In the Republic of Moldova, the first round of local elections was held and the ruling Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS) was defeated in this in many of the competitons at all levels where elections were held. Even if the leaders of the party hurried to say that the PAS won the elections in the country, obtaining the best score in 19 districts and promoting over 240 mayors by the first round all over the county, if we more attentively analyze the situation, the reality does not seem so pink, as don’t the slightly exaggerated assessments about the results of the first round of local elections as a categorical proof of the victory of the European course.
Seven municipalities already lost...
It is noteworthy that in seven of 11 municipalities in which local elections took place last Sunday and that elected their mayors by the first round of voting, none of the winners belong to the ruling party. The harshest blow to the ruling party was given in Chisinau where the main challenger, Ion Ceban, who is accused of insincerely embracing the European option and of being Moscow’s man, won the mayoralty by the first round, while his opponent from the PAS not only obtained an indignantly low score, but also got by 5% less than the party’s score for the Municipals Council. This shows that the PAS put forward the incorrect candidate for mayor general of the capital city.
Besides, in the northern capital Balti, where a runoff vote will be held to elect the mayor, the election will take place without the presence of the representative of the PAS. The competition there was to involve the man of the oligarch with pro-Russian affiliations Renato Usatyi and an unknown female candidate launched by Ilan Shor one week before the elections as a reserve candidate. As in Orhei, nearly 10,000 residents of Balti voted for a person about whom they heard practically one day before election day. Not even the elimination of Shor’s candidate Korshikova from the Balti runoffs in favor of the Socialist candidate from the third place favors the PAS much.
... and most of councils as well
The political vote given to parties for district and municipal councils is significant. In the competition for this vote, the PAS ranked first in 19 councils out of 34. But the PAS will hold a majority only in four local councils - Călărași, Criuleni, Ialoveni, and Strășeni – while the main challenger on the pro-Russian segment, the PSRM , in three councils - Briceni, Dondușeni, and Ocnița.
The PAS won the first place by slightly over 30%, including in the elections to the Orhei District Council, but the post of mayor of Orhei city was won by an absolutely unknown candidate, who was propelled from the reserve of the fugitive convict Ilan Shor after the Chance Party was excluded from elections. In the Orhei District Council, as actually also in not few other councils won by the PAS with a relative majority, the ruling party has few changes of forming majority alliances and with high probability will be sent in most of the districts to the opposition at the local level.
Can they bank on revenge?
One of the preliminary conclusions drawn from the analysis of the results of the first round of local elections refers to the result scored by the pro-Russian parties that obtained an electoral score that enables them to compromise in the future the efforts of the central pro-European government at the local level and to bank on revenge in the presidential elections of 2024 and the parliamentary elections of 2025. Despite the exclusion from the electoral competition of the Chance Party that is controlled by the fugitive oligarch with ties with the Kremlin, Ilan Shor, the coordinating staff of the pro-Russian forces managed to swiftly redirect the voters made loyal by corruption towards the reserve candidates who remained in the competition. The pro-European authorities weren’t ready to thwart this change of tactics by the anti-Europeans in the elections in Moldova.
At the same time, among the essential causes of the modest result achieved by the PAS is the reduced mobilization of the ruling party’s supporters at the polls. The reason why the voters of the party didn’t take part in a sufficiently high number in elections needs to be subjected to a separate, thorough and unbiased analysis. For now, the emerging conclusion is about the message centered only on the European integration objective, which, as the current elections show, is not sufficient to produce an exemplary mobilization of the electoral segment on which the PAS counts.
Why isn’t Chisinau Riga?
When first treating the subject, the lack of political allies of the PAS, with which the party could form majority alliances in the already voted local councils, becomes conspicuous. But even more prejudicial was the deficient manner of the efforts made before the election campaign to coordinate the actions with the potential political allies so as to avoid the excessive fragmentation of the vote and absenteeism on the European segment. In particular, this thing can be now deduced with clarity with regard to the electoral result in Chisinau. The PAS’s party selfishness that led to the absolutely unjustified fielding of the own candidate for mayor general of Chisinau, to the detriment of a common candidate of the pro-European parties, took the proportions of a fundamental political mistake.
At the respective time, Latvia’s capital Riga gave a pertinent example how the influence of the Russian factor in the mayoral election can be eliminated by respecting the interests of the national parties. The mayor of the capital of Latvia, Nil Ushakov, of Russian ethnicity, who perfectly integrated into Latvian society, was reelected mayor by townspeople of all nationalities in a city like Riga, in which the Russian ethnics constitute almost half of the population. Why wasn’t this experience repeated in Chisinau, especially when a number of experts in the pre-electoral period spoke about the politician of Russian ethnicity, Alexandru Slusari, as a common candidate of the pro-European parties for mayor of Chisinau? In the case of this already failed scenario, the mayoral runoff vote would have definitely been held in Chisinau in the least optimistic variant.
Not only through external influences
It is not a secret that Moscow invested politically and a lot of money to influence the democratic process in the current elections in Moldova, mainly and almost openly through the agency of Ilan Shor. This practice shows a great vulnerability point for the democratic process in the Republic of Moldova. It is evident that they will try to repeat the situation at the next national elections. However, the PAS and all the other pro-European parties should realize that the results in Chisinau were influenced not only by external factors. The tactics applied by Moscow in the case of Ilan Shor were different from those applied with regard to Ion Ceban, the latter having been supported by such influences in a much more sophisticated way. The case of Ceban is another story that is also related to the Russians and the Russian intelligence services, but they applied here much more discreet methods that are harder to counter.
In fact, it would be an impertinent simplification to believe that only the Russian influence is the reason why the PAS’s candidate could not reach the runoffs. The success in the elections in Chisinau achieved by the National Alternative Movement (MAN) Party, which was founded recently and is led by Ion Ceban and which polled most of the voters in the elections to the Chisinau Musical Council, also cannot be explained by the Russian influence. A decisive role here was rather played by the political message, the campaign strategy and the way in which the candidates of parties interacted with the voters. All these significantly influenced the election outcome. So, the PAS, unlike Ion Ceban as MAN leader, didn’t manage to formulate convincingly and efficiently transmit its message and to massively attract voters in Chisinau and in the country by the example of the presidential and parliamentary elections won in the not-too-distant past.
Particularities of a divided society
We should admit that in a society with advanced democracy that is not fragmented according to the criterion of civilization choice, the electoral score of the PAS against other political parties would have been classed as incontestable success and electoral victory. But this is not the case of Moldovan society in which the danger of the full reversion of the development paradigm after the next presidential and parliamentary elections persists. The electoral success achieved in the local elections by some of the pro-Russian parries, which, without any restriction from Moscow, covered the Russo-Moldovenist ideological emptiness with European clothes, points to the electoral vulnerability of the Europeanist message formulated and propagated by the PAS, in which the Romanian identity coagulant is absent or is seriously inadequate.
Who and with what comes from the start?
The local elections gave the start of a new electoral cycle in the Republic of Moldova. For the pro-Europeans forces, it is important to learn the lesson of the current elections as the way in which they will manage the next cycle of national elections depends greatly on this. The results of the local elections show a very low probability that the PAS will be able to repeat its electoral success at the next parliamentary elections by guaranteeing the continuity of the pro-European government.
At the moment, the pro-European parties in the Republic of Moldova are divided into two large currents according to the EU accession criterion – sovereignists and unionists. The sovereignist current is represented powerfully by the PAS whose mission is to end the agglomeration of small and non-influential parties on this segment through fusion or through the formation of a large political and electoral alliance. The unionist current is fully disorganized at this stage and a coagulant political center is to be formed swiftly here by compiling a common national Euro-unionist electoral list. If the Euro-unionists show incapacity to organize into a representative political force, the revenge of the anti-European Ruso-Moldovenist forces will become a reality in the Republic of Moldova in the future electoral cycle.
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.