The struggle for a European Moldova is still ongoing

Only a few days after the sizable pro-EU rally in Chisinau, an IMAS poll indicates that President Maia Sandu would lose the presidential elections to Socialist leader Igor Dodon despite receiving more votes in the first round if the two pro-Russian parties in the nation merged to form the majority in parliament.

Photo:Moldovans have a government determined to make the best of its difficult predicament.’ Maia Sandu, the president of Moldova, at a pro-EU rally, Chisinau, 21 May 2023. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

To capitalize on the potential pro-EU electorate in Moldova, steady support from the EU is required, especially among the people who speak Russian and are exposed to heavy Russian propaganda. Despite passive prohibitions on some media outlets, this issue has not yet been adequately handled. The EU-supporting authorities must take a more proactive and inclusive stance.

The poll indicates that pro-Russian Socialist leader Dodon strengthened his position after Ilan Shor, a candidate with a similar profile, was taken out of competition due to his prison sentence. The same will probably happen if the Constitutional Court decides, on June 12, to ban Shor’s party. With Shor’s party banned, Sandu’s Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS) may lose its leading position, judging from the outcome of the IMAS poll.

Out of the total opinions expressed, the PAS received the support of 39% of respondents — only 4.5pp more than the Bloc of Socialists and Communists (BCS). If voters turn away from Shor’s party, the 11.6% of votes it got in the poll would help the BCS achieve a majority. 

The results of the poll on voters’ presidential preferences indicated that in an election Sandu would lose 38% to 45% to Dodon in the second round, despite getting a 4.6 percentage point (pp) advantage in the first round (28.5% of the vote versus 23.9%).

The threat of a sudden change in Moldova’s pro-EU orientation is not imminent, as the presidential elections are only due at the end of 2024, and the next general election in mid-2025. 

Nonetheless, Dodon defeating Sandu would put immediately at risk the country’s EU accession commitment, pushing Moldova back into a deep political crisis.

It wouldn’t be for the first time; the pro-EU cabinets in 2009-2021 failed, despite managing to get the EU’s support and signing the Association Agreement in 2014.

Therefore, Moldova’s pro-EU leaders must win over the votes, if not the hearts, of the country’s Russian-speaking voters. to the results of the elections in the Gagauzia semi-autonomous region, this process has not yet started. The PAS declined to even participate in what turned out to be a race between the parties with ties to Russia for the governorship. Ultimately, Shor’s candidacy was successful.

In addition to the enormous support previously given to the country, the EU’s decision to start membership negotiations after Moldova received candidate status last year would aid Sandu in achieving this objective.

At the same time, Moldova’s hard stance against Russia in response to that nation’s invasion of Ukraine and the nation’s withdrawal from the Russian-led CIS structures give the country’s foreign policy more clarity and put it firmly on the path to EU membership.

Dramatic claims, however, like Sandu’s hypothetical assertion that Russian President Vladimir Putin would be detained if he set foot on Moldovan soil, only serve to further the influence of Russian propaganda among the country’s voters. If winning over the Russian-speaking voters in the Republic of Moldova is challenging, negotiating a deal with the separatist Transnistria region will be even tougher. Transnistria is supported by Russia. If Gagauzia, the other pro-Russian province in Moldova, starts to pose further stability problems, the situation will only become worse.

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