Socialist leader Dodon ahead in first round of Moldovan presidential election

Socialist leader Dodon ahead in first round of Moldovan presidential election
By Iulian Ernst in Bucharest October 31, 2016

Pro-Russian candidate Igor Dodon and pro-EU candidate Maia Sandu will meet in the second round of Moldova’s presidential elections on November 13, after they took the first two places in the first ballot on October 30. 

The election is critical in deciding whether the country will continue its pro-Western reforms, which have lost appeal among voters because of the frauds in the banking system and the failure to curb rampant corruption.

Turnout was 48.9%, 7pp lower than in the parliamentary elections in November 2014, but well above the 33.34% minimum turnout required for the first ballot to be valid. No minimum turnout is required for the second ballot.

Dodon received 48.3% of the votes after 99.2% of the votes were counted. Sandu was in second place, with 38.4% of the votes. The result was broadly in line with polls carried out before the election, though Sandu took a larger share of the vote than expected. 

Sandu is backed by the coalition of three pro-EU opposition parties, plus the ruling Democratic Party (PD), which withdrew its own candidate at the last minute. However, based on the distribution of the votes in the first round, she needs more pro-EU voters to participate if she is to defeat Dodon and prevent country’s deviation from the path of external and internal reforms started in 2009.

If Sandu wins, she is expected to use her power to speed up judicial reforms, again possibly with the help of the street protests organised by the extra-parliamentary opposition. Either way, the country’s political stability is at risk in the medium run.  

If Dodon wins the second ballot, he is likely to use his Socialist Party (PSRM), the largest party in the parliament, to press for early elections, possibly helped by extra-parliamentary Dignity and Truth Party (DA). In the longer term, Dodon wants Moldova to re-orientate towards the Russian-led Custom Union.

The third ranked candidate, Dumitru Ciubasenco, ran on the ticket of Partidul Nostru led by Renato Usatii, who is too young to stand in the election. His pro-Russian voters are expected to migrate toward Dodon in the second round. 

The two leading candidates have so far focussed their campaigns on criticising the ruling coalition as being corrupt and controlled by oligarchs, while not campaigning actively against each other. However, they will engage in direct competition ahead of the second ballot.

Dodon is expected to try to maintain the same agenda for the second ballot and capitalise on Sandu’s record as a former member of a pro-EU government, Sandu will have to radically change her rhetoric and galvanise voters concerned about country’s slide toward the Custom Union. It remains unclear whether voters’ short-term frustration with the frauds in the banking system, associated with the pro-EU governments, will be offset by more fundamental longer-term concerns about losing democracy and the economic dividends of the market economy.

Another factor is the rivalry between Dodon and Vlad Plahotniuc, the deputy president of the PD and coordinator of the ruling coalition. This intensified recently after prosecutors - believed to be influenced by Plahotnuic - issued an arrest warrant for Usatii.

However, even though the PD has ostensibly backed Sandu, Plahotniuc is suspected of preferring Dodon as president because he could later try to control him by obscure means, while also advocating for the country’s pro-Western orientation.