By all indications, Moldovan politics faces some fun times: presidential elections are scheduled for the autumn (the exact date has not yet been determined), and parliamentary elections are scheduled for 2025. The incumbent president, Maia Sandu, has already announced her plans to seek re-election. And this is despite the fact that her approval rate is currently 38.6%, which is not much, to put it mildly. And if we take into account her anti-ratings (i.e. those who categorically do not want to see her re-elected), which equals 51.1%, the chances of Mrs. President become even lower.
In addition, according to the Moldovan Central Election Commission, during last year’s local elections, the president’s ruling party, Action and Solidarity (PAS), failed to win a single mayoral seat in 11 major cities. Traditionally, these elections are considered in Moldova as a kind of dress rehearsal before the parliamentary and presidential election campaigns.
Speaking about the leaders of opposition parties, it is fair to note: there are no politicians among those conventionally considered both pro-Russian and pro-Western politicians who have a pronounced support of the masses of voters. Besides, there is an obvious balance of interests in the republic.
If we present Moldovan society and political circles, we can see the following picture: 30 percent are in favor of unification with Romania, the same number are in favor of independent accession to the EU, and 40 percent are in favor of integration and development of cooperation in one form or another with Russia, Belarus and other countries of the Russian world. This arrangement of political priorities, as noted by Nikolai Mezhevich, a professor at St. Petersburg University, does not give any of the groups an opportunity to implement their program. However, in the current geopolitical conditions, marked by uncertainty, such discord gives Moldova a certain stability. A kind of neutrality, if I may say so.
Nevertheless, Romanian citizen Sandu continues to drag the republic into the EU and NATO by all means available to her. And the way she does it is not making her popular.
Here are just two examples of recent decisions.
Moldova and Ukraine have agreed to extend the liberalization of cargo transportation until the end of 2025, the decision was approved following a meeting of the joint Moldovan-Ukrainian commission on international road transport. That is, this year the transit of agricultural products through Moldova will be carried out with a 27-percent discount. And this is against the background of protests of Eastern European (Polish, Lithuanian, Hungarian, etc.) agrarians against import in any form, including transit, of Ukrainian grain and oil crops. Naturally, Moldovan farmers were not happy about it, and protests took place, which was used by opposition political structures. Thus, one of the leaders of the Moldovan opposition party Revival Alexandr Nesterovschi said: «Moldova is being tried to turn into a ‘piece of transit land’ without history, language and culture».
In addition, at the end of last year, the Moldovan parliament, where the president’s party still controls the majority, adopted amendments to the Customs Code, according to which from January 1, 2024, the special regime of customs export-import duties is abolished for economic agents from Transnistria. Now they have to pay duties on an equal footing with other Moldovan companies. Naturally, Tiraspol called the new customs duties a form of economic pressure on the part of Chisinau, saying that they would lead to additional losses for local producers, and introduced retaliatory measures. The fact that these steps will further worsen the economic situation of both Transnistria and Moldova is obvious.
But let us pay attention to one detail: the customs war is being waged between independent countries, and Transnistria seems to be considered by Chisinau as a part of Moldova. Or Sandu is ready to recognize its independence? It seems that not yet. Although in one of her speeches Mrs. President said that Moldova can join NATO «without Transnistria». Where should it go?
The Moldovan leadership does not give answers to these questions. The future will show.
Returning to the beginning of the election campaign in the republic, we note the first step taken by three opposition political structures oriented towards the West.
Recently, the Party of Change, the League of Cities and Communes (LOC) and the Platform for Dignity and Truth (DA) announced the creation of a political bloc that will nominate a single candidate for the presidential and, in the future, possibly for the parliamentary elections.
DA was previously a partner of the now ruling Action and Solidarity Party (PAS) in the ACUM bloc, but became disillusioned with this political alliance «due to the authoritarian actions of Moldovan President Maia Sandu», who is the tacit leader of the PAS.
According to Moldovan media, the participants of this triple alliance will develop a new political and electoral position for participation in the 2024 election campaign and the 2025 parliamentary elections. It is also planned to organize political consultations with representatives of other “democratic and pro-European” parties, expert community, representatives of civil society to ensure political cooperation.
The joint declaration of the emerging alliance notes that the decision to join forces «is related to the lack of effectiveness of the current government in ensuring a decent standard of living for citizens; the lack of results in the justice reform process and the lack of progress in the fight against corruption. As well as with the politicization of the objective process of European integration; tolerance of oligarchic groups within the government; lack of tangible results in the act of governance».
Calls for unification are also coming from the other political flank. Former Moldovan President Igor Dodon, considered a «pro-Russian» politician, spoke on behalf of the Party of Socialists, which he leads, with an initiative to nominate a single opposition candidate against Maia Sandu in the upcoming presidential election. According to him, the Party of Socialists has already started holding consultations on this topic with the leaders of some political formations.
In short, the Moldovan opposition is once again beginning unification processes, if I may say so, by groups of interests. The main principle of their formation is the question «against whom we will be friends this time». Of course, it is good, but it would be desirable that at least one of the associations, besides criticism of Sandu and her comrades, put forward a real positive program of actions. But so far there have been no such precedents in the history of independent Moldova.
As for the president, it seems that in the remaining time before the elections, Sandu will toughen her policy on the domestic front. Fortunately, she already has some experience in this. Let us recall at least the ban of the opposition party «Șor» on the eve of the local elections. And this despite the fact that it was represented in the national parliament. It went well. So who will prevent her from repeating the successful experience?
The current government has also become skilled in «working with the media». According to the International Federation of Journalists, in 2022–2023, “the ruling regime in the country closed down 12 TV channels whose editorial policy was contrary to the odious and sometimes reckless statements of the country’s leadership, as well as blocked access of its citizens to several dozen websites” with pro-Moldavian and pro-Russian content.
In short, Chisinau will not let anyone get bored in the coming year. We will be watching…