The Moldovan election: A quiet country at an important crossroads

The Moldovan election: A quiet country at an important crossroads

Europe is full of loud stories, and yet beneath the noise there are first time democratic elections shifting the tide of East-West relations, like Moldova.

Moldova, between Ukraine and Romania, held its first democratic presidential elections on 30 October 2016. Many believe the election, aside from the obvious democratic symbolism, can be a key tipping point in Euro-Russian relations. As the close elections head towards a run-off on 13 November 2016, Igor Dodon holds the lead as a pro-Russian candidate of the Socialist Party, followed closely by pro-European candidate Maia Sandu.

Moldova is primarily an agricultural nation, and among the poorest in continental Europe. Moldova, along with Belarus and other Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) nations, constantly face the challenge of straddling European Union (E.U.)-Russian relations, with some believing the E.U. holds the key to economic success, while others seek better relations with Russia. Dodon makes it clear that he is seeking increased relations with Russia as the key to stimulating their economy.

Primarily representing the poor rural areas of North and South Moldova, Dodon is quite different than his opponent Maia Sandu. Sandu pulls the majority of her support from the more urban Central Moldova, surrounding the capital of Chisinau. Furthermore, Dodon leads his campaign on a pro-Russian platform, and Sandu sets a pro-European tone aimed at further Western integration. “I believe in European values and that E.U. integration is the appropriate development,” said Sandu in a recent interview.

From these tones it is easy to deduce that there are two different paths for the tiny European country. Unlike Georgia and the Baltic States, Moldova has yet to completely buy into the European project, complicating the region for Europe, while also not accepting Russian assistance. Moldova is not the only Eastern European country to go through this crisis of identity.

Georgia and Ukraine, though troubled by Russian interference, have outwardly pursued The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) membership and continued inclusion in European agreements. However, each step taken towards European inclusion by these former Soviet States results in increased hostilities with Russia, a consistent consideration for the political economy.

The question of Moldova’s future, while likely different than Georgia’s, is not one of good and evil, but one of East and West. If Dodon rises to power, it may cause significant challenges for expansion of E.U. trade networks such as the E.U. Association Agreements. This existing agreement proliferating political and economic integration between Europe and its neighbors is already in place, Dodon may not be keen on expanding it, instead opting to limit it.

Dodon’s language indicates a focus on the economic welfare of Moldova, increasing his appeal to the large agricultural community. With the E.U. economically floundering to the West, Dodon will see the benefits to taking an Eastward turn toward Russia. His campaign, featuring outward support of Vladimir Putin, signals that the Eastward turn will, indeed, come to pass under his watch.

Though there is little fear, the Association Agreements could fall apart under Dodon, and his presidency could curtail future integration into the E.U. neighborhood. Those watching the East must observe closely how Europe deals with yet another Russian-leaning state on its borders. Without forceful economic diplomacy from Europe, a Dodon administration may signal slowing E.U. trade influence in the Black Sea region.

There is, of course, the chance that Sandu could take office. Her administration would almost certainly strike a different tone. Sandu is vocally pro-European and pro-European trade. She believes that Europe, instead of Russia, is the best future for Moldova. Whether or not she is correct, her presidency could present enormous opportunity for European traders.

With Sandu at the helm, those involved in European trade could see a future of opportunity. Though Moldova’s economy remains fragile, her desire for economic diplomacy could foster a win-win for both her country and Moldova, opening new opportunities for European influence in this oft-overlooked country.

As always, both East and West may view this election through the lens of the Euro-Russian tension. Openness of former Soviet states toward the West always carries the potential for Russian opposition, and the West should be mindful of this. If Europe oversteps its bounds under a Sandu presidency, it could see a higher degree of Russian influence in the region in compensation for a pro-European leader.

Furthermore, if Dodon wins it could signal another Eastern European country electing a leader that may diverge from Europe, following in the footsteps of Hungary and Poland. The Moldovan election is crucial, if not for its own sake, then for that of the entire Eastern European political economy. Those invested in the burgeoning free-trade economy will see opportunities shift either West or East in this election.

Therefore, as the complex economic future of Moldova unfolds in the runoff election, eyes must be on both a possible European confrontation, as well as the potential for a renewed connection to Russia itself. Regardless of who wins this close election, Moldova must continue to balance between its Eastern and Western neighbors.

Categories: Economics, Europe

About Author

Jonathan Hoogendoorn

Jonathan is a Massachusetts-based geopolitical analyst with an M.S. in International Relations and Diplomacy from Northeastern University. He works at a global analytics firm as well as Wikistrat, focusing on the Russian-European relationship, industry/political dynamics, and diplomatic relations. Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @jonathanhoog