Preliminary results of the local elections in Moldova indicate that President Maia Sandu’s party, the Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS), underperformed, despite the banning of a major rival. The outcomes of these local elections are being closely observed as they are seen as a precursor to the 2024 presidential vote.
According to the Central Electoral Commission, voter turnout for Sunday’s local elections stood at 41.41% of the electorate, which comprises approximately 2.7 million Moldovans. In the first round, PAS emerged victorious in 240 out of the 898 races for mayoral and county administrative positions, mainly in rural areas. However, opposition candidates seemed to have prevailed in all major cities, including the capital city Chisinau.
In Chisinau, the incumbent mayor Ion Ceban declared victory after securing 50.6% of the votes in the first round. Opposition candidates also celebrated outright victories in Balti, Comrat, and Orhei. PAS managed to secure enough votes to force a runoff in Edinet, but the opposition candidate is currently leading.
Andrei Spinu, the vice-chair of PAS, emphasized that the main takeaway from the elections is that the “pro-European choice has won confidently across the whole country.” However, former President Igor Dodon argued that despite “seizing all the institutions of government” and “blocking the media,” Sandu’s “dictatorial regime” suffered a defeat.
In June, President Sandu’s government banned the Sor Party, accusing it of being a front for organized crime and aiming to “discredit the idea of democracy” by serving “oligarchs.” This ban marked the first instance of a political party being banned since Moldova gained independence in 1991.
The Sor Party, founded by Israeli-Moldovan businessman Ilan Shor, advocates for maintaining good relations with Russia while opposing Moldova’s annexation to Romania, joining the European Union, or a forcible seizure of the unrecognized republic of Transnistria, where Russian peacekeepers have been stationed since 1992. Prior to the ban, President Sandu had sought EU sanctions against both Shor and his party.
President Sandu has also accused Russia of meddling in the election by “buying” votes with money allegedly laundered through the Sor Party. Her government has even attempted to annul the local elections in Gagauzia, an autonomous region predominantly inhabited by a Turkic minority, citing the victory of a Sor candidate.
These local election results highlight the political landscape in Moldova and provide insights into the potential outcomes of the upcoming presidential vote in 2024. As opposition candidates prevail in major cities and debates surrounding democracy and relations with Russia continue to shape the country’s political discourse, President Sandu’s party faces the task of regaining momentum and securing support across all regions of Moldova.