Moldovan elections - a background, the conspiracies behind the split between the former partners on the center-right, results and expectations
By Vlad Lupan, November 1, 2020
This is an overview of the Moldovan elections, “built” from my live thread on twitter on the election night and will be presented here in a modified form and in bullet points.
· After Belarus a number of other important elections are held in Eastern Europe and Caucasus. Ukraine had its local elections, Georgia parliamentary ones and Moldova had a Presidential election on Sunday. ECFR's Andrew Wilson linked them, with suggestions for the European Union. [i]
· In 2019 the Russian, EU and US envoys supported an impossible coalition between the pro-Kremlin President Dodon and his pro-Western critics, Maia Sandu and Andrei Năstase (the ACUM block = Block NOW), to oust a corrupt oligarch, allegedly (with a very highly probability) involved in the Russian laundromat scheme. [ii]
· Six months before that corrupt oligarch in Moldova was ousted, I argued that a coalition with pro-Kremlin's Dodon will be akin to a "kompromat" (compromising material against them). I also wrote a backgrounder about each of them in one of my blog posts. [iii]
· Later in 2019 the impossible coalition between pro-Kremlin & Pro-West/Democracy parties in Moldova did happen & while it ousted a corrupt oligarch, it predictably failed, as pro-Russian Dodon & Socialists could not support an actual anti-corruption agenda. [iv]
· The predilection of Moldova's President Dodon for a coalition with the Democratic Party, till June 2019 led by a corrupt oligarch, was predicted by a group of 12 experts from Ukraine Moldova & Romania yet in the fall of 2018. [v]
· After President Dodon reignited a coalition with the Democrats, the ACUM block practically fell off. The reasons ranged from internal = rumors of Sandu negotiating with Dodon, or Năstase with the fugitive oligarch to oust Dodon, which I strongly argued against in an interview for the local branch of the Radio Free Europe. [vi]
· The "external" reasons for ACUM block dissolution were not from abroad, but from voters' perceptions - both political parties were new & before crystalizing voters' preferences targeted an overlapping pro-democracy/pro-West electorate. Hence a joint block. [vii]
· Take into account that in 2016 Maia Sandu already ran, against odds, for President. Her anti-corruption program targeted Democrats corrupt leader Plahotniuc & she nearly caught up with Igor Dodon, while Democrat's helped Dodon spread fake news against her. [viii]
· While Maia Sandu's popularity was already high in 2016 (for other previous reasons too), Andrei Năstase's PPDA popularity grew in protests, but culminated later. [ix]
· Năstase ran in June 2018 for Moldova's capital Mayor, against Pro-Putin's socialist Ion Ceban, with help from Russia. [x] The justice, perceived to be under the corrupt Democrats control, cancelled the results, generating heavy US & EU criticism. So, Năstase was popular enough. [xi]
· While Sandu & Năstase allied with Dodon in 2019, Sandu's popularity still grew, as a new hopeful Prime-Minister, who enjoyed more public attention. Năstase became the Interior Minister, a 'lesser' posting. That an overlapping voters’ “crystallization” (whom to vote for Sandu or Năstase) led to a PPDA decline. [xii]
· As pointed above, no pro-Russian candidate, especially if previously accused of dubious financial/economic dealings would be interested in an actual anti-corruption effort run by pro-Western/pro-democracy parties. [xiii]
· Consequently, President Dodon prepared a scenario in 2019 to disembark the popular PM Sandu & her ACUM partner Andrei Năstase from the government - if Dodon's objection against anti-corruption wouldn't work he'd have a reserve option, Dodon admitted. [xiv]
· With Năstase's popularity dwindling as he did not enjoy Govt visibility & fell into opposition, he was also facing his competitor for the same voters, Maia Sandu. Năstase apparently saw little choice, but maneuver to gain initiative & disadvantage Sandu. [xv]
· Năstase's attempt to disadvantage Sandu in 2020 may seem to some almost "pro-Moscow", but political experts know that's a typical behavior of 2 political parties with overlapping electorate + 'survival' logic. Same happened in 2009-2017 with PLDM & PL in MLD. [xvi]
· Above explanations of Năstase's behavior cover some of today's unsupported assumptions that he might be related to Moscow, just as Dodon. We covered it from the PoliSci angle + looking at Năstase's previous anti-Dodon campaigns - we can conclude he had another idea. Năstase's diminishing popularity motivated him to run as the last resort. Cornered & understanding that Sandu will pass into the 2nd tour of 2020 Moldovan presidentials & he probably thought he'll support her in the 2nd round, in exchange 4something. No such exchange will happen.
· I dedicated a good part of this overview to explain why Năstase played as he did, after some rather conspiracy-like driven ideas that his run damages the chances of Maia Sandu and therefore is driven by Moscow, especially because President Dodon expressed respect toward Năstase. If someone wants a wild conspiracy along "qui bono" (who benefits=guilty) idea, then Dodon's announcement of respect for Năstase was a "death sentence" for PPDA leader and... promoted Maia Sandu. So, I’d suggest to stick to political science and Moldovan factual realities.
· Above points do not cover even remotely today's Moldovan elections background. We're only scratching the surface. There are previous factors & structural developments leading to today that cannot be properly covered in such a bullet point brief overview of the Moldovan elections. But we've opened the door, let's see the results as I posted them at 98.74% votes counted.
· With 98.74% of Moldovan polling station reports processed the results are: 35.5% of voters support pro-democracy/anti-corruption Maia Sandu, while 33.50% support the so-called "multi-vector" Igor Dodon, who in reality is heavily supported by Russia (the link to another crushing investigation is in a bullet below). [xvii]
· Of the 98.74% of all the Polling Station Reports already counted in Moldova's Presidential elections of November 1, 2020, the diaspora voted as follows - 68.54% for Maia Sandu, 18.04% for Renato Usatii, while Igor Dodon accrued only 4.29%, etc. [xviii]
· The result in Moldovan elections mean that there will be a 2nd round with Maia Sandu and Igor Dodon contending. Sandu managed to overtake Dodon in the 1st round. As positive for a democratic Moldova as it may seem, that does not guarantee a win in the 2nd tour. For the 2nd tour of Presidential elections in Moldova:
1. No one can predict how many voters will come to vote in the 2nd tour or their motivations.
2. As usual, only a part of Năstase+Deliu+Țîcu+Chirtoacă voters will go to Sandu, same for Usatîi+Șor+Ivanov voters for Dodon (note the ethnic family names and potential voters’ distribution; there is more to it, as Usatîi weas critical to Dodon, as it often happens with Kremlin’s “reserves” in case their main protégé fails, such a criticism provides a certain amount of “credibility” to the replacement in the eyes of the public and even deniability).
Yet, a combination of a very approximate mathematical transfer of voters, minus usual dropouts [unknown number of voters in the 2nd round] would result in a very rough calculation that may be either true or wrong: ~43-45% would vote for Dodon, ~40-42% for Sandu, which would be unfortunate for a democratic Moldova. Of course, die-hard fans of either candidate would scream fault, but that’s how the previous redistributions worked. Still, this does not mean it will work in the exact same manner now, as there are qualitative factors at play.
The second round of the elections will take place in two weeks, on November 15, 2020.
* Note on Pandemics - To address pandemics vs low voter turnout. Low turnout is usual 4European countries in normal circumstances. Yet, over 50% Moldovans considered Covid exaggerated, don't wear masks & 61% believed in (Russia originated) conspiracy theories that this is a bio-weapon! (=>an electorate easy to manipulate) [xix]
* Note on “this is not a geopolitical vote” theory. The politicians, then their followers and even some experts propagated another theory - that the Moldovan vote is not “geopolitical” (wrong term, but you get the idea) - on geopolitics of vote one should understand that while people do vote for their welfare, in 2019, however, a special narrative was formulated to justify/excuse a joint Dodon-ACUM vote (an impossible coalition) to oust a corrupt Dems leader. The “geopolitics” were in Moldovan politics before that, but that one element of the elections had to be “removed” for a new goal. Respectively that narrative sounded as follows "their vote in Moldova is non-geopolitical, but pro-Moldova." Unsurprisingly, reports and investigations repeatedly showed Dodon working with Kremlin and more recently a very solid one showed he specifically worked with the Russian security services there. [xx]
* Note – my presentation covers only some of the political angles in Moldova. Additionally, for anyone who wants a neutral / factual backgrounder, different than what I wrote here, on Moldovan elections - read the linked paper by @DionisCenusa, I'd only change "Declared External Orientation" instead of just "external orientation" there for reasons I explained above. [xxi]
* Note on the Russian interference - in addition to the superb investigation carried out by traditionally good @RISE-Moldova (part of the @OCCRP), there is another good material on some aspects of the Russian interference, from an excellent political analyst originally from Moldova - @DumitruMinzarari, currently working for a think tank in Germany. [xxii]