Presidential elections in Moldova: Geopolitical shift or too many worries for nothing?
Igor Dodon, the pro-Russia candidate of the Socialist Party, was elected President of Republic of Moldova, beating pro-European candidate Maia Sandu with 52% to 48.
The elections were dominated by controversies as Dodon was helped by a number of factors. Thousands of Moldovan citizens abroad were unable to vote as there were not enough ballot papers (being limited by law to 3.000 per polling station). Also, there were very few voting stations in other countries. Another factor was the massive presence in the second round of Moldovan citizens living in the republic’s breakaway, Russian-controlled region, Trans-Dniester (Transnistria). They were organized by the thousands and brought to vote for Dodon in buses. Also, there were reports on difference between the results recorded in some towns and those reported at the Central Election Commission.
Protests against the voting irregularities erupted in Moldovan Capital Chisinau and more are expected.
The most interesting factor is the Government’s support for Dodon. Theoretically the PD government controlled by controversial oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc is pro-European and Dodon is one of its fiercest rivals. In practice, it helped Dodon because Maia Sandu would have been an uncomfortable president with her anticorruption attitude. Also, with Dodon as president the Government can profile itself as the only institutional “defender” of the pro-European orientation thus consolidating its position.
Of course, the most important question is: Will Republic of Moldova become pro-Russian now that it has a pro-Russian president?
The short answer: No. It’s not that simple
First of all, the Moldovan President has limited constitutional powers. The main decider in foreign affairs (as well as basically all the other important areas) is the Government. While its attitude is often ambiguous, it remains a (mostly) pro-European government, no matter how pretentious that term is related to what is actually happening there.
Second, the most dynamic parts of the Moldovan society (including a large part of its business environment) do not want a firm geopolitical orientation towards Moscow.
Even Dodon nuanced his speech after the elections and, after saying that the President does not change the “geopolitical vector”, ensured he wants good relations with Europe.
His election, although will not bring a massive change, it is a worrying sign, a small step forward for Moscow and a step backward for Europe and Romania. Dodon could use his position to boost the chances of his party, PSRM (already the largest single party in RM Parliament) and could play an important role when the next Prime Minister will be decided (normally following the 2018 Legislative elections).
In short, nothing fundamentally has changed in Moldova following the election of the pro-Russian President Igor Dodon. It could be important if combined with other factors in the future but at the moment it is only another reason to pay more attention to the small ex-Soviet republic and Russian influence there.