Moldovan Socialists fail to oust Chisinau mayor in referendum

Moldovan Socialists fail to oust Chisinau mayor in referendum
By Iulian Ernst in Bucharest November 20, 2017

The pro-EU mayor of Moldova’s capital city Chisinau, who is currently under house arrest, has survived a referendum initiated by the Socialist Party (PSRM), as turnout was too low for the vote to be valid. 

The referendum marked an expected defeat for President Igor Dodon, who hopes to win the general elections in 2018 as his Socialists lead in the nationwide opinion polls. The PSRM's robust position is likely to remain intact after the referendum, but Dodon is losing ground in his battle for power with his main rival, the ruling coalition's leader Vlad Plahotniuc. The latter has efficiently capitalised on Dorin Chirtoaca's success in Chisinau, as well as on support from pro-EU voters who don't necessarily back Plahotnuic’s Democratic Party (PDM) — many of them see him as a corrupt oligarch — but are opposed to the pro-Russian Dodon.

Out of the voters who took part in the referendum on November 19, 87% voted to dismiss Chirtoaca. However, the referendum was invalidated as the turnout was insufficient: only 17.5% of the electorate cast their votes, versus one third (33%) required for validation.

The PSRM representative on Chisinau city council Silvia Radu remains acting Chisinau mayor, since Chirtoaca is under house arrest at the request of anti-corruption prosecutors.

He was placed under house arrest on May 25 alongside seven other employees of Chisinau city hall, at the request of the National Anti-Corruption Center (CNA) officers, for alleged abuse of power related to a public parking management contract.

Still, he benefitted from the staunch support of the Chisinau electorate for pro-EU candidates, while the referendum confirmed the weak support enjoyed by the Socialist Party and Dodon in the Moldovan capital. 

Ahead of the referendum, pro-EU parties including the Action and Solidarity Party (PAS) led by Maia Sandu campaigned against Dodon rather than in favour of Chirtoaca. Such parties encouraged their supporters not to take part in the referendum, rather than openly supporting Chirtoaca. In addition to the corruption probe against Chirtoaca, his position in favour of unification is generally unpopular in Moldova. 

In the last decade, Chirtoaca has repeatedly defeated Communist Party and PSRM candidates in Chisinau elections. At the age of just 28, he defeated his Communist Party opponent Veaceslav Iordan in the 2007 municipal elections, which resulted in a clear victory for a loose anti-communist coalition in the city of Chisinau. He was among the most important opponents of the communists in the April 2009 general elections, which were repeated in July 2009 after mass protests, resulting in the Communist Party being replaced by a pro-EU coalition.

Two years later, Chirtoaca won the elections for Chisinau city hall in 2011 running against Dodon (at that time a member of the Communist Party) and was re-elected in 2015 against Zinaida Greceanii, the candidate of Dodon’s newly formed PSRM.