After a break of 20 years, Moldova will soon have a directly elected president. This follows a controversial Constitutional Court ruling of March 4, 2016 that reintroduced direct presidential elections with a mere stroke of a pen. Thus, throughout September presidential hopefuls have been collecting signatures in support of their candidacies, and September 30 marks the beginning of the presidential campaign, which only lasts a month. Eight candidates have been officially registered by the Central Election Commission and another eight have submitted the required signatures on the last day. Let’s have a look at who these candidates are and what can we expect of them.
1. Marian Lupu (Chairman of the Democratic Party) was the first to submit the paperwork, which guaranteed him the first spot on the ballot. Lupu and his party wanted to make a point by demonstrating their strength when they collected the required number of signatures (15000-25000) in just one day. Opposition raised concerns about the use of administrative resources, but to no avail. Lupu is the official establishment candidate, backed by Moldova’s grey eminence – Vlad Plahotniuc. If Lupu wins, this will give the Democratic Party a monopoly over all three main state institutions: Government, Parliament, and Presidency, despite winning only 19 of 101 seats in the last legislative election. Lupu runs on a pro-EU platform and may reach the run offs, according to latest polls, especially if Sandu and Nastase fail to agree on a single candidate. Lupu’s slogan “I Hear, I Listen, I Solve” is a little too much on the nose in a country where the government is notorious for wire-tapping its political opponents.
2. Mihai Ghimpu (Chairman of the Liberal Party) is second on the ballot and, indeed, the other candidate from the ruling coalition – a spoiler. For lack of a better alternative, Ghimpu will run on a pro-unionist agenda, with the slogan “Moldova has a future in Romania.” His chances are slim as he polls under 2%.
3. Iurie Leanca (Chairman of Moldova’s European People’s Party) is viewed as the third establishment candidate, even if he is not formally part of the ruling coalition. Leanca’s party has signed a partnership agreement with the majority coalition, pledging to promote European Integration, which is Leanca’s forte. His slogan is “Let’s Go West” – another spoiler.
4. Andrei Nastase (Chairman of the Dignity and Truth Platform Party) is one of the main opposition contenders. He was one of the leaders of the anti-government protest movement and is running on the message of “Fighting together for the people!” He has been polling slightly worse than his opposition rival Maia Sandu and is yet to decide if he concedes to boost the chances of the single pro-EU opposition candidate.
5. Inna Popenco is virtually unknown to the public. She is a grassroots candidate put forth by the pro-Russian “Equality” Party led by embattled businessman Ilan Shor, who is also a leading suspect in the infamous billion dollar bank scandal. Ironically, Popenco’s slogan is “Change for Moldova.”
6. Dumitru Ciubasenco – was nominated by Our Party led by Moldova’s populist-in-chief Renato Usatii. Their campaign slogan is “President of the People.” Ciubasenco promises to dissolve parliament and trigger early elections, despite the fact that the president does not really have this authority. He is prone to take some votes away from the front runner Igor Dodon.
7. Maia Sandu – (Chairwoman of the Action and Solidarity Party) is a front runner on the pro-European opposition front and, depending on poll results to be announced next week, she could become the unified pro-EU opposition candidate, provided that Nastase stays true to his word and concedes. Sandu’s campaign message, excessively targets millennials, by having a hashtag on top of a word-play on “we have another chance” – #MAIAVEMOŞANSĂ.
8. Igor Dodon – (Chairman of the Party of Socialists) is the clear front runner, who has been able to capitalize on popular anxiety and frustration with the ruling parties that have been manifestly corrupt all under the banner of EU integration. Hence, Dodon embodies the growing support for the pro-Russian (Eurasian Union) alternative, and is being generously backed by Moscow. His campaign message is: “Moldova has a future. For the Motherland! For the People! Despite also being a frontrunner back 2011, Dodon ended up losing the Chisinau mayoral race, largely because he was perceived as being excessively pro-Russian.
9. Vitalia Pavlicenco, independent, pro-union with Romania
10. Silvia Radu, independent
11. Maia Laguta, independent
12. Ana Guțu, “Right” Party, pro-union with Romania
13. Roman Mihăieș, independent
14. Ion Dron, independent
15. Vasile Tarlev, independent
16. Valeriu Ghilețchi, independent
The latter eight potential candidates are pending registration. Of all eight, only Gutu, Pavlicenco, Tarlev and Ghiletchi had some chance of collecting the 15000-25000 signatures fairly, as they have some name recognition at the national level and are backed by small but nonetheless active organizations be it political parties or a religious group, as in Ghiletchi’s case. For instance, Vadim Brinzan, Moldovan-American private equity investor with experience at Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch, who recently ran for National Bank Governor, failed to master the 15000 signatures, managing to collect only 5000. Another independent candidate with national notoriety Oleg Brega, suspended his campaign after only a week realizing that it would be impossible for him to collect enough signatures on time.
Therefore, the other four contenders must have received a helping hand from one of the major ruling parties (most likely PD). Dron and Mihaes are known as talking heads featuring regularly on Plahotniuc’s TV channels. Their role will likely be to attack the opposition (primarily Sandu and/or Nastase) by voicing what Lupu feels uncomfortable saying in public, including ad hominem attacks. Silvia Radu, a former CEO of an electricity distributor, will try to present herself as a viable alternative for those who may be on the fence about voting for Maia Sandu. Maia Laguta, some people speculate, is poised to simply steal votes from Maia Sandu (same first name), but most of Sandu’s voters should be conscious enough to make the difference. Or so one hopes!
PS: CEC actually denied registration to four contenders: Dron, Mihaes, Tarlev and Pavlicenco on grounds that they failed to present enough valid signatures from at least half of the administrative units. Thus, twelve candidates remain in the race. This adds some credibility to the process, but plenty of spoiler candidates remain.