The executive director of the Association for Participatory Democracy ADEPT and political analyst, Igor Boțan, has analyzed the most important political events in 2023. We have talked about the local elections this fall and the implementation of much-needed reforms for the continuation on the European path of the Republic of Moldova.
-Mr Botan, what major political events can we expect in 2023 in the Republic of Moldova? Are the local elections planned for this autumn important?
-First of all, local elections are very important. These elections are predictable and ordinary in nature. What is unpredictable is the war in the neighbouring Ukraine.Local elections are interesting from the perspective of public-administrative reform. According to the concept of the reform, which has already been published, the reform is going to last until 2030, but there are many problems with it. We do not know how successful this reform is going to be. However, this is one of the conditionalities of the European Union. If we refer to positive events that we expect in 2023, we have to see if the Government manages to meet the EU conditionalities by the middle of this year and report on their fulfilment. The Government seems to be eager to fulfil them, and the local elections will show whether things are moving in terms of public administration. We have seen it that the Government is cautious. It starts with amalgamation [the possibility of localities to unite into larger entities]. This amalgamation process was also provided for in the 2012 and 2016 Strategies, but nothing was done. This time resources from the state budget in the amount of MDL 250 mln was promised for this amalgamation, but we do not know how this process is going to unfold. We have no idea. This process is put of the shoulders of mayors and citizens, and nobody knows who should do it or who should start it.
-Could we expect a PAS victory similar to the one in the early July 2021 parliamentary elections, or it will rather be a test for PAS to see how much popularity it still has, after two years in government?
-I do not think the popularity issue is important now for PAS. President Maia Sandu has two more years of mandate, the Government has about two and a half years left, so it is important for the Government to keep its ranks and not admit splits, which is what the pro- Kremlin opposition wants very much. We have seen that the most important leader of the opposition, Igor Dodon, is very skeptical that the opposition can somehow influence things. According to his statements, the Shor’s protests were not in the position to strengthen the opposition showing rather its inability to unite. Dodon also said the local elections are no longer so important because the government wants to reduce the influence of the district councils, transferring all the power to the mayors, and the mayors are resourceful people who will stay away from the parties. It will be difficult to understand whether at the local level citizens are supportive of the government or the opposition. It is very important for the government to deliver on the European integration process and it depends a lot on what will happen in Ukraine. If the war ends, and it depends how, say in a year’s time, then the government will be in a much better situation than currently, with a real chance of extending its mandate, taking into account the quality of the opposition. So things are volatile. The situation in the Republic of Moldova depends a lot on the situation in the region. The opposition is weak, dispersed, and the government is gaining experience. We have seen that the government has already learned to manipulate relatively successfully. The government is convinced that we will get through this winter relatively easily and that the worst times are behind. Furthermore, we have seen the determination of the EU to assist Moldova to make progress within the European integration process. In principle, there is a ray of hope. If we look at the opposition, whether pro-Moscow or pro-European, it is extremely weak and without resources. All resources, according to the legislation, belong to the PAS.
Political battle for Chisinau
-How do you see the battle for Chisinau City Hall? What are the chances of the current mayor Ion Ceban and what should be the profile of the right-wing candidate who could defeat him?
I think the chances of the current mayor of Chisinau, Ion Ceban, are very high. He has been acting like a seasoned politician. He promised a lot but has been doing little, but what he is doing is visible. In addition, this is one of the basic tools for success in this space Here, Ceban has been playing by the book. People’s impression of Ceban is that he is a good manager and is doing something for Chisinau. As for the profile of the candidate that could be a strong opponent to him, this is a very difficult question.
-Could we expect surprises from the parties on the right wing or will PAS march on this segment? Who can we look out for?
We should only pay attention to the developments within the PAS. It remains to be seen whether the dissensions that have surfaced can lead to a split. That would be the most dramatic thing. The other pro-European extra-parliamentary opposition parties seem to have decent, competent people, but I’m afraid they don’t have the resources to succeed. I mean media, financial, and even human resources. There are exceptional people among the leaders of these parties, but winning an election campaign also requires resources.
-Are there chances for a European left, a segment that remains vacant on the political scene in the Republic of Moldova?
-I understand that Ion Ceban is committed to this segment. He made unequivocal statements in this regard. He spoke about European integration, without “any kind of fourth way” or Euro-Asian integration. He also said that Russia is the aggressor in the war against Ukraine. That positions him very clearly. Now it depends on his success or failure in autumn. If he wins the Chisinau City Hall, his party will become a political force that will have to be taken into account. And this would not be bad if we had a pro-European left party in order to put pressure on the PAS.For PAS, the biggest danger comes from the fact that it holds all the power, the opponents are weak, and that power corrupts. There are camps in PAS and they are consolidating around certain interests. Access to the levers of power makes these interests take shape, and this is where the big corruption slowly begins. Moreover, this is an extraordinarily great danger. We believe Maia Sandu is honest, which is true, but the party is a completely different thing.
PAS continues to march on the right segment
-From the latest polls it becomes clear that PAS will not be able to repeat the success of July 2021 and thus will need a political partner with whom it could eventually form a parliamentary majority in the next elections. How realistic is this and who could be the PAS partners in this?
-I think it is premature to talk now about possible partners of PAS. As long as there is a danger of split within PAS, we cannot talk about this aspect now. Things are so volatile that we can only guess now. If there were an imminent danger of PAS splitting, then the question would be topical. The Coalition for Unity and Welfare (CUB), led by Igor Munteanu, could be a coalition partner to PAS, I think, and also probably several other parties such as the Party of Change led by Stefan Gligor, or the People’s Power Party, led by Ruslan Codreanu. These parties have decent, competent leaders, but PAS shows no interest in them because it feels it has no real competitors.
-The year 2023 marks the beginning of an electoral cycle – local elections in autumn 2023, presidential elections in 2024, and parliamentary elections in 2025. Can this influence the reform agenda? Are systemic reforms still possible, such as the territorial- administrative reform or the central public administration reform?
-The Republic of Moldova has European integration as its country project. It is extremely important that the EC requirements be met in order to start the process of chapter negotiations. Once this process with the EU begins, the situation will change dramatically. The “ground zero” will start from there in the relationship with the EU. In contrast, the opposition has no idea what it could do to capture the interest of the citizens. It just does not exist. The Eurasian Economic Union is on the brink, the “third way” is an illusion with no potential to launch without partners like the EU.
-There is increasing talk about the shortcomings of governance in terms of transparent and participatory decision-making. There is frequent criticisms of the government, such as not allocating enough time to public consultations and consultation of stakeholders for the adoption of several laws of major interest. How can this affect the country’s democratic development and European course?
-It is true, this can have a negatively effect. However, any government we establish now in the Republic of Moldova will have the same problems - lack of competent staff, interest, etc. There are some political circles that are expressing their attitude towards governance criticising it for lack of transparency and it is good they are doing it. Nevertheless, it should be mentioned that the main evaluator of the current power is no longer the opposition, but the European Union that gives grades and holds the hand on the switch of the negotiation process. Otherwise, we only have the manifestation of systemic weaknesses characteristic to each government.
Arrears on reforms
-How do you see the implementation of reforms in Chisinau and will the Republic of Moldova receive green light from the EU for the next step on its European path in 2023?
- I have seen an interim report that qualifies the Republic of Moldova as lagging behind Ukraine and Georgia in terms of reforms. It is a signal for Moldova, but as I said, the administrative capacity is weak. It is not known how this situation can be corrected because we have all seen that everything depends on the motivation of competent people. Competent people do not accept low wages. On the other hand, the opposition is criticising the increases in the salaries of officials and ministers, but also complains that professionals abandon the current government. It is kind of a trap that the government must get out from. In conclusion, everything depends on the developments in Ukraine. If this country resists and a way out of this conflict is found, we probably have a good chance that the EU will decide that these two countries - Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova - will be removed from the gray zone, because otherwise we will constantly have demonstrations from Russia to recapture what Moscow considers as lost territories. That is why the situation is volatile, but there is also a window of opportunity and reasons to be optimistic.
- Thank you!