Looking Ahead to Moldova’s Parliamentary Elections
On July 11, Moldova holds snap parliamentary elections. This comes after President Maia Sandu in April dissolved the parliament and the Constitutional Court has recognized the disagreement between the president and the parliamentary majority over the nomination of a new prime minister and government as valid ground for the dissolution. Candidates from 20 political parties and two electoral blocs are competing under the proportional voting system that replaced the earlier mixed electoral system in 2019.
That year marked a turning point for Moldova. Despite the efforts of the pro-Russian political establishment to remain in power by using the mixed electoral system in their favor, Sandu’s Action and Solidarity Party (PAS) managed to secure a coalition government. This was a much-needed victory for the PAS and Sandu, who had lost the 2016 presidential election to pro-Russian candidate Igor Dodon, as it managed to establish the party as the leading pro-European voice in the country and her as its leader.
Sandu’s fragile coalition government survived for just over five months before a Socialists-backed motion of censure made room for a new one. This gave the old political elite a short-term competitive advantage, but in the end it cemented Sandu’s political image as the leading pro-Western opposition candidate. This helped her win the presidential office in November 2020.
Revival of Western Sympathies
These elections take place in an environment of relative optimism, with a higher level of public trust in the direction that Moldova and the world are taking—a recovery from lows recorded during the pandemic. This is matched by a strong wave of pro-Western sentiment, fueled at least in part by the international aid offered to Moldova during the pandemic.
Notably, Romania has reaffirmed its role as a strategic player in the country throughout the pandemic with its EU-backed health diplomacy—donating medical equipment, sending in medical experts, and donating its large surpluses of vaccines. Bucharest and the border region also served as vaccination hubs not only to the estimated one million people that have dual citizenship, but also to Moldovan citizens unable to get vaccines domestically.
Despite the ethnic divide that has so heavily influenced Moldova’s internal and external politics in the past—with 17 percent of the nearly three million Moldovans identifying as Ukrainian, Gagauzian or Russian—eight in ten citizens see Romania and the EU as having aided them the most throughout the pandemic, followed at a distance by Russia, China, and the United States. Support for potential EU integration is also at a historic high, with 65 percent of citizens supporting it, compared to under 50 percent just four months ago.
Sandu’s PAS in the Lead
President Sandu’s positioning as Moldova’s leading pro-European voice, combined with her focus on anti-corruption, rule-of-law, and democratic reforms, helped her win office last year. Polls show it is likely that this will help her PAS secure, if not a majority of seats, then at least enough to choose its governing partners.
This choice, however, may prove difficult as only three parties are likely to pass the 5 percent threshold for parties and 7 percent for alliances. Polls have seen the PAS steadily rising among decided voters from 44 percent to nearly 51 percent, while the Electoral Bloc of Communists and Socialists (EBCS)—led by the pro-Russian former presidents Vladimir Voronin and Igor Dodon—stand at around 30–33 percent.
Fighting to secure a place in parliament are several fringe political parties, of which the Șor Party, led by fugitive oligarch Ilan Șor, is most likely to pass the 5 percent threshold. Despite Șor having been linked to the scandal of $1 billion dollars going missing from Moldovan banks between 2012 and 2014, he continues to be an active political figure, with the Șor Party winning over 8 percent of the vote in the 2019 elections and becoming the fourth-largest party in parliament.
The Renato Usatîi Electoral Bloc (RUEB) currently polling at around 5 percent, is also fighting to pass the threshold. Led by the businessman and current mayor of Bălți (Moldova’s second-largest city after Chișinău) Renato Usatîi, this bloc has attempted to outspend all other contenders, reportedly spending almost as much as the PAS, the EBCS and the Șor Party put together.
The new Alliance for the Union of Romanians (AUR-Moldova), the recently established Moldovan branch of the homonymous Romanian party, is polling at under 1 percent and is likely to fail to get into parliament. While the Romanian branch managed to secure over 9 percent in Romania in last December’s parliamentary elections by using a right-wing populist and nationalist discourse, these narratives and its leaders are not as convincing in Moldova.
While the numbers seem to favor President Sandu and her party, polling in Moldova has always had some limitations. Polls often overlook or underestimate the mobilization of voters in Transnistria, who vote overwhelmingly for pro-Russian candidates. Similarly, fringe voters are unlikely to fully disclose their political option; this may mean the Șor Party and the RUEB could end up clearing the threshold and securing a place in parliament.
The polarized diaspora’s appetite to vote will also influence the results. It would be wrong to assume that the PAS will win the diaspora votes—many will go to the RUEB while the AUR’s capacity to mobilize Moldovan Romanians still remains to be seen. Lastly, 25 percent of voters are yet undecided, a large enough electoral pool to potentially eat away at the PAS’s potential majority.
With the PAS seeking to secure a parliamentary majority and single-handedly form a government, the question is not if it will win the most votes but if it will do so by enough to secure a stable, pro-European government.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.