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Blog Post

Moldovan Elections a Referendum on Oligarchy

October 26, 2016
4 min read

BUCHAREST - Although the world is focused on the American Elections, the presidential elections to be held in Moldova this Sunday are no small matter. Moldova has not yet recovered after almost one billion euros disappeared from state coffers last year, in a banking scheme that, as investigation reveals, involves many officials from past governments, including the pro-European ones. The consequent developments unveiled a state captured by oligarchic interests, and a political class that is servant to these.

The traditional dichotomy between pro-Russian and pro-European politicians, while how outsiders understand Moldova, is no longer relevant. Politicians on both sides serve the same oligarchic interests.  The choice in these elections is not between geopolitical preferences, but between pro- and anti-oligarchic candidates, between those who will continue to deceive the population and those who will respect it.

In a surprising turn of events, Maia Sandu has emerged as a candidate with significant popular support. Sandu, who served as Minister of Education from 2012 to 2015, is widely respected as one of the few Moldovan officials willing to take on the forces of oligarchy and corruption. Whether she can muster enough support without the backing of a well-organized party to defeat Socialist candidate Igor Dodon remains to be seen.

The electorate, tired with corrupt politicians, is bombarded with both geopolitical and national propaganda, in an informational cocktail that only adds to the unpredictability of the electoral result. Moldova’s partners, the European Union and international financial institutions, are also tired of the long line of governments that have done little to boost the country’s economy but quite a lot to enrich themselves. The current government is held to much stricter conditions and scrutiny than its predecessors, and its failure to deliver makes Moldova’s economic situation even more desperate. Neighboring Romania is the only funder of the current government. This not only does little to alleviate the economic situation, but, with an artificial impetus to reunification of the two countries in the background, it further complicates the geopolitics of these elections.

The new President will have limited powers, as the Moldovan political system has been recently adjusted to reduce those. That said, the possible election of a candidate who runs on an anti-oligarchic, pro-Western values ticket would be a strong symbol of Moldovans’ resolution to see their country prosperous and democratic. Such a president would be able to use the powers s/he has to steer the country towards genuine reforms in the judiciary and in fighting corruption, and this only raises the stakes of the elections. A president who is independent and dedicated to reforms would finally be a trustworthy interlocutor for Moldova’s international partners and would be able to at least improve their attitude towards and approach to the country. As such, Moldova’s pro-democratic forces have a great deal to gain in the elections, aiming to win both the population’s and the international community’s confidence and trust in a way out of the dire situation.

There is little talk about a pro-European vs a pro-Russian choice in Moldova these days. A Romanian scenario, where a president boosts the independence of the judiciary and consequently of anti-corruption institutions, is a threat to the status quo, and a president who wins on an anti-oligarchic ticket is at least an annoyance to those currently controlling the country. They also have a high stake in these elections, and are working behind the scenes to make sure the candidate they control wins so they can avoid future discomfort while preserving the appearance of democratic progress. As at the end of the day, Moldova needs financial support to keep its economy floating, so its international partners need to be shown some good will.

For Moldovans this Sunday (and most likely two Sundays later, if a run-off vote is necessary) the choice is between a possible solution and a charade. Their vote will be not only for a certain candidate, but for an old style of politics where corruption and poor governance abound, or for a fresh approach to the act of governance centered on transparency and correctness. Moldova is not a superpower, yet their elections are also dramatic and unique, and they should be talked about more.

Photo Credit: Giku