This November a divided country will hold a presidential election where an incumbent known for – amongst other things – his relationship with Vladimir Putin will seek a second term in office.
Igor Dodon is hoping that on November 1 – two days before another hotly-anticipated election – Moldovan voters will grant him another four years in the presidential palace in Chisinau.
Dodon’s four-year reign may not have generated the international headlines of President Donald Trump’s, but Moldova is a country as divided as the US.
Dodon’s supporters look to the east, towards Russia, while those of his main opponent, Maia Sandu, look westwards, towards Europe. In 2016, Dodon’s vision won him 52.11% of the vote to Sandu’s 47.89%. Moldova, like America, is a country split down the middle.
“He is a family man, and he believes in God,” Galina, 60, told Euronews ahead of the election. “Our president loves the country and talks for our understanding, not like the rest of them.”
Dodon got his first ministerial break in politics in 2008, aged 33, as minister of economy and commerce in the cabinet of the then Prime Minister Zinaida Greceanii. He left Moldova’s Communist Party in 2009 and set up the Socialist Party in Moldova (PSRM).
Since then, Dodon has marketed himself as an adherent of what he has called “balanced politics”, but since taking power in 2016 has consciously moved towards Moscow at the expense of the small country’s relationship with its neighbours, Romania and Ukraine, and the European Union.
He has made 70 foreign visits since 2016, more than half to the Russian Federation, and others to Asia and the Middle East.
In the absence of official polling, Dodon claimed on local television on September 8 that he would beat Sandu by between 100,000 and 120,000 votes, or 10% of the population, compared to just 70,000 votes in the last elections in November 2016.
To do that, political experts in Moldova say, Dodon has drafted in an army of consultants to promote campaigning themes that appeal to his older, conservative base.
“In addition to central themes, like family, religion, […] Dodon is trying new topics that, during the campaign, he will either exploit, if necessary, or set aside,” said Ion Tabarta at Chisinau thinktank IDIS Viitorul.
Igor Volnitchi, another Chisinau-based analyst, said Dodon was consciously trying to appeal to three kinds of voters.
The first group is so-called “geo-political” voters, who are naturally orientated towards Russia and Moscow, and to which Dodon plays up his relationship with Moscow and with Putin. The second is nationalist Moldovans who reject the country’s history with neighbouring Romania, with which the country shares a language and, from 1918-1940, it was part of.
The third sector of voters, Volnitchi said, is those who concentrate less on what a candidate believes in and more on what he or she can do for them.
“Moscow, Moldovan statehood and so on matter less for this segment,” he said. “For them, all that matters is what politicians can put in their bag or on the table.”
But as well as the theory around winning votes, Dodon’s critics have also raised concerns about the practice. Moldova’s election commission, the CEC, recently announced that 17 polling stations would be opened inside Russia to enable Moldovans living there to vote, significantly more than the eight that were in operation during the last election in 2016.
A total of 60,029 Moldovans have registered to vote abroad, the CEC said, with 6,202 from Russia. That is 11 times the number that voted in the 2019 parliamentary elections.
Meanwhile, Dodon’s opponents have accused him of canvassing for votes in the breakaway region of Transnistria and striking a deal with the separatist leader from Tiraspol, Vadim Krasnoselsky, to help bus in voters from the territory to vote for him.
In February 2019, Moldovan political parties organised transportation for 37,000 voters from the left bank of Dniester River to vote for pro-Kremlin forces.
But left or right, pro-EU or pro-Russia, whoever is in the presidential palace on November 2, 2020, will be faced with the country’s most serious problem. Moldovans are leaving.
The country has one of the highest rates of migration in Europe, with about one million out of 2.7 million citizens living and working abroad. The demographic is split about equally between Western countries and Russia. Wherever Moldovans want to be, they don’t want to be at home.
Speaking to Euronews, Mihai, 22, a student at the Technical University in Chisinau, summed up the attitude well. “If nothing changes in this country, I will leave it,” he said.
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