This article by Ruslan Mihalevschi was written for the OPEN Media Hub and published by the Moldovan newspaper SP Balti.
“We want changes and a better future for our kids, so they won’t have to leave the country and search for better fortunes abroad” – these were the main expectations of many voters last Sunday. These words reflect a widely spread sentiment – according to pre-election polls 84% of the citizens of Moldova believe that the country is going in the wrong direction. The dissatisfaction deepened rapidly after the “theft of the century”, the massive syphoning of money from several Moldovan banks which became public in late 2014 and highlighted the inefficiency and corruption of state institutions.
However, citizens share different views about the changes needed in Moldova. Some want renewal of relations, especially of the economic relations with Russia, where thousands of Moldovan labour migrants work. Others believe that the country has a better chance of success with deeper integration with the EU and the West in general. These two views were embodied in the two candidates who reached the second round of the elections: Igor Dodon, the former minister of the economy in the Communist government whose main elections promise is restoring friendship with Russia; and Maya Sandu, a political novice, former minister of education in the pro-European government who strives for European-style reforms in the country.
Wary of scaring the voters both candidates avoided discussing the most controversial aspects of geopolitics during the campaign. Igor Dodon kept silent about renouncing the Association Agreement with the EU, which his Socialist Party wants. He also spoke in favour of keeping the visa-free travel with the EU and promised to be a “bridge between East and West”. Maya Sandu made a point that she would not be spoiling relations with Russia, but focused her campaign on internal matters promising a radical fight against corruption, reforms and dismantling of the “oligarchic” regime, associated with Vlad Plahotniuc, deputy leader of the Democratic Party and “coordinator of the ruling coalition”. Both candidates described themselves as oppositional and blamed each other of close contacts with the oligarch.
The campaign was tough and according to many sociologists and journalists it was the “dirtiest” in the country’s history. Manipulation techniques were actively used to influence public opinion. For example, a number of media made claims that after the elections the EU would be sending to Moldova 30 000 Syrian refugees, but these claims were not properly sourced. Some publications pointed as proof in that direction an article in Moldova’s Association Agreement with the EU dedicated to cooperation in migration; the article in question says nothing about an obligation by Moldova to accept refugees at all.
When the Constitutional Court confirms the result of the elections Moldova will have its first left-leaning president in seven years. However, Moldova is a parliamentary republic and the powers of the head of state are limited. Both parliament and the government are controlled by a coalition led by the Democratic party. For this reason, observers and political scientists agree that the presidential institution will be used to win the next parliamentary elections due in 2018, which might already determine which way Moldova will go.