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Over the last few years Moldova has experienced several political crises. After Chisinau’s hard-fought pro-Western turn in 2020 and 2021 under President Maia Sandu, Prime Minister Natalia Gavrilita, and their Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS) the country has been increasingly under attack from Russian attempts at destabilization.

The worries over Russian interference in the country have only increased in recent months. In January 2023, President Sandu’s government introduced a new electoral law that sought to decrease Russian influence. Moreover, in 2022 Moldova was granted EU candidate status along with Ukraine. Since then, Chisinau has taken important steps in adopting obligatory EU-legislation and has received praise from the European Commission. While these developments were applauded both in Moldova and the EU, the political crises would pile up in the following months.

On 10 February, Prime Minister Gavrilita decided to step down. Gavrilita stated the ongoing pressure from Russia to be the reason for her departure and accused Moscow of energy blackmail, which has reportedly driven the countries’ inflation to over 30%. She was succeeded by Dorin Recean, a former security advisor to Gavrilita’s cabinet.

No less than three days later, however, Chisinau would be in the spotlight again after the Ukrainian secret service intercepted  “quite concrete plans” for a pro-Russian coup in Moldova. President Maia Sandu immediately confronted the Kremlin and Russian, Serbian, Belarusian, and Montenegrin citizens were denied entry at the border over worries they were saboteurs sent to help orchestrate the coup.

But Moldova’s Russia-linked worries do not only exist outside of the country. Ever since the war in Ukraine has started, there have been growing fears over the involvement of the pro-Russian breakaway region of  Transnistria. Ever since a civil war in 1992, this narrow strip of land in eastern Moldova has been a pro-Russian enclave guarded by a Russian ‘peacekeeping force’, consisting of 1500 soldiers. A new anti-separatist law passed by Moldovan parliament – which technically allows Chisinau to put all of Transnistria’s separatist leaders behind bars – will make tensions increase further.

Another destabilizing factor is the pro-Russian Ilan Shor party. Headed by Ilan Shor – who was sentenced in absentia by a Moldovan court to 15 years in prison for fraud and money laundering of $1 billion – the movement is involved in large-scale pro-Russian demonstrations in Chisinau. In May, moreover, voters in the southern region of Gagauzia elected Evghenia Guțul – a candidate of the Shor Party – as their new governor, paving the way for further escalation with Chisinau.

Key Info

1 Political Situation

The second round of presidential elections took place on the 15 November and were won by Maia Sandu. Sandu managed to defeat pro-Russian incumbent Igor Dodon. Moldova’s diaspora played a significant role in the victory of Maia Sandu in the elections. Moldova’s diaspora previously showed minimal involvement in politics and limited participation in the elections. However, in the 2020 Presidential elections, votes from the diaspora made up 16 percent of the total. These additional votes were able to change the outcome in Sandu’s favor.

After the outcome of the presidential elections in 2020, thousands of Moldovans took to the streets to protest and demand the government’s resignation, demanding snap parliamentary elections. The protests erupted after the parliament, still controlled by the Socialists, approved legislation that would strip Maia Sandu of control over the country’s intelligence service. Instead, the control over the services would be moved under the jurisdiction of the parliament. This was seen by many as a move by Chicu and his allies to take away control from Sandu. The protests were supported by Maia Sandu, who also called on the government to resign.

One month after the elections, on December 23, Moldova’s Prime Minister Ion Chicu and his pro-Russian government stepped down. The resignation came right before a parliament session where a motion of no-confidence against the government would be discussed. After the Chicu government resigned, Sandu put Natalia Gavrilita forward as prime minister to form a government. Gavrilita made two attempts to form a government, but failed both times. According to Moldova’s constitution and electoral code, snap elections are triggered if a government is not formed in 90 days. After the expiration of this constitutionally mandated period, and two failed attempts to form a government, Maia Sandu made her case in front of Moldova’s constitutional court to dissolve parliament. On April 15 the court ruled in favour of Sandu’s request to dissolve parliament.

After the dissolvement of the parliament, snap parliamentary elections were held in July 2021. The elections were a major victory for Sandu’s centre-right pro-European PAS, winning 63 out of the 101 seats in parliament. The pro-Russian Electoral Block of Communists and Socialists (BECS), led by Igor Dodon, only managed to win 32 seats. PAS ran on a platform of European integration, anti-corruption and economic development. This pro-European reformist message again resonated with the Moldovan diaspora. The parliamentary elections again saw a large participation of the diaspora, of which 86 percent of the votes went to PAS.

Both the presidential and parliamentary elections show a shift within Moldova’s political landscape. PAS and Maia Sandu express a pro-European stance, shifting away from the close ties with Russia that were preferred under previous governments. Instead, PAS and Sandu advocated for closer a reformist agenda and closer cooperation with the European Union.

The Transnistria conflict            
The Transnistria conflict is a frozen conflict between Moldova and the separatist Trans-Dniester region, a piece of land between Ukraine and the Dniester river. The region is de jure part of Moldova, but de facto independent. The majority of the population in the region speaks Russian. Dissatisfaction in the region grew when Moldovan was made the official language instead of Russian. The region also feared for a possible reunification with Romania. After a brief war which ended in 1992, Trans-Dniester broke away from Moldova. After a referendum in 2006 the region reasserted its demand for independence and backed a plan to eventually join Russia. The region has its own government which is financially and military supported by Russia. The statehood of the Trans-Dniester region is not recognized by the international community.

Throughout the years the conflict has remained frozen. Russian peacekeeping troops have been stationed in the region since the war in 1992 and maintained the status quo. However, president Maia Sandu has taken a more critical stance than her pro-Russian predecessor. She has criticized former president Dodon for failing to provide concrete plans for the reintegration of the Transnistria, and has also rejected the idea of federalization of the region. Sandu also called for the Russian troops to be removed from the region, so that they could be replaced by civilian monitors with support from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) . However, until now there have not been any changes on the ground.

Amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, political leaders in Transnistria are reluctant to announce their recognition of the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk. As a border region, Transnistria still has major commercial and societal ties with Ukraine and in recent years, its de-facto President Vadim Krasnoselsky has tried to balance Russian and Ukrainian interests. If Moscow intends to annex Transnistria, this is likely to change. For now, Transnistrian authorities categorically reject Sandu’s EU bid – and subsequently try to remain aversive of the invasion of Ukraine.

In recent months, the relationship between Chisinau and Transnistria has not changed for the better, however. A new law adopted by Chisinau allows for easier arrests of separatist Transnistrian leaders. Additionally, Transnistria reportedly featured prominently in the intercepted coup plans.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine

When Russia invaded Ukraine, Moldova at first was precaucious in its stance. It declared itself neutral, as it is heavily dependent on Russian energy imports. The country is one of the poorest in Europe and feared an extension of military operations into its territory. This was only exacerbated after Belarus’s dictator and Putin ally Alexander Lukashenko infamously showed an invasion map to his military elite that showed an extension of operations into Moldovan territory.

Moldova banned the symbolic ‘Z’, ‘V’ and Saint George’s ribbon gestures. These symbolize support for the Russian invasion. The ban was met with fierce Kremlin criticism. On April 22, 2022, Russian Major-General Rustam Minnekayev said that “control over southern Ukraine is another route to Transnistria, where there is also evidence that the Russian-speaking population is being oppressed.” It only exacerbated worries in Moldova on Russian military activities in the future.

In recent months, however, the Russian scare has only grown, and spearheaded by President Sandu, the government has chosen a more aggressive strategy to counter the Kremlin’ s interference. This is especially the case since the adoption of the ‘anti-Russian’ electoral law, the resignation of Prime Minister Gavrilita because of Russian pressure, and the intercepted coup plans. Moldova has since then aligned itself with western powers that support Ukraine against Russian aggression.

EU accession?

Moldova applied for EU membership in March 2022 and obtained candidate membership in June 2022. The European Commission highly commends Moldova and in its 2023 enlargement report recommends opening accession negotiations given the progress made in reforms. Progress has been made in anti-corruption legislation and new legislation to fight organised crime. Steps have been made in democracy and rule of law. Reforms in the judicial system follow EU recommendations. Media ownership has diversified and the government is taking steps to counter (Russian) disinformation. Public finances and public administration are being actively reformed. Moldova’s foreign policy is in growing alignment with the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy. In Moldova, too, de-oligarchisation is a file that needs continued attention. The commitment and results give much hope for Moldova’s European future. Russian interference will remain a concern and could potentially delay accession, as will the position of the renegade Transnistria region.

2 Elections

Electoral system
Moldova is a parliamentary representative democratic republic. According to its constitution, the parliament is the supreme representative organ and the single legislative authority of the state. The parliament is a unicameral assembly with 101 seats whose members are elected by proportional representation every four years. To enter the Moldovan parliament, independent candidates must obtain 3 per cent of the total number of votes. The political parties must pass a 6 per cent threshold and the electoral blocs that consist of two parties at least 9 per cent. The electoral blocs consisting of more than two political parties must receive at least 12 per cent of the votes. The “lost votes” of the parties that did not pass the threshold are subsequently distributed proportionally among those who did.

The Moldovan president is elected by the people for a duration of four years. Election outcomes are only valid when a minimum of one third of the registered voters cast their ballots. There are three ways in which a candidate can be nominated: through a political party, an electoral coalition or as an independent. To become president, the participant has to obtain an absolute majority of the votes. This means that at least half of the voters have to cast their ballots for one person. If this requirement is not met, a second round with the winner and runner up is held, two weeks after the initial vote. The candidate with the most votes in this round wins the elections.  Presidential candidates have to be at least 40 years of age and be able to speak Romanian, which is the country’s state language. In addition, he or she has to have lived in Moldova for a minimum of 10 years.

Parliamentary elections

The last parliamentary elections took place on the 11 July 2021. The elections were won by the pro-European Action and Solidarity Party (PAS), which managed to gain well over 50 percent of the votes. PAS also won a majority in parliament, gaining 63 out of the 101 seats. The alliance of the Electoral Bloc of Communist and Socialists (BECS) only received 27,17 percent of the votes and won 32 seats. The Sor Party won 5 seats in parliament. Sor is led by controversial businessmen Ilan Shor who lives in Israel and is being tried in absentia over a 1 million bank fraud. No other parties managed to win seats in the elections. The elections gave a strong mandate to pro-European president Maia Sandu, who wants to implement a  broad reformist agenda.

Election results

Party % of the votes Total Seats Seats compared to the last election
Party of Action and Solidarity 52,80% 63 +48
Electoral Bloc of Communists and Socialists 27,17% 32 -3
Sor Party 5,74% 6 -1
Electoral Bloc ‘’Renato Usatîi’’ 4,10% 0 New
Dignity and Truth Platform Party 2,33% 0 -11
Democratic Party of Moldova 1,81% 0 -30
Democracy at Home Party 1.45% 0 0
We Build Europe at Home Party 1,28% 0 New
Collective Action Party – Civic Congress 0.77% 0 New
Alliance for the Union of Romanians 0.49% 0 New
National Unity Party 0.45% 0 New
Party of Development and Consolidation 0.43% 0 New
Hope Professionals’ Movement Party 0.19% 0 0
Party of Change 0.17% 0 0
People’s Power Party 0.11% 0 New
Working People’s Party 0,10% 0 New
Party of Law and Justice 0,10% 0 New
New Historical Option 0,10% 0 New
Party of Regions of Moldova 0,09% 0 0
Ecologist Green Party 0,08% 0 0
Patriots of Moldova 0,06% 0 New
New Party 0,01% 0 New
Independents 0,17% 0 -3
Valid Votes 1,467,216
Invalid Votes 13,749
Total 1,480,965
Voter turnout 3,052,603 48,51%

Presidential elections

Moldova’s presidential elections took place on November 1st 2020. Maia Sandu from the pro-European Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS) won first place, gaining 36% of the votes. Igor Dodon, the former pro-Russian president came in as second with 33% percent of the votes. However, because the president has to be chosen with an absolute majority, Sandu and Dodon had to participate in a second round of voting. On 15 November 2020, in the second round of the presidential elections, Maia Sandu was elected the new Head of State. Pro-European Sandu obtained around 58% of the votes against 42% for incumbent president Igor Dodon, who was openly supported by Russia. Due to Sandu being pro-European and Dodon being pro-Russia, these elections were often branded as a competition between West and East, reflecting the division in views of Moldovans as to which direction the country should lean to improve its impoverished conditions. Sandu is a former World Bank economist and made clear she wants to counter corruption and encourage national businesses. In addition, she promised to ensure more financial assistance from the European Union, a big contrast to Dodon’s strategy securing loans from the Kremlin. Even though Sandu’s win can be seen as a defeat for Moscow, Russian president Putin still congratulated her. Also, a Kremlin spokesman stated Russia hopes to establish a working relationship with the new Moldovan Head of state.

3 Political Parties

Social Democratic Parties

European Social Democratic Party (PSDE) (formerly PDM)
Party Leader: Ion Sula

Other Parties

Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS)
Party Leader: Igor Grosu
Number of seats: 63
Șor Party (Republican Socio-Political Movement Equality )
Party Leader: Ilan Șor
Bloc of Communists and Socalists (BECS)
Party Leader: Vladimir Voronin & Igor Dodon
Number of seats: 26
Revival Party
Party Leader: Natalia Parasca

The Revival Party is a pro-Russian party that split from the PCRM in 2011. The party promotes the values of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, traditionalism, Moldovan nationalism, and wants to become the largest left-wing force of Moldova. The party also wants the Russian language to become one of the state languages of Moldova. It has been considered a satellite party of the Șor Party and holds 4 seats in parliament.

4 Biographies

Maia Sandu
Dorin Recean
Prime Minister

Dorin Recean (1974) is Prime Minister of Moldova since February 2023. Having first served as security advisor in his predecessor Natalia Gavrilita’s government, he took over from Gavrilita after increased Russian pressure had moved her towards resignation. He is considered a supporter of closer ties with the West and against Russian influence.

Recean served as Minister of Communication from 2010 to 2012 and as Minister of Internal Affairs from 2012 to 2015. Before his career in politics, Recean teached at his alma mater, the Academy of Economic Studies of Moldova and at the Chisinau-based Newport International University.

Natalia Gavrilita
Former Prime Minister

Natalia Gavrilita (1977) is a former Moldovan Prime Minister of the center-right Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS)  who held the office from August 2021 to February 2023. She resigned after increasing Russian pressure caused record-high inflation in the country. Gavrilita is considered as strongly pro-Western and pro-EU accession.

Before her career as Prime Minister, Gavrilita served as Minister of Finance. She has worked in several development projects around the world and studied International Law at Moldovan State University and Public Policy at Harvard University.

Ilan Shor
Leader of opposition Sor Party
Igor Dodon
Former President
Ion Sula
Leader of the Social Democratic Party

Ion Sula (1980) is the leader of the European Social Democratic Party (PSDE) since November 2022 and has served as Minister of Agriculture and Food Industry from 2015-2016.

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