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07/19/2021

Elections in Moldova

Elections in Moldova

The snap parliamentary elections in Moldova, which were held in 11 July, resulted in the victory of pro-Western forces. The Action and Solidarity Party, founded by the President of Moldova Maia Sandu, got 52.8% of the votes. Such a great success even exceeded the expectations of the members of that party. As a consequence of the process, which has been openly supported by the US, all of the state power has passed to the control of the pro-Western forces. On that way, Russia has lost one of its most critical “battle fields” to pro-Western forces (at least, for now). Nonetheless, the fact that the turnout at the elections remained at the level of 48% shows that the situation in Moldova remains fragile.

The presidential elections in Moldova, which were held in 4 November of lest year, were won by the pro-Western leader Maia Sandu. However, Moldova has a parliamentary system. In other words, most of the power is possessed by the parliament and the parliament was dominated by the former president (the leader of the Party of the Socialists of the Republic of Moldova – PSRP) Igor Dodon, who is known to be a pro-Russian politician. Since under such circumstances Sandu would not have been able to have real power, she had decided to dissolve the parliament and declare snap elections.

Conflict of two political camps

Despite the fact that Moldova, with its approximately 3 million population and the area of 30 thousand square kilometers has mostly remained out of the attention of the international media, it is actually one of the main places of conflict between the West and Russia. In politics, Moldova is one of the most instable countries of Europe. As we had mentioned in the previous articles on this issue, Moldova had not been able to elect a president for 2,5 years – from 2009 until the beginning of 2012.

In economics, Moldova and Ukraine are the two poorest countries of Europe. The Moldovan society has been split into two political groups: On the one hand there are the pro Russians, on the other hand, there is the pro-Western electorate. Although for the 30 years of the period of independence the political actors in Moldova have been changing regularly, this two main electorate continued to exist. The political turmoil occurs mainly between these two political camps.

Who are the Moldovans?

The political conflict is also related with the existence of the country: A great part of the pro-Western Moldovans (though not all of them), support the unification of Moldova with Romania. Moldovans are of the same origin as the Romanians. After the Bessarabia region (which includes most of today’s Moldova and is located between the rivers Prut and Dniester) was captured by Tsarist Russia as a result of the Russo-Turkish War of 1806-1812, the inhabitants of that region fell apart from their kinsmen who lived on the western bank of the Prut River. Thus, Moldovans were excluded from the nation building process of the Romanians. During the turmoil, created by the Russian revolutions of 1917 which resulted in the formation of the Soviet Union in place of the Tsarist Russia, Romania annexed the Bessarabia region. Thus, most part of today’s Moldova remained under Romanian rule from 1918 until 1940. Although Romania was forced to leave this territory upon the Soviet ultimatum in 1940, it again captured this territory in 1941 as an ally of the Nazi Germany, which attacked the Soviet Union. However, the Soviet forces retook this territory in 1944 and from then on, until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Moldova existed within the Soviet Union as one of the 15 founder republics. Today, while the great part of the population perceives itself Moldovan, some part of the pro-Western electorate thinks that the Moldovan identity is a Soviet creation, considers itself Romanian and most of this part of the population advocates unification of Moldova with Romania. Although the pro-Romanian tendencies rise from time to time, they are not supported by the majority of the population (even a significant part of those who support integration wit the West, do not support unification with Romania, saying that in 1940, the Romanian administration treated Moldova like a colony). However, the pro-Western politicians brought education and nation building policies parallel to those of Romania. For this reason, in case the pro-Western powers remain in power for a long time, this may pave the way for a unification with Romania, which in turn may lead to the formation of a “Greater Romanian” state in the north of the Black Sea.

The breakaway region: Transnistria

Another factor, which deepens the conflict in Moldova is that some part of the country is under the control of seperatists. A large part of the population of the Transnistria region in the east of Moldova are Slavs (Russians and Ukrainians, mostly). When the Soviet Union was collapsing, this region declared its independence from Moldova. After a short but intensive conflict between the armed forces of this region with Moldovan forces, it escaped the control of Moldova. In this process, the support of the 14. Soviet Army to the seperatists was decisive in the conflict. Today, Transnistria is one of the five breakaway regions in the former Soviet territories (the other four are: the Nagorno Karabakh region of Azerbaidjan, Abkhazia and South Ossetia of Georgia and the Donbass region of Ukraine). However, the relations between this region and the government controlled regions of Moldova are very tense and this demonstrates the difference of the Transnistrian Case from the other breakaway regions in the former USSR. Russian forces are still stationed in Transnistria today and this territory is a kind of base of Russia, located between Eastern Europe and the Balkans. In addition, Russia is able to control the southern territories of Ukraine from here.

Apparent intervention of the US

As mentioned above, this region is at the same time one of the places where the most tense conflicts of influence occur between Russia and the West. During the recent election campaign the Ambassador of the US to Moldova Dereck Hoogan apparently interfered in the election process by negotiating with pro-Western politicians and by conducting visits to the Central Election Commission. The Spokeswoman of the Russian Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova said that the interference of the US during that election campaign was unprecedented. On the other hand, Russia also exerted efforts to bring together pro-Russian forces. Thus, the two parties, which came into conflict with each other 10 years ago and which did not have any sympathy toward each other, namely the Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova (PSRP) and the Party of the Communists of the Republic of Moldova (PCRM) formed an alliance under Russian influence.

Nonetheless, the alliance of the socialists with communists could get only about 27% of the votes (almost half of the votes of the pro-Western party). If the votes of the pro Russian SHOR Party, which got 5,8% and became the third party that could enter the parliament, it can be said that, while the pro-Western Action and Solidarity Party got more than 52% of the votes, pro-Russian parties could get only about 33% of the votes. This has a few reasons:

First of all, during that election campaign, Maia Sandu preferred to emphasize issues such as decisive fight against corruption (the former president Dodon was accused of not fighting against corruption) and she refrained from tackling the issues such as foreign policy and national culture, which are considered to be sensitive for a significant part of the population. This, in turn, helped to divert some part of the Russian speaking population to Sandu’s party (and also prevented pro-Russian politicians from mobilizing the whole pro-Russian population around themselves against the pro-western candidates). Secondly, Dodon was accused by many in Moldova of enriching his own relatives and as a result of spending many years in politics, he had lost his popularity even among most of the pro-Russian electorate. Consequently, some part of the pro-Russian electorate did not vote in the recent elections. Thirdly, as a result of the efforts of the US, the Central Election Commission strictly confined the number of the ballot boxes to be placed in Russia. While most of the Moldovan diaspora in the Central and Western European countries are pro-Western, the Moldovan diaspora in Russia is mainly pro-Russian. Nevertheless, since only 17 of the 150 ballot boxes abroad were established in Russia, a very small part of the Moldovans in Russia were able to vote. Again, this time, no ballot boxes were placed in Transnistria, where almost all of the electorate is pro-Russian. This of course remarkable changed the situation in favour of the pro-Western forces.

Thus, in Moldova, for the first time since 2001, a party came to power alone. Although Sandu refreained during the preelection campaign from any confrontation with Russia, it is well known that she will pursue pro-Western policies and do everything to bring Moldova out of Russian influence. Sandu got her education in the United States and worked some time in the World Bank. On the other hand, it should be borne in mind that the turnout at the election was very low and that Sandu’s party in fact got 52% of the 48% of the total electorate.  The pro-Russian electorate has not disappeared: It is quite possible that in case that a more influential pro-Russian leader appears, the electorate will show itself more effectively.

Under those circumstances, the most important question is, whether Russia has a plan B for Moldova. It can be said that, in a couple of months, we willknow the answer.

Deniz Berktay
Turkish journalist and expert on Eastern Europe. He graduated from Ankara University Faculty of Political Sciences, International Relations Department. Since 2007, he has been living and working in Ukraine as a journalist. Completed graduate study in Kyiv Slavistiv University in 2017, International Relations Department with the thesis on Ukrainian-Russian Relations 2004-2014. He has worked for many media organizations, including Cumhuriyet Newspaper, TRT Turk, BBC Turkish Service, DW Turkish Service, Al Jazeera Turk, TRT Haber, Dogan News Agency. He specializes on Eastern Europe and Orthodoxy, and speaks English, Russian and Ukrainan.

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