Date first published: 03/12/2020
Key sectors: all
Key risks: political; economic; corruption; institutional reform
On 16 November Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS) leader Maia Sandu won the presidential elections defeating the incumbent pro-Russian Igor Dodon of the Socialist Party (PSRM). Sandu, who has proven anti-oligarchy and pro-EU integration credentials, faces significant challenges as president in a political system where parliament remains dominant. The PSRM will likely move to discredit Sandu and her allies in the coming months and thwart her efforts to trigger early parliamentary elections aimed at breaking with the status quo.
Why it matters
Sandu’s victory marks a real win for those supporting EU-integration. However, the power of parliament and of other influential actors could derail the integration prospects. In the short term, Dodon could try to enter parliament to lead PSRM efforts to frustrate Sandu’s agenda, potentially triggering fresh political crises. Even attaining the premiership is possible. Billionaire-in-exile Vladimir Plahotniuc is likely to continue to maintain allies in the system who will back the PSRM in maintaining the status quo. In the long term, Russia’s role financially backing the PSRM and its troop deployment in the disputed breakaway region of Transnistria could also frustrate EU integration efforts and destablise the political environment.
The PSRM has already recently frustrated Sandu’s efforts. In June 2019 Sandu’s PAS entered a shaky coalition with PSRM as part of the ACUM bloc on the basis of removing Plahotniuc – who was then leader of the formerly governing Democratic Party (PDM) – from power. Though this pushed Plahotniuc to exile, a dispute between the PSRM and ACUM over the appointment of candidates for the prosecutor general’s office led the PSRM to hold a vote of no confidence in its own government in November 2019, therefore destroying the coalition to remove ACUM from power. An unofficial PDM-PSRM coalition based on retaining the status quo has been in power since then, alongside Plahotniuc proxies in the form of the Sor Party and Pro Moldova Party (led by PDM exiles). The parliamentary composition leaves ACUM with control of only a third of the seats. The PSRM has shown its readiness to throw the country into a political crisis in order to derail significant reforms.
Moscow still staunchly backs the PSRM and Dodon and has sought to influence Moldova’s foreign relations. He has frequently visited Vladimir Putin in Moscow and made no secret of where his loyalties lie. Back in April 2020 he tried to arrange a EUR500m government loan from Moscow which was blocked by the Moldovan Constitutional Court. Although Putin was quick to congratulate Sandu on her election victory, Moscow continues to hold significant influence in Transnistria, which is run by a Russian-backed separatist government that would reject calls for the withdrawal of Russian troops. Sandu will need to establish a clear agenda on what she envisages as solution, a move that risks frustrating the Kremlin.
Sandu’s PAS is still not in a position to confidentially win early parliamentary elections, which the PSRM and its allies will likely try to delay for as long as possible. Although the electorate has seen that a PSRM-controlled presidency and parliament have failed to improved living standards or tackle corruption as promised, Sandu still has a long way to go before it can present a convincing alternative despite having won the November vote.