclusions we have drawn until now, a final one stands to reason: the goal of the parliamentary elections at the end of next year is to cause repeated elections, aiming at a reconfiguration of the spectrum of political forces, perhaps following the model of the elections of 2009, alas with unpredictable circumstances. Alternatively: the 2018 elections — a fiend with three heads, bound to eat each other up.

Valeriu Vasilică, IPN

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