The ballots of parliamentary elections showed that the extra-parliamentary opposition, united under the electoral platform ACUM (“NOW”), managed to collect many votes, despite the mixed system and unequal opportunities during the electoral campaign. Although the electoral result of the opposition is not sufficient for it to be able to take over the government, its post-electoral weight gives it a certain power to influence, if such an intention exists, the process of forming the future government. This could be an advantage if the establishment of the ruling coalition were not dependent on political parties controlled by local oligarchs or strongly dominated by a pro-Russian agenda - the Democratic Party and the Socialists, respectively.
The ruling party and the Socialists explored the ground to reach the opposition, even though the latter ruled out any political partnerships with them long time ago. The reluctance expressed by Bloc NOW generates political isolation but also pushes for an interaction between Socialist and Democratic parties, each of which seeks the key to governance. In an attempt to create confusion in society and put pressure on the opposition, President Igor Dodon suggested, among other post-electoral scenarios, one according to which the Socialists would ally with the Bloc NOW (IPN, 28 February 2019). The last and only time when the opposition (Platform Truth and Dignity) approached PSRM was during the anti-government protests of 2015-2016 (StirileProTV, ianuarie 2016), when mobilization against the common enemy - Vladimir Plahotniuc - took place, regardless the (geo-)political differences. The Democrats are also trying to open a channel of dialogue with the PAS and the Platform DA to negotiate a ruling coalition. The offer of Democrats includes, among others, the implementation of the Association Agreement with the EU, the complete implementation of reforms and the fight against corruption (PDM, 1 March 2019). The credibility of such a move is, however, very low, because the PDM had all the levers of power between 2015-2018 but only selectively supported the reform process and protected the interests of the party and the oligarchic group behind it.
The leaders of the Bloc NOW have categorically rejected any possibility of governing with the Democrats (IPN, 1 March 2019), which they categorize as criminals. A possible dialogue between NOW and PDM could take place if Vladimir Plahotniuc abandons the PDM and an intense de-oligarchization plan of the country is launched. Such ideas seem not to be examined at all by members of the Bloc NOW. At the same time, the opposition avoids the pro-Russian forces, with whom there is an inflexible geopolitical incompatibility (IPN, 23 February 2019).
Numbers of votes and positioning of the opposition
Following the elections of February 24 2019, the opposition-led electoral bloc gathered 544,726 votes: on party lists - 380,181 votes, and on uninominal constituencies - 164,545 votes (see Table below). In general, opposition voters represent practically the third part of the total number of voters who participated in the vote - 1.457.220 million people (CEC.md, 3 March 2019). That is why the role of the Bloc NOW in determining the power equation is significant, but only if the opposition wants to become an active player and has not taken up the status of parliamentary opposition prematurely.
Table. The number of votes cast for the Electoral Bloc "NOW"
Proportional voting - 380.181
Uninominal constituencies – 164.545
1. Maria Ciobanu – 9724
2. Lilian Carp – 9775
3. Liviu Vovc – 11.847
4. Inga Grigoriu – 11.635
5. Iurie Renință – 10.082
6. Vladimir Bolea – 11.058
7. Dan Perciun – 11.576
8. Mihai Popșoi - 9865
9. Petru Frunze – 12.807
10. Andrei Năstase - 14.015
11. Maia Sandu – 49.955
12. Dumtru Alaibă – 2206
Proportional voting – 334.539
Uninominal constituencies – 185.360
1. Oleg Sîrbu – 11.840
2. Ion Leucă – 9811
3. Corneliu Padnevici – 10.396
4. Eugeniu Nichiforciuc – 12.446
5. Gheorghe Brașoschi – 8768
6. Eleonora Graur – 12.446
7. Ludmila Guzun – 9724
8. Nicolae Ciubuc – 10.549
9. Pavel Filip – 13.047
10. Alexandru Jizdan – 12.123
11. Grigore Repeșciuc – 10.054
12. Ghenadie Buza – 9550
13. Dumitru Diacov – 6634
14. Efrosinia Grețu – 6820
15. Elena Bacalu – 8335
16. Vlad Plahotniuc – 20.926
17. Alexandru Botnari – 11.891
Total – 544.726 votes
Total – 519.899 votes
The results of the bloc NOW exceeded by 70.000 votes the performance of PLDM and PL, whose pro-EU slogans in the 2014 parliamentary elections attracted overall 476,719 voters. At the same time, the votes obtained by ACUM exceeded the results of the PDM by about 25.000 votes (see Table 2). However, this was not reflected in the number of mandates obtained, due to the mixed vote and the larger number of uninominal constituencies won by the Democrats - 17 against the 12 in which he triumphed the opposition.
The majority of voters who sympathize with the Bloc NOW came from the voting pool that previously supported PLDM and PL, depopulated because of multiple corruption scandals and their inability to renew. In view of the protesting context in which extra-parliamentary opposition has coalesced, its voters also count anti-system voters, besides the new voters who participated in the election for the first time.
In addition to the massive use of administrative and media resources by the PDM and the Socialists, the opposition received fewer votes than was capable of as a result of the less intensive diaspora vote compared to the 2016 presidential election, partly provoked by a ban on voting the expired passport basis. Some civil society voices believe the opposition has also lost voters because of: (1) poor communication with Russian-speaking ethnic groups; (2) poor promotion of liberal values, such as human rights, particularly with regard to the LGBT community; and, (3) including dubious people in the electoral lists (NewsMaker, 28 February 2019).To this is added the impossibility of the opposition to effectively absorb the votes of the unionist voters.
The four major challenges of the opposition
Both the actions and the inactions of the opposition can be decisive in ensuring the political stability of the country, as well as the opposition's own resilience. For these reasons, the Block NOW is facing four major challenges, the management of which can open new "window of opportunity" or, on the contrary, limit opposition’s actions and impact.
Thus, the Bloc NOW needs to decide, first, whether it wants to influence the governance process or has already decided that it will hold the opposition role in parliament. The difficulty of such a decision depends equally on the success of the Democrats ultimate establishment of a coalition with the Shor Party, the three independent candidates, and necessarily at least 11 representatives of the Socialists. If the slightest risk of such a scenario persists, then the Bloc NOW needs to prepare for early elections or to the forced prolongation of the current government. The Democrats have already requested the Constitutional Court's approval to create the institution of "technical government" that would extend the mandate of the current government, headed by Pavel Filip, for one year and a half (18 months) if the parliamentary majority is not created (Constitutional Court, 28 February 2019). The political instrumenting of constitutional provisions, such as the formation of "technical government," gives the PDM more time to seek the solution needed to form the ruling coalition. Earlier, Democrats have already succeeded in newly tailoring the constitutional provisions and eliminating President Igor Dodon from decision-making and legislative process when he deviates from his constitutional duties (IPN, 9 January 2018). Thus, the Bloc NOW urgently requires a strategy that proposes coherent and consistent behavior for the already predictable political circumstances - early elections or the establishment of a "technical government".
The second challenge lies in the fact that the opposition faces a dilemma about its engagement with voters, so far, though with many difficulties, through protests. Established from protests, Platform DA and PAS should decide how and with what they replace the protests. If they overlook this, the void created will soon be filled with the activism of other new or old political forces.
The third challenge is the form in which the electoral Bloc NOW will operate after it enters the parliament. For a long time, inhibited and compensated with the support of the European People's Party, which itself starts the campaign for the European Parliament, the differences between PAS and the Platform DA can return to the surface once they are in the parliament. That is why the parties need to establish a mechanism of co-operation within the legislature that would prevent a painful divorce in the future. Such a mechanism would mean the transparent and meritocratic distribution of the areas of responsibility between the very diverse members of the Bloc ACUM.
Last but not least, the opposition is going to learn to actively promote the European integration, even if it is resisting the Democrats' attempts to mock reforms or the Socialists who try to consolidate a pro-Russian agenda. Before the February 2019 elections, the opposition focused on the exhaustive criticism of the government and hesitated to refer to the positive aspects of European integration, which Democrats exploited in its favor.
Instead of conclusions...
The Bloc NOW is close to turning into a parliamentary force, but still is not explicit about the role it wants to assume in the new political context. If it is tempted to take on the role of opposition, then it must reveal what its strategy is for the possibility of early elections or the prolongation of government by the Democrats - with or without the invention of the "technical government" institution.
There are many question marks that the opposition needs to overcome through a clear communication strategy and political stance. But most importantly, the opposition will decide whether it establishes a post-election coordination mechanism or separates itself within the renewed parliament.
Assuming an active role in promoting the European agenda could become a priority for those entering the legislature via the Bloc NOW, through which the European vector of the country can be strengthened. This will benefit reforms under the umbrella of the Association Agreement with the EU, and will complicate the attempts to strengthen Russian interests.
Areas of research: European Neighborhood Policy, EU-Moldova relationship, EU's foreign policy and Russia, migration and energy security.
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