What’s next for Moldova after first round of presidential election?

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Questions:

1. As Mr. Igor Dodon won the first round of presidential election in Moldova how would you assess his chances to win also the second round?

2. Mr. Dodon is perceived as pro-Russian candidate. In your opinion, what would his victory mean for Moldova-Russia relations and Moldova-EU relations?

Answers:

Paul Ivan, Policy Analyst, European Policy Centre (EPC)

1. Igor Dodon has the first chance to win in the second round of the elections, to take place on 13 November. In the first round he scored 48,23% of the votes (preliminary results at 99,42% of the votes counted) so he would not need a lot more support to pass the 50%. Another pro-Russian candidate, Dumitru Ciubasenco of the Our Party, has received some 6% of the votes in the first round and the majority of his voters will vote for Dodon in the second round. That said, a lot will depend on the participation rate. A higher participation rate, especially among the young, would favour Maia Sandu. It would be very difficult and it will be a tight race, but she still has the chance to win these elections.

2. A Dodon victory will clearly also be a victory for Russia. Mr Dodon himself declared that if he wins, he would “run Moldova just the same way Putin runs Russia”. Dodon as president would try to push for positions favoured by Russia, such as the federalization of the country in what concerns Transnistria and the review or even cancelation of the Association Agreement with the EU. The office of the president does not have sufficient powers to achieve such goals but while the current government will stay in place, Mr Dodon has clearly stated that he will try to push for early elections. His Party of Socialists is already the biggest party in the Moldovan parliament and early elections could gain it even more votes.

His victory has the potential to complicate and worsen Moldova-EU relations. While the realities of the Moldova-EU trade and the relatively reduced powers of the post should prevent him from rocking the boat too much too early, his victory would be a symbolic one, with more people choosing an unapologetic pro-Russian candidate over a pro-Western one. As a result of such a vote, the slow pace of reforms and the implementation of the EU-Moldova Association Agreement would be likely to further slow down.

Florent Parmentier, Lecturer, Sciences Po, Director of EurAsia Prospective

1. Igor Dodon has realized an impressive performance in the first round: until late in the night, he was on the brink of winning directly Sunday. In arithmetical terms, he has less support in store than Maia Sandu – but he only needs several thousand people to win the elections.

Yet, the crucial issue concerns the participatory rate: will be Maia Sandu able to mobilize the youth or undecided people? Her political equation is more complex than him: she has to rely on people who have been rejected from large part of public opinion, the post-2009 political leaders (former PM Filat is in jail, former President Marian Lupu had to cancel his participation in favor of Sandu, former President Mihai Ghimpu obtained a mere 2%). Although she is known as an honest political leader, she will have to overcome this difficulty.

2. During the campaign, Igor Dodon has been critical of EU policy (notably the ‘Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement’), although he started as a pro-reform technocrat when he was Minister of Economy.

Can his victory reorient Moldovan foreign policy? In fact, Moldova has little room for maneuver in its regional settings. The Communist came in power in 2001 with a will to operate a rapprochement with Russia, but their relations became cold in 2003. And two years later, they were elected on a pro-European platform. On the contrary, the ‘Alliance for European integration’ tried to keep talking to Russia, even if they remained committed to European integration. Can Dodon reverse the course of European integration, as Armenia did in 2013? Once elected, he may have great difficulties to reorient Moldovan foreign policy. And similarly, a Maia Sandu President would also have to come to Moscow very soon to discuss with Russian authorities.

Johan Engvall, Research Fellow, Swedish Institute of International Affairs

1.It looks like a runoff will be very close, but Dodon certainly stands a chance of winning

2. Difficult to predict the impact. Should be remembered that in Moldova’s parliamentary system, the prime minister has more executive powers than the president. However, the fact that the president is now chosen in popular elections rather than by the parliament as previously, is a potential game-changer. This allows the president to lay claim to a direct popular mandate. Nor is the president’s authority toothless; he/she has the authority to shape the country’s foreign policy, but needs parliamentary approval, which Dodon’s party does not have. Moreover, given that the country for the past two years has not had a stable parliamentary government, the president could well become the focal point (fixed point) in this shaky system characterized by weak coalition governments with very low legitimacy.

Since Dodon’s campaign is built on a pro-Russian position, he would risk his credibility among his domestic supporters, who primarily belongs to the pro-Russian segment of the population if he backtracked, and would also obviously incur the wrath of Moscow if he would not keep up the pro-Russian message. However, it is difficult to say whether he would really try to denounce the association agreement with the EU as he says. The budget support provided by the EU and funds from international donors are essential in the poverty-stricken country. Especially at a time when Russia is facing serious economic problems and may have little material benefits to offer. Instead, it is possible that there could be some re-negotiations and bargaining in order to be able to extract benefits from both the EU and Russia. Whether this is possible remains to be seen.

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