Who won the elections yet? Op-Ed by Victor Pelin

“The post-electoral developments showed that despite the statements of the leaders of the intransigent opposition parties regarding the delegitimization of PAS, the government demonstrated that it has enough levers to improve its positions. The convocation of the mayors’ forum by President Maia Sandu showed that approximately 80% of the mayor’s offices want to cooperate with the central authorities, while the process of electing the chairpersons of district councils showed that PAS is on quite firm ground and obtained what it never had – control over the majority of district councils (56%), which was earlier held by PSRM..."

Opposition’s verdict: governance lacks legitimacy

Almost three months have passed since the general local elections of November 5, 2023. A lot has been written about the election results, with the assertion that they would be suggestive of strategies regarding the presidential election of the autumn of 2024. In fact,  the results did not impress anyone, causing more perplexity than providing answers and foreshadowing successes for particular political actors. However, the ballot is not over yet as, so far, not all the chairpersons of district councils have been chosen and the head of Basarabeasca district is be elected.

In the aforementioned circumstances, we can only be content with the assessments of the election results, made by the most vocal politicians. For example, Igor Dodon, one of the leaders of the Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova (PSRM) came to the conclusion that: “The PAS regime and Maia Sandu suffered a defeat and this administration no longer has legitimacy.” In the same vein, the leader of the Party of Development and Consolidation of Moldova (PDCM), Ion Chicu, warned about  the  imminent dangers ahead: After the catastrophe of these local elections, the criminal group PAS will try to discredit the local public administration and assume more powers at central level...They will withhold salaries in the districts where they lost – that is in almost all of them. They will persecute people politically and further erode the rule of law." The loss of confidence in PAS by the citizens was also remarked by the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova (PLDM), Vlad Filat: “The results of the local elections are a strong and convincing signal addressed specifically to PAS. The election results demonstrate people's distrust in the authorities, which, today, means distrust in PAS.”

An assessment of the results of the local elections of November 5, 2023 was made by the former governor of the Autonomous Territorial Unit of Gagauzia (ATU), Irina Vlah, who not only confirmed  the defeat of Maia Sandu and PAS, but also addressed a proposal to those who share the same conclusion: “Currently, society is waiting for the opposition to unite... The aim is to wrest the country from the clutches of PAS and bring it back on the democratic path of development, when the government acts in the interests of the people...” To achieve this goal, Irina Vlah proposed that the potential struggle partners should join the Moldova Platform: “Responsibility and love for the country must be now the only doctrine. This is the platform where our synergy will pay off. We need unity. (...) The time has come to make a united front to restore people’s trust and hope. Let’s give a nice example of national politics and this example will be given by the “Moldova Platform”. The country must be led by competent people. These are invited to be part of the Moldova Platform”.

Test of government’s legitimacy

The government was not enthusiastic about the result of the local elections either. That’s why, after about a month it decided to check whether it is still legitimate or not. In this regard, President Maia Sandu on December 9, 2023 staged a mayors’ forum entitled “The future of local public administration”, to which all 895 elected mayors were invited. Representatives of 725 mayor’s offices (81%) announced their participation and 580 of these were mayors in person (~65%). In her speech, President Maia Sandu announced the public administration reform strategy for 2023-2030 and the launch of the second phase of the “European Village” project. This was probably enough for about 80% of the mayor’s offices to ignore PSRM’s call to boycott the forum: “the political parties that oppose the Sandu regime and PAS should ask their representatives not to participate in this show”. In connection with this forum, PDCM leader Ion Chicu threatened Maia Sandu with the notification of the Prosecutor’s Office for her statements on differentiated financing of mayor’s offices - uniform and nondiscriminatory financing from budgetary funds vs. privileged financing from European funds for mayor’s offices that share the European values. It’s true that the situation remains unclarified so far – what are the criteria for separating pro-European mayor’s offices from the others? Is the participation in the mayors’ forum among the criteria? Ingenious find!

The second test of the legitimacy of the PAS government refers to the election of the chairpersons of the 32 district councils. The district heads, except for the managers of the municipalities of Chisinau and Balti, are elected by councilors from among them. As in the direct elections the main competitors – PAS and PSRM - obtained absolute majorities in four and three district councils, respectively, a competition was to take place in the other 25 districts. The intrigue resided in the fact that PSRM adopted a
decision not to allow  the formation of coalitions with the PAS party within municipal, district or village councils in any locality in Moldova. A similar decision was adopted by PDCM, but it was much more trenchant, calling for a “boycott of the usurping party PAS”. Consequently, in the absence of official data, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty journalists found that: PAS got 18 district heads (~56%); PSRM – eight heads (25%); PDCM – three heads (~9%); the European Social Democratic Party –two heads (~6%). For now, there is no information about the election of the head of Basarabeasca district, where PAS and PSRM have by seven councilors each out of a total of 27 and, respectively, equal chances to promote their candidates to the coveted position.

Phenomenon of betrayal threatens union of opposition

The political competition between the intransigent opposition parties and the government is full of amusement. Thus, after PSRM decided to prohibit coalitions with PAS in local and district councils, there was a wave of such coalitions, meaning that for PSRM councilors the decisions of the party’s National Council have little value. To discourage noncompliance with central bodies’ decisions, PSRM decided to exclude from the party  several Socialist councilors from Drochia district because they voted for a PAS chairperson. On the other hand, in the case of five other districts: Stefan Voda, Causeni, Cahul, Anenii Noi and Soldanesti, where PSRM councilors ignored party discipline, the party’s leader, Igor Dodon, limited himself only to threats to apply reprimands. It is a sample of adaptation to circumstances and tacit acceptance of the phenomenon of betrayal. Otherwise, PSRM would probably risk running out of councilors. Why is this happening? Because the PSRM leader is himself a notorious turncoat. Therefore, what he can do himself he cannot deny to PSRM members. This created problems in the relations with coalition partners – the Communists, who don’t trust Dodon in the slightest, suspecting him of betrayal at any time. Obviously, the Socialists justify themselves, pointing out that “it is inopportune and dishonorable to hit in the back a partner with whom you shook hands, went to battle and entered Parliament... Such statements, full of selfishness and manipulation, are undoubtedly detrimental to the opposition.”

In the process of electing district heads, PDCM  also faced the problem of betrayal and reacted quickly and very harshly: “Despite the decision by the National Political Council... a district head on behalf of PAS was elected in Nisporeni district by the votes of a PDCM representative in the district council. (...) This person was expelled from our party. The betrayal is serious. It is a curious case that makes us believe that the PDCM leaders are admirers of Caragiale’s work, applying in life his famous expressionI love betrayal, but I hate traitors.” Indeed, 16% of PDCM’s candidates for mayor, according to CEC data, committed betrayals, being mayors promoted in 2019 from other political parties, mainly from the Democratic Party of Moldova (PDM) and PSRM. Respectively, the result obtained by PDCM in the recent local elections is largely due to traitors. In Glodeni and Rezina districts, for example, PDCM got seven mayors and in each of the two districts by six reelected mayors are former mayors of PDM. So, it turns out that betrayal can be useful. We will remind that the phenomenon of mass betrayal of mayors was exploited for the first time at industrial levels by another leader of the current intransigent opposition – Vlad Filat. It’s true that in the case of the latter, we are talking about the general local elections of 2011. So far, no one has been able to surpass PLDM’s performance in converting mayors, obviously, except Vlad Plahotniuc, but this is related to the personal relations between the two leaders of the former Alliance for European Integration.

Seen through the angle of the phenomenon of betrayal, the attempt to unite the forces of the intransigent opposition on the Moldova Platform of the former governor of Gagauzia, Irina Vlah, carries great risks. The point is that the founder of the mentioned platform herself was accused more than once of betrayal. The harshest words  about Irina Vlah's betrayal were pronounced by the leader of the Communists, Vladimir Voronin, who educated her and launched her into Moldovan politics: “I have a firm attitude towards turncoats, no matter how such an act can be explained. I can't forgive that... Who knew this Vlach and who would know about her today if she had not been promoted by our party? How can you sell yourself for the sake of a position and for the sake of interests?”. It is noteworthy that the Communist leader insists that Irina Vlah’s initiatives are based on fear for possible investigations into her activities as governor of Gagauzia. For the sake of truth, it should be mentioned that PSRM leader Igor Dodon is also disappointed by the metamorphoses that occurred in Irina Vlah’s consciousness.

The coalition of the intransigent opposition becomes problematic not only for the reason of betrayal, but also because  of a principled, existential subject for PSRM: “There is a trend - some politicians seek to change their color. The Socialists never do that. We supported her twice for the position of Bashkan of ATU Gagauzia. I think without our support, she [Irina Vlah] would not have won in 2015 or 2019. Back then, she said that in Moldova, Moldovan is the state language. What has changed now? If we had known that she considers the Romanian language is be the greatest achievement of the Moldovan people, we wouldn’t have supported her.”


According to the most vocal leaders of the intransigent opposition, we have a clear picture of the party that was defeated in the recent general local elections. The delegitimization of PAS’ rule would be the result of defeat. If there are losers, then there should also be winners. The problem is that the winners remained unidentified. Therefore, we must understand that, for now, this does not matter. What is important is that after the general local elections, premises were created for the removal of PAS from government through the agency of the Moldova Platform.

The post-electoral developments showed that despite the statements of the leaders of the intransigent opposition parties regarding the delegitimization of PAS, the government demonstrated that it has enough levers to improve its positions. The convocation of the mayors’ forum by President Maia Sandu showed that approximately 80% of the mayor’s offices want to cooperate with the central authorities, while the process of electing the chairpersons of district councils showed that PAS is on quite firm ground and obtained what it never had – control over the majority of district councils (56%), which was earlier held by PSRM. After the general local elections, PAS also improved its financial situation, becoming from this viewpoint the main beneficiary of the local elections. Among the intransigent opposition parties, only PDCM after the local elections has a better financial situation than the previous one, which is largely due, as strange as it may seem, to the phenomenon of betrayal.

From what has been reported, we can also draw the main conclusion that the combination of the forces of the intransigent opposition with the purpose of removing PAS from government, although possible, is hampered by two factors invoked by its leaders themselves: 1) the sin of betrayal and 2) principledness in relation to the Romanian language. The existence of problems in the process of consolidating the opposition forces, in which about 10 people would be involved, was acknowledged by Irina Vlah: “I analyze, discuss with the team and do not exclude my participation in the presidential election. We have a strategy, a position and will announce it by May... Each political leader has their own view, own tasks, but we interact on this platform and have common goals. We understand that the situation in the country is difficult. We need to change the situation in the country, to present solutions, strategies to improve people’s lives. We are also discussing the possibility of nominating a single candidate in the presidential election.” In fact, there are solutions to overcome the blockage – committing other acts of betrayal in principled matters, either in favor or against the Moldovan language.

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