Pro-European sympathies and role of pro-EU opposition

The presidential elections of 2016 resulted in the victory of the pro-Russian candidate Igor Dodon and in the substantial political advancing of Maia Sandu, who is associated with the supporters of the European integration. So, this managed to attract a large part of votes, being only 68,000 votes away from the victory. Since then, Maia Sandu has tried to remain politically active, especially by postings on social networking sites. As a result, her visibility and the visibility of her party (“Action and Solidarity” (PAS) after the elections remained concentrated on the online environment rather than on field work. A similar behavior can be seen at another party considered pro-European – the Political Party “Platform Dignity and Truth” and its leader Andrei Nastase, who preferred to only appear on the media outlets close to the party (JurnalTV trust).

At the beginning of March, both Maia Sandu and Andrei Nastase started to show signs of political reinvigoration, in particular by their common pro-sovereignty and pro-territorial integrity approach in connection with the commemoration of the victims of the 1992 Nistru war (PAS, March 3). Meanwhile, Igor Dodon managed to become one of the most popular political leaders, considerably outstripping Maia Sandu, when last November they both had real chances of winning the presidential elections.

Throughout this period, the populations’ expectations of the reforms associated with the country’s European integration remained as high. Polls confirm that the pro-EU forces, in particular the PAS, are still supported by pro-European voters, but these are insufficient for now for inclining the balance of power in favor of the pro-EU forces.

Moves of pro-EU opposition

The pro-European forces go through a process of redistribution and shaping of public sympathies. Thus, Maia Sandu’s party seems to absorb the voters from the camp of the Platform “Dignity and Truth”. The synergy around the PAS and Maia Sandu, which was witnessed during the presidential elections, and the support given to this party by Andrei Nastase and other political forces oriented to the EU can be among the explanations. At the same time, in the absence of public actions with an impact, the Platform “Dignity and Truth” risks facing a political identity crisis (See Table No. 1)
Table No. 1 Electoral options of Moldovan citizens in case of possible elections

  Party of Socialists Democratic Party “Action and Solidarity” Platform “Dignity and Truth”
BOP, October 2016

26.1

7.7

9.2

8.5

IDIS “Viitorul”/CBS-AXA, January 2017

32.4

2.7

18.1

3.6

 

For now, the Platform “Dignity and Truth” postpones the identification of new sources of public dissatisfaction that would stimulate the protest spirit in in society, on the basis of which the Platform was created. In parallel, polls show yet clear advantages for the PAS and Maia Sandu, who is the second among Moldovans’ preferences, after President Igor Dodon (9.9% and 26.6% respectively). These results can be considered positive, given the lack of major initiatives on the part of Maia Sandu and her direct concentration on the use of social networking sites to condemn the (in)actions of President Dodon or the government managed by Vladimir Plahotniuc.

The leader’s impact on the party is enormous, while the team is powerfully surpassed by the weight of the party’s leader. This can be easily deduced from the performance of Maia Sandu and her party online, where the largest part still suffers from a popularity handicap (profile of Maia Sandu is five times more popular than that of the PAS). The meetings with the people, even if such were held, didn’t benefit from resonance, emphasis being placed on Maia Sandu’s same approaches based on online or TV sources. Despite these shortcomings, the PAS shows that its organization and communication are more sustainable than those of the Platform “Dignity and Truth”, which is powerfully dependent on the “informational bridge” ensured by JurnalTV.

The contacts with the pan-European parties, in particular the European People’s Party (EPP), were frequent at the start of 2017. But the EPP devoted more attention to Maia Sandu than to Andrei Nastase. Sandu was even invited to the pan-European party’s congress of the end of this March. Anyway, both of the parties have chances of becoming observer members of the EPP, following the example of the Liberal Democratic Party (PLDM), which became an observer in the EPP in 2011. Consequently, the most important parties with pro-EU views of Moldova could soon affiliate themselves with the most influential European political party. We will yet see if the affiliation at European level will help them coexist on a practically identical electoral segment.

Pro-European sympathies are yet visible

The electoral potential of the pro-EU parties is in close correlation with the Moldovans’ attitude to the EU. So, the more negative the attitude is, the more difficult for the party is to attract possible voters due to the fact that they are usually projected into opposition to the pro-Russian parties.

The last polls conducted at European level show that the Moldovans who sympathize with the EU represent 52%, which is similar to the situation in Georgia and slightly better than in Ukraine. At the same time, about 17% of the Moldovans have negative opinions about the EU. Paradoxically, but practically the fourth part of Moldovans consider that Moldova has a bad relationship with the EU (24%), which is more than in the other two countries that signed Association Agreements with the EU (Georgia and Ukraine). Even if the Moldovans have benefitted from the liberalized visa regime for two years already, they are still influenced by the scandals related to the theft of the US$1 billion, which directly affected the EU’s image in Moldova.

The way in which the Moldovans compare the assistance provided by the EU with Russia’s assistance impresses the most. Though the latter does not offer any financial assistance to Moldova, about 17% of the Moldovans believe that Russia provides more financial support, while 15% that it offers an identical volume of assistance. This reveals a significant discrepancy in perceptions compared with the situation in Georgia or Ukraine (See Table No. 2).

 

Table No. 2. Moldovans’ attitude to EU, %

 

Moldova

Georgia

Ukraine

Attitude to EU Positive

52

52

49

Neutral

30

31

32

Negative

17

8

14

Relationship with EU Good

67

75

60

Bad

24

13

19

No relationship

3

3

6

Financial assistance provided by Russia compared with that of EU More

17

2

2

Identical

15

6

6

Less

53

55

51

Confidence in Eurasian Economic Union

34

16

18

Source: Annual poll concerning EU Neighbors, Eastern Partnership countries, July 2016

The unfriendly information environment, dependence on the Russian press, low capacities to inform about the European theme in Moldova produce distorted perceptions of the EU. All these create serious communication obstacles to the pro-European forces. Ultimately, these affect their political standing and, respectively, the subsequent electoral opportunities.
Instead of conclusion…

Even if 52% of the Moldovans have yet a favorable opinion about the EU, the percentage of those who have confidence in the Eurasian Union is relatively high (34%). From this viewpoint, the pro-European forces are twice more disadvantaged. On the one hand, the government that is in disgrace continues to use the European theme to recover the lost legitimacy. On the other hand, these have to cope with a pro-Russian President who resorts to anything to discredit the EU, generating the false perception that Moldova distances itself from the EU and comes closer to Russia.

In fact, the pro-European forces are in a crisis of time. One year remained until the parliamentary elections of 2018. The ruling party is looking for possibilities to remain in power, by instituting a majority system and uninominal voting, while President Dodon continuously promotes the idea of a referendum on the country’s foreign policy course.

Without the mobilization of the pro-European forces and synchronized actions connected to the European realities, the pro-EU sympathies risk diminishing. The salvation of the EU’s image in Moldova depends as much on the European Union, which must become a more ambitious and more principled player in relation to its neighbors. The conditions and pragmatism should dominate the agenda of the Moldova-EU relations, regardless of the voice used by Chisinau – that of the President or that of the government.

This article was initially published on IPN News Agency on 6 March 2017

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