Here’s a joke from a Moldovan politician: “A man reaches a crossroads with three signs: ‘If you go forward, you will be beaten’, ‘If you go left, you will be beaten’, ‘If you go right, you will be beaten’. While the traveler is wondering what road to take, he hears a voice from above saying: ‘Decide faster or you will be beaten right here!’”
The final results of the February 24, 2019 parliamentary elections show three heavyweight winners and one smaller winner. Of the three heavyweight winners, the Democratic Party of Moldova (PDM) seems to be the most forceful one with 30 seats of MP, even if it has five seats fewer than the Party of Socialists (PSRM) (35). Such a conclusion can be reached if we analyze the post-electoral behavior of the heavyweight winners, as the PDM, not the PSRM was the first to invite to discussions on the formation of the future government coalition. At the same time, the electoral bloc ACUM (NOW) PAS DA wants to leave the impression that it is not interested in any post-electoral scenario for coming to power.
Why do the heavyweight winners behave like this? Answers to this question were already made public by the given political players, but a part of the answers can be deduced.
The PDM justifies its post-electoral activism by saying it cares “for stability”, for the possibility of continuing the projects “for the people” and “for Moldova” as faster as possibly, making it clear that those who do not share this position are or can be judged for being against stability, the people and Moldova. But the PDM ignores the statements of the other two heavyweight players concerning eventual frauds that could have modified the election results and their legal right to probe the existing suspicions within the legal time limits that haven’t yet expired.
The PSRM explained that it took a break before announcing its position, but only after the seats of MP are confirmed by the Constitutional Court, because it wants to clarify things concerning the legality of elections in a number of constituencies. Also, the PSRM speaks about the parallel vote count it performs in a move to get a picture of the whole electoral process. But the Socialists avoid saying what else can be done when the internal validation procedures are completed, with predictable effects, and after the foreign observers “validated” the elections, confirming their democratic character by reports and statements.
The bloc NOW announced it will not form an alliance with anyone as it cannot betray its principles and voters, because the other two heavyweights are thieves and thieves should form coalitions between them, failing to say why and until when they will leave the country and the people in the hands of thieves. The bloc NOW also reserved the right to take a beak until the complition of its own investigation that involves national and foreign experts, which is to show that the elections were rigged.
Electoral base – heavyweights’ source of will and capacity
But the former electoral contenders have also fewer uttered reasons for adopting such post-electoral behavior. The main reason is related to the maneuvering space imposed by their electoral base on each of them and on all of them together. More precisely, the more consolidated is the electoral base, the calmer and safer is the party that entered Parliament in relation to the post-electoral scenarios they would follow.
In this connection, we should specify that the number of possible post-electoral scenarios now decreased to three compared with those rumored until now: 1) PDM + PSRM; 2) PDM + Shor Party + independent MPs + turncoats. 3) Snap elections.
This way, at this stage of preparations for forming government alliances, a lot depends on the political will and all kinds of capacities of the PDM, PSRM and NOW. But even more depends on the political will (sympathizes and antipathies) and capacities (organizational, persuasion, resistance, reliability, etc.) of their electoral bases.
PDM: Unvoiced explanations and possible scenarios
The PDM has will and own capacities, possibly much greater than both of the opponents-partners in the future Parliament taken together have. It proved this not only after 2016, when it took over the government and all the state institutions practically alone, but also starting with the first and ending with the last government coalition of which it formed part and where it was the only survivor. We do not refer here to a part of the methods by which the disappearance of all the former government partners occurred, but only to their effects. Owing to the own will and capacity, in the current elections the PDM made a really huge jump, from a very low level of legitimacy of the government, party and its leader to a high level in the form of almost one third of the confidence votes of the electors given to the party in the national constituency and to its representatives in single-member constituencies.
At the same time, we can say that the mega-resources and mega-will used by the PDM in the current election campaign and before it ended with disproportionately small results, even if these were almost equal to those obtained by its main opponents who were much more limited in resources, will and capacities. In this regard, the sacred question addressed to a representative of the PDM by a representative of the bloc NOW in a televised debate became viral: “Is this everything you could do, Vlad?” The main explanation of this disproportion resides in the volume and quality of the electoral base that the PDM managed to form, but during a rather short period of time that was available to it. This happened because the party built its electoral base practically from zero, on grounds that were mainly occupied by other election runners, primarily the PSRM and the Shor Party. For objective and subjective reasons, the PDM had to abandon the pro-European electoral pool and to enter into a competition with other parties for the same ideas, like “pro-Moldova”, “pro-neutrality” and “pro-multivectorialism”. Consequently, the PDM managed to impose itself considerably on foreign grounds, but this means that a large part of the voters are also “foreign” and not yet definite and these can be lost if the party is deprived of the capacities and resources it possessed until now and it used to also constitute a sufficiently large, but miscellaneous and conjuncture-based electoral base.
Taking into account such a state of affairs, the PDM has to force things so as to return swifter to the situation that allowed it to manage all the state resources, so as to also strengthen the own electoral base. Many of its current supporters can vote for any other party that can offer them the same things as the PDM offered them until now: “good roads”, “higher pensions”, “higher salaries”, “Easter allowances”, etc. So, we can deduce that the PDM will follow, in particular conditions advantageous to it, scenario No. 1 “PDM + PSRM”, but rather scenario No. 2 “PDM + Shor Party + independent MPs + turncoats”, given that it already knows how to do this. What really counts for the PDM now is not how, but at what speed it can come to power.
Judging by all the “attention” signs with which it constantly treated the bloc NOW and its components during the past few years, the PDM does not take into account a ruling coalition with this bloc and the invitation to negotiations was nothing else but an intention, which is correct from technological viewpoint and from the angle of its political image, to pass this stage on the way to government as swiftly as possible. We can presume that the Democrats also do not take into account the scenario of snap elections, primarily because this is the longest path to power that will imply the powerful erosion of its electoral base, with unpredictable or even unfavorable results in case of snap elections. The honorary president of the PDM Dumitru Diacov expressed this idea very trenchantly: “We will never accept snap elections”. The PDM’s request to the Constitutional Court to pronounce on the possibility for the current Government to manage the affairs in case of a vacuum of power envisions rather the scenario of snap elections with minimized risks for the party, first of all through the prevention of the diminution of its electoral base.
PSRM: Unvoiced explanations and possible scenarios
PSRM is comfortable with the break it has taken for several reasons. The party realizes that it will be unable to form a government by itself, despite wishing very much for such an electoral outcome and even making a major electoral commitment out of it to attract or keep voters. The Socialists also realize that the only way for them to become part of the government is to follow scenario no.2 and enter a coalition with the Democrats, who get the upper hand despite having fewer seats. It’s possible that the Socialists would be better off outside the government and a partnership with PDM, but it’s also possible that the Democrats would make the Socialists an offer they can’t refuse. The many ways PDM could achive that have already been widely discussed. At any rate, a wait-and-see stance now seems to work best for the Socialists rather than a proactive or even reactive tactic.
The conclusion remains true also when considering the Socialists’ voter base profile. Unlike that of the Democrats, their base is less volatile and circumstance-dependent, meaning PSRM can afford to wait without having cold feet about potential snap elections. This is because the Moldovan Socialists have built their base on some durable conservative foundations (some of them at odds with the principles of socialism): religion, family, a separate ethnic identity and language, statehood, the faith in a strong national leader, a certain geopolitical orientation, a form of military neutrality that echoes Soviet-era NATO-phobia, nostalgia for times long past and others in the same spectrum.
In the eventuality of snap elections, this voter base will be much less vulnerable to erosion. That is, unless another party emerges in the meantime to borrow this very same set of conservative values and chip big chunks off its base, just like PSRM did to the Communist Party in the previous election cycle. However, the Socialists might even derive benefits from snap elections if they are able to capitalize on the potential erosion of the voter base of the Democrats as well as of another party, that of the Orhei mayor Ilan Shor, which gave the Socialists a hard time during the past race.This could happen if the Moldovan judiciary succumbs, at long last, to external or internal pressure to bring to completion the protracted trials against the main suspect in the infamous one billion dollars bank fraud. In case of early elections, Shor’s enjoyment of parliamentary privilege would be uncertain.
So the Socialists could go with scenario no1 or no.3 if they want to rely on their voters’ support.
NOW: Unvoiced explanations and possible scenarios
The bloc NOW has the determination and political ambitions of other heavyweights, but is much more limited in capacities and resources. So far NOW has appeared acting erratically and confusingly in some cases, and this seems to be such a case: the bloc doesn’t want to be part of a government that could help it deliver on some of its electoral promises, while at the same time failing to produce a compelling case of remaining in opposition. “We will propose laws to set the country and its institutions out of captivity. It’s take it or leave it”, describes the bloc its future strategy, one that fails to acknowledge the fact that no major law proposed by any opposition, especially if it put the current government in jeopardy, was ever endorsed in this country. One might be inclined to concur with NOW’s opponents and call them naive greenhorns in politics, but they enjoy the support of almost a third of Moldovans, and it was the same ‘greenhorns’ that came very close to the presidency in 2016 and won the subsequently annulled Chisinau mayoral election in 2018.
Perhaps NOW is the best illustration that political actors can act insofar as their own voters allow or compel them to. And NOW’s base seems to be educated and loyal as well as principled, which are elements of a fairly high level of political culture. Whatever its rivals might think, the fact that NOW won most districts in Chisinau and in the diaspora despite all the impediments and pressure it had to overcome is proof of that fact.
It is this voter base that NOW has made a solemn pledge to not to enter any coalitions with PDM, PSRM or the Shor Party, and the bloc will want to keep that promise, no matter how tempting other circumstantial options might be, including a ‘tactical coalition’ with the Socialists.
Officially, the bloc hasn’t yet spoken on the eventuality of snap elections, though one of its co-presidents has recently called it “a scenario of (Dem leader Vlad) Plahotniuc”. But it seems that NOW does consider this option, especially if it wants to see that international probe it has requested to investigate allegations of massive voting fraud. If the bloc is able to avoid disillusionment among its voters, NOW could accept snap elections with little risks for its image and electoral score. Moreover, if base voters get convinced that the snap elections is the only way “to set the country out of captivity”, they could even be desirable. History doesn’t repeat very often, but in 2009 the Communist Party, which had been in power for eight years, was overthrown after snap elections. At the same time, it was also a snap election that saw the demise of the Democratic Moldova Bloc, an opposition bastion for many years.
So NOW has two options to choose from: entrench itself in the opposition or push for early elections. Maybe the bloc will be put in the situation of choosing between its voters’ will and suggestions from foreign partners like the United States, which recently urged “Moldova’s leaders to move quickly to form a new government that respects the will of Moldovan voters and serves the Moldovan people by fighting corruption, promoting judiciary reforms, and securing Moldova’s progress on its democratic trajectory”. But maybe it won’t have to choose…
The Electorate: Unvoiced explanations and possible scenarios
Moldovans voted on February 24 to divvy up their support in three more or less equal parts. However, votes were not only cast in favor, but also against; in fact, the against ones might prevail. In this sense, Moldovans are less conciliatory than voters in other European countries, for example. Whether this is the merit or fault of our political class is a different story. The question that we should answer today if this not-so-willing-to-make-concessions electorate would approve of coalitions between rivals, or as is often the case in Moldova, archenemies. Or would the electorate want snap elections? Is there anyone who can tell what the Moldovans really want today?
Valeriu Vasilică, IPN
P.S. The introductory joke actually didn’t include a fourth way, that of turning around, or adapted to our case, snap elections. Maybe the “voice from above” should be listened to once more?