SIM Report: Central & Eastern Europe, Issue 5

Moldova: Election of pro-eu candidate signals likely westward geopolitical orientation

Maia Sandu, a pro-EU opposition politician, has defeated incumbent Igor Dodon in the second round of a presidential election held on 15 November. Sandu won 57.75 per cent of votes compared to Dodon’s 42.25 per cent, with 100 per cent of the total vote counted.

An instrumental factor that helped determine Sandu’s win was a strong turnout from members of the 1.2 million Moldovan diaspora. Dodon ran on a campaign promising ‘stability’ but the incumbent had faced strong criticism over the handling of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. The election run off took place amid concern about potential voter fraud as thousands of residents from the breakaway region of Transnistria were transported across the border to vote for pro-Russia politicians in previous elections. The OSCE, which sent around 40 election observers to oversee voting, said the election was ‘professionally organised’, well-managed, and competitive.

Sandu has said restoring the rule of law, fighting corruption, and attracting foreign investment are key priorities. Progress on those issues will help advance EU-Moldova relations. However, the newly-elected president’s agenda may be stymied by parliamentary constraints. Under Moldova’s semi-parliamentary political system, the president can propose legislation but is generally responsible for foreign relations and confirming the appointments of high-level officials. Legislative power is concentrated in the parliament. The Dodon-linked PSRM party holds 37 seats in parliament, followed by Sandu’ liberal PAS party which has 15 representatives but through a coalition with the Republican Socio-Political Movement has the second-largest number of seats with 24.

Sandu promised to help facilitate an early election to improve political stability and address the shortcomings of a highly fragmented parliament. Most opposition politicians supported the pro-EU candidate’s bid for the presidency, signifying that the minority government currently led by PSRM will likely be replaced by an alliance located politically closer to Sandu.

More alignment with the West and concrete efforts to tackle domestic corruption are likely to help secure financing from the IMF and the EU amid a worsening economic outlook. The IMF forecasts Moldova’s economy – which has experienced weakening domestic demand and a slowdown in remittances – to shrink by 4.5 per cent this year. In 2014, the EU signed a treaty with Moldova, lowering trade barriers and bolstering bilateral trade ties. Around 64 per cent of Moldova’s exports are sent to the EU. Under the terms of the agreement, Moldova is required to adopt economic, judicial, and financial reforms that would align the country closer to EU standards.

The election carries deep geopolitical implications as both Russia and the EU have vied for influence in Moldova. Sandu favours closer relations with the EU, while Dodon enjoyed support from Moscow and was responsible for moving the country closer to Russia in recent years. Russia and its leader Vladimir Putin remain popular in Moldova, which means that Sandu will avoid taking an overly confrontational approach towards Moscow. Rather than a binary approach that would see Moldova moving closer to the EU at the expense good ties with Russia, Sandu will thus likely pursue a more balanced and pragmatic foreign policy.

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