Pro-Russian candidate wins presidential elections in Moldova

Pro-Russian candidate wins presidential elections in Moldova
Igor Dodon has stressed that his first visit abroad as president would be to to meet Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.
By Iulian Ernst November 14, 2016

Pro-Russian candidate Igor Dodon has defeated pro-EU candidate Maia Sandu and will become Moldova’s president with 52.55% of the votes,  the central electoral bureau (CEC) reported after counting 99.67% of the votes.

President Dodon will co-habitat with the pro-EU government of Prime Minister Filip, backed by a fragile majority formed by the Democratic Party (PDM) with the help of the Liberal Party (PL) and MPs separated from the Communist Party. Filip's government will now have to face not only a lack of internal credibility, but also opposition from a pro-Russian president backed by the largest party in the parliament.

Dodon is likely to use his Socialist Party (PSRM) to press for early elections, possibly helped by the extra-parliamentary Dignity and Truth Party (DA).

Dodon has advocated for the federalisation of the country – with the separatist region Transnistria being given a special status. He also firmly opposed the country’s unification with Romania, an idea that is gaining momentum among Moldovans but is far from being endorsed by the majority.

In the longer term, Dodon wants Moldova to re-orientate towards the Russian-led Customs Union. Dodon has repeatedly advocated for significantly amending Moldova’s Accession Treaty with the European Union and in favour of Moldova’s partnership in the Custom Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. 

Moldova should maintain the free trade agreement with the European Union and organise talks attended by both EU and Russian officials with the aim of avoiding conflicting provisions in its trade agreements with both sides, Dodon said during the recent electoral debates.

Dodon stressed that his first visit abroad as president would be to Moscow, for restoring normal economic ties. In fact, Dodon has often visiting Russian politicians and he constantly declared admiration for President Putin.

The future of the former Soviet republic now remains uncertain, after its European integration started impetuously in 2010 with the signing of the Accession Treaty, but came to a standstill in the past years amid the disappointing performance of the pro-EU governments. Years of frauds in the banking system culminated with a $1bn loss surfacing in 2014-2015 and eventually being paid from public money.

The pro-EU parties in parliament managed to form a fragile majority in January after more than one year of political instability following the November 2014 parliamentary elections, but the leading political role of Moldovan oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc raises concerns in regard to the pursuit of deep and genuine reforms in areas such as judicial reforms.  

Media have speculated about Dodon using the private jet of Moldovan oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc, who is also deputy president of the senior leading Democratic Party (PDM), and have speculated about the expected smooth cohabitation of the two. While openly expressing support for pro-EU candidate Sandu, the actions of the ruling coalition and of Plahotniuc have rather helped Dodon win the elections.

Under the baseline political scenario, however, the two political leaders and their parties will rather attempt to pursue their own targets and the cohabitation of the two will hardly go smoothly and be without incidents.  Tensions are expected within the ruling coalition, since the government’s reformist drive comes against the interests of factions in the party and puts at risk the senior role of Plahotniuc himself. Further tensions between President Dodon and the government will further complicate the mission of Prime Minister Pavel Filip.

Dodon won the elections with a message of moderation that addressed electorate’s frustrations with the precarious living standards and the more basic needs for safety prevailing over their quest for justice. He was backed by a large part of the population, which is however shrinking as younger generations are given Western education in Romania and are able to travel freely in Europe. In contrast, Sandu has been more radical against corruption and her rhetoric has been particularly backed by younger generations.  

The turnout was 53%, more than 4 percentage points higher than in the first round on October 30. Out of the 1.58mn votes, 8.17% were cast by Moldovans living abroad. Sandu alleged that the voting stations abroad ran out of voting cards, but she has not asked for a repeat of the voting. The turnout abroad has doubled compared to the first round on October 30.

Moldovans elected their president directly for the first time after 20 years, after the Constitutional Court cancelled as irregular the legislation passed by the parliament for the indirect election of the head of the state by two third of the lawmakers. The court’s decision prevented a political deadlock, since the parliamentary coalition does not hold two a two-thirds  majority and such situations resulted in major political crises in the past.