Local elections fail to confirm massive pro-EU drive in Moldova

Local elections fail to confirm massive pro-EU drive in Moldova
Moldova's ruling PAS stressed the party's pro-EU message during the local election campaign, but this failed to boost turnout. / PAS
By Iulian Ernst in Bucharest November 6, 2023

The first preliminary results after the local elections in Moldova on November 5 show consistent but not overwhelming support for the ruling pro-EU Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS). However, opposition candidates dominate the electoral race in leading cities such as Chisinau and Balti. 

Major opposition parties don’t openly express pro-Russian views but question Moldova’s EU candidacy.

For the mayoral elections in Chisinau, PAS’ candidate Lilian Carp got half the votes of the incumbent mayor Ion Ceban, a former Socialist who has since launched his own opposition party. In Balti, the candidates of fugitive oligarch Ilan Shor and Renato Usatii are fighting for the mayoral seat.  

The situation is more balanced regarding city councils, where PAS is faring more in line with its leading position in the electoral polls. Only a small part of the votes have been counted so far, though.

The turnout was just over 40% nationwide, higher compared to the last local elections in 2019, but weak when looking at the ballot as gauging Moldovans’ pro-EU sentiment, commitment to breaking ties with Russia and signalling future results in the presidential and parliamentary elections in 2024 and 2025 respectively.

The local elections in Moldova on November 5 were marked by the elimination of all candidates from the Chance (Sansa) party, a clone of Shor’s Shor Party that was also banned. The decision to eliminate Chance was made just before the end of the electoral campaign, on November 3.

It was perhaps the toughest of the many debatable decisions by the pro-EU authorities in Moldova, took in order to minimise its electoral defeat after explicit promises made by Shor, who has been sentenced to 15 years if jail for bank frauds, but is hiding in Israel, to provide cheap gas to those localities where Chance party candidates get elected in the first round.

Previously, the Shor-backed governor of the autonomous Gagauzia region, Evghenia Gutul, claimed she had already contracted very cheap gas from a Turkish company — apparently a fake contract announced for the purpose of the electoral campaign, according to the Intelligence Services (SIS).

The decision to outlaw Chance party candidates was taken by the Commission for Extraordinary Situations (CSE) at the request of the SIS and based on a report completed by the SIS showing alleged illegal financing of the party. Russia and Shor were indicated as the sources of the illegal financing.

It is not clear whether CES is entitled to make such decisions, though. CES was set up under the government’s supervision on February 24 last year when Russia invaded Ukraine and is operating with a mandate from lawmakers, who repeatedly prolonged the state of urgency at the executive’s request. The executive claims it needs extended power, to address threats posed to the country (mainly to its energy system) by the war in Ukraine and never invoked in the requests sent to lawmakers the need to regulate the electoral process.

The Chance Party has referred the CES’ decision to court and the Court of Appeal admitted that the Constitutional Court should check the validity of such a measure.