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How Romanian parties try to win voters in the Republic of Moldova. Connections with controversial figures, branches with a handful of members and partnerships with local parties

Moldovan and Romanian citizens attend a march on the occasion of the National Day of Romania in downtown Chisinau, Moldova, 01 December 2020.
©EPA-EFE/DUMITRU DORU  |   Moldovan and Romanian citizens attend a march on the occasion of the National Day of Romania in downtown Chisinau, Moldova, 01 December 2020.

The political parties in Romania have not been able to outline a program or a strategy to do politics in the Republic of Moldova, but they are interested in the votes they could get from there, as, according to estimates, some one million Moldovan citizens are also Romanian citizens in documents, and that makes a significant electoral pool. Four parliamentary parties from Bucharest are currently fighting for the votes of the Bessarabians: PSD (Social Democratic Party) PNL (National Liberal Party), USR (Save Romania Union) and AUR (Alliance for the Union of Romanians). Veridica wanted to find out how these parties are positioned before the 2023 local elections in the Republic of Moldova, but especially in the run-up to the 2024 parliamentary and presidential elections in Romania.

The Republic of Moldova’s electoral stake

The Romanian political analyst Costin Ciobanu believes that there are three major themes addressed by Romanian politicians when it comes to the Republic of Moldova.

“Given that more than one million Moldovans also have Romanian citizenship, [the electorate of] the Republic of Moldova is a legitimate source [of votes] for Romanian parties and it is normal for them to try to target and communicate with this electorate, especially if we recall what happened in 2009 in the presidential elections in Romania, when the votes from the diaspora changed the voting results in the country”, says Costin Ciobanu, who recalls that in the 2020 parliamentary elections in Romania, about 38,000 votes came from the Republic of Moldova, and of these 38% went to PNL and 34% to PMP (People’s Movement Party).

He added that the second theme that is periodically debated in Romania concerns the union of the two states. “Here we have two parties that explicitly support this thesis - PMP and AUR. But the subject is rather a secondary one. At the beginning of this year, an INSCOP survey conducted in January 2022 showed that 74.5% of Romanians supported the union with Moldova”, Ciobanu explains.

The expert also says, however, that after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, in March 2022, an Avangard survey showed that only 11% of Romanians wanted the union with the Republic of Moldova and 42% believed that it was not the right time yet. “So, it's an important piece of context around the union”, he concludes.

In Ciobanu's opinion, the third theme, which directs the relationship between the two capitals now, is the support for European integration. “In this regard, there is unity at the top of all the main parties - PSD, PNL, USR - who have embraced this speech regarding the European Union and how Romania can support the European path of the Republic of Moldova”, the political analyst explains.

PSD’s friends in Chisinau: a former Soviet correspondent, the oligarch Plahotniuc, the pro-Russian mayor of Chisinau

Perhaps the oldest links between the parties in Romania and those in the Republic of Moldova exist from the time when PSD and the Democratic Party (PD) signed, in 2006, a collaboration agreement. The artisans were Ion Iliescu and Dumitru Diacov, two former actors of the Revolution of 1989, one as an “emanated” leader, and the other as a correspondent in Bucharest of the Soviet news agency TASS.

There followed the PSD leaders who maintained this relationship, and in the last decade Victor Ponta and Liviu Dragnea stood out, both in good relations with the now-fugitive oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc, who de facto led the Democratic Party in Chisinau between 2009 -2019.

Plahotniuc's escape left PD at a low point, and PSD in Romania is now trying to revive it by virtue of a rebranding as a genuine European-type social-democratic formation. Which was true in Plahotniuc's time as well, but only on paper.

On November 20, the Democratic Party in Chisinau was transformed into the European Social Democratic Party (PSDE), and Ion Sula, a former close associate of ex-prime minister Vlad Filat, who later switched to the camp of his opponent, Vlad Plahotniuc, was placed at its head.

“The Republic of Moldova needs Social Democrats. The Republic of Moldova needs a pro-European Social-Democratic party and, as far as I know, the prime minister of 2009 is here too, you were the first to open the European path for the Republic of Moldova”.

Ciolacu then explained in footballing terms that “where there is silence in the locker room, where the colleagues understand the difficult moments that both Romania and the Republic of Moldova are going through, there is performance, respect and, last but not least, the feeling of duty fulfilled”.

The next day, on November 21, Ciolacu visited the pro-Russian mayor of Chisinau, Ion Ceban, who is trying to rebrand himself as a moderate pro-European, but who maintains very close ties with Moscow. For several years, Ceban has been campaigning to clear his image in Romania, which is an important funding source for him, especially from the ​​PSD mayors.

The Ciolacu-Ceban meeting took place after, late last month,  the US Treasury designated Ion Ceban as being part of the Russian influence network  that is currently working to destabilize the situation in the Republic of Moldova with the ultimate goal of overthrowing the pro-European government .

In addition to these partners, PSD also has a branch in Chisinau, headed by Iurie Ciocan, former head of the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) both during the time of Vlad Filat and then of Plahotniuc, who resigned  after PAS came to power in June 2019.

“The PSD Moldova branch has existed for over 10 years. The branch is covered by the PSD statute and is provided for separately from the diaspora chapter. I personally have pro-union political visions and I promote these ideals, but that does not mean that PSD is pursuing a pro-union policy. I would like to make this distinction”, Ciocan told Veridica.

He also said that PSD's interest is primarily to communicate with the Romanian citizens of the Republic of Moldova, which account for about one million.

“It is obvious that any political party, since Romanian state elections are organized on the territory of the Republic of Moldova, is interested in getting some votes here. In the past we had 30 polling stations approved for the Romanian citizens residing in the Republic of Moldova […] This does not mean that the more than 30,000 voters there will all vote for PSD, but it is important to have a stronger voice of the Romanians in the Republic of Moldova heard through vote on election day”.

Ciocan explained that his mission is to carry out an information activity. “I'm not campaigning, because it's not the time for that, but I'm informing about Romania, about the governmental activity in Romania, about PSD's activity in the government and at local level”, he stated.

As for PSD Moldova's role, it is to prepare public opinion, and especially the Romanian citizens in the Republic of Moldova, for the parliamentary and presidential elections that will take place in Romania in 2024.

“In Chisinau, we don't have much Romanian media presence. If we turn on the TV, we see Pro TV Chisinau and a TVR Moldova studio. All the other TV stations rebroadcast “content” from Bucharest, which unfortunately does not get across much in the Republic of Moldova. Because it is disconnected from the local context. I try with the means I have to bridge this information gap”, Iurie Ciocan also said. He also explained the relationship between PSD Romania and the new PSDE led by Ion Sula. “Between the ex-Democratic Party and the Social Democratic Party in Romania there are political collaboration agreements signed when the two parties were headed by Dumitru Diacov and Ion Iliescu respectively. Since then, these agreements have been periodically renewed [...] The agreement provides for political collaboration, informational support, consultation of positions at the international level. PSD Moldova has its own agenda, and the European Social Democratic Party (PSDE) has its own agenda and they are anchored in the political battle in the Republic of Moldova with their own goals”.

PNL Moldova: losing partnerships, but good results

PNL has had a branch in the Republic of Moldova since 2015. Since 2017, it has been led by Adrian Dupu, currently secretary of state in the Department for Relations with the Republic of Moldova within the Romanian government.

Dupu told Veridica that, even if not that visible in the public space of the Republic of Moldova, the activity of PNL Moldova is consistent and that it has around 300 members. Some of them are former members of the pro-European Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova (PLDM), led by the former prime minister Vlad Filat, convicted of corruption.

“USR taking a deputy from the Republic of Moldova and putting him in their party, that is not activity. PSD has an older partner – PD, which has now renamed itself PSDE. PNL has an organization in the Republic of Moldova, as part of PNL Romania, where we have over 300 registered members, Romanian citizens from the Republic of Moldova”, Dupu explained for Veridica.

He also stated that PNL collaborates in the Republic of Moldova with the parties that are members of the European People's Party (EPP). In fact, the PNL relied on a more intense relationship with the Platform for Justice and Truth Party (PPDA), led in the past by Andrei Năstase, who in the latest early parliamentary elections on July 11, 2021 obtained a score of 2.33% of the votes, less than half of the 5% electoral threshold needed for a party to be represented in Parliament.

“But we have our party members who are active. And this was done in the last three rounds of elections, when the PNL won the European parliamentary elections, the presidential elections with Klaus Iohannis who got the highest percentage, but also the highest number of votes in the history of the Republic of Moldova, and in the latest parliamentary elections PNL was in first place. We accomplished this through our members there. Everything we promised, we did. The PNL has delivered and this is quite obvious”, the State Secretary said.

Dupu also said that the governments led by PNL prime ministers and President Klaus Iohannis, who was the candidate of this party, support the Republic of Moldova.

“They’ve been to Chisinau. PNL focuses more on facts and concrete things. In August this year, we had a big meeting with the members of PNL Republic of Moldova and we have regular office meetings. We have an active organization, people come and join the party”, the leader of PNL Moldova said.

USR crosses the Prut River and strikes and alliance with PAS

The National Liberal Party (PNL) did not succeed in forging a partnership with the Action and Solidarity Party (PAS), led by Maia Sandu until she took over the presidential mandate. PAS has always seen a model closer to USR in Romania, especially in the area of ​​justice reform and the fight against corruption, and USR has flirted, at leadership level, with the ruling party in Chisinau, which has a majority in Parliament of 63 out of 101 seats.

Thus, on November 18, in a conference in Bucharest, the president of the Defense, Security and Public Order Commission in the Chisinau Parliament, PAS deputy Lilian Carp, announced that he would also be active in USR. “The law does not prohibit this. I am a PAS member on the territory of the Republic of Moldova. On the territory of the Greater Romania border, I am a member of USR”, Lilian Carp said.

He stated that the goal of the new political movement is to better represent USR in the Republic of Moldova. Lilian Carp is known as a good organizer, one of the best in this segment of PAS, with extensive organizational experience gained at Chisinau City Hall. In fact, Carp's name appears on a PAS shortlist of potential opponents of the pro-Russian mayor, Ion Ceban, in the elections for Chisinau City Hall next year.

“We want to have a presence by means of which we can demonstrate that more polling stations must be opened in the Republic of Moldova, because the turnout to vote was 60,000 Romanians from the Republic of Moldova. (...) There are over a million citizens who have dual citizenship and this is the aim, to involve them as much as possible in the political life in Romania and through their vote they can have a voice about the problems they face”, Lilian Carp said.

He also spoke about the reforms in the field of Justice and the commercial relations between the Republic of Moldova and Romania, and also about the fact that politics on both banks of the Prut influence each other.

“The Republic of Moldova replaces those relations or energy supply chains from the Russian Federation with what comes from Romania, and in order to have that energy security [we must in the near future build the] high voltage lines that must connect Romania to the Republic Moldova”, Carp explained.

For USR, this has been the first year when it has had a presence in Chisinau at party leadership level. In September 2022, the president of USR, Cătălin Drula, came to Chisinau for the first time, but he was quickly received by President Maia Sandu. Only two months have passed since the sealing of a party-line relationship.

Currently, the USR branch in Chisinau has around 20 members, but Drula promised that it will grow organically over time.

“This autumn I followed the topic of Romanian assistance to the Republic of Moldova. I think that the Romanian state reacted late, despite the numerous promises made by President Iohannis and Prime Minister Ciucă over time and, when it moved, it only did so under public and political pressure”, said Drula, who is campaigning for a rapid energy interconnection between Romania and the Republic of Moldova.

AUR, more European over the Prut than in Bucharest

 The fourth party in Romania that wants to be an actor on the political stage in the Republic of Moldova is the Alliance for the Union of Romanians (AUR), where the leaders in Bucharest integrated politicians from Chisinau.

“We already have a network here in the Republic of Moldova. The party was not established from scratch. A party was taken over, after which it merged with the former party led by me, so there is a footprint and a network of people. In this sense, we have no problems whatsoever. But related to the Romanian parties in the Republic of Moldova, we are different, there is no party that could be compared to AUR, because the founding members and the management of AUR in  Chisinau are also in the board of AUR Romania”, the vice-president of AUR, Valeriu Munteanu, told Veridica.

Valeriu Munteanu was one of the leaders of the Liberal Party, led by Mihai Ghimpu, who campaigned for unification, but also the entry of the Republic of Moldova into the EU and NATO.

He also said that what is different about AUR Moldova is the nature of the party, namely that it has a program and an agenda that are always coordinated with Bucharest.

“The great writer Nicolae Dabija said that the tail does not wag the dog, but the dog wags the tail. We have tried in the last 30 years to come up with solutions for the union of Bessarabia with Romania from Chisinau to Bucharest and we have seen that it was a difficult process, which actually failed. Now we are trying to synchronize these processes and we are trying to ensure that all AUR initiatives at the level of Romania reach the other side of the Prut”, he added.

Munteanu rejected the idea that AUR would promote Moscow’s agenda, instead of a pro-European one.

“Without any arguments, we are accused of being pro-Russian, anti-NATO and EU, anti-Semitic. All four of these ‘deadly sins’ that we are accused of are mere inventions. We are vehemently anti-Russian, we are not anti-Semitic, and we demonstrated this when representatives of the Likud Party, with whom we have a collaboration, also participated in a large international conference. Regarding the EU and NATO, we have declared and stated in our program documents that we are pro-NATO and pro-EU. But within these structures, we must redefine our place and role, at least as Poland is doing today”, the AUR vice-president concluded.

However, AUR Romania has often expressed anti-European, sovereignist, anti-NATO positions, which has raised many question marks on the synchronization of its political themes with the agenda of Russian propaganda.

The need for a ‘Snagov Pact’ in the Republic of Moldova

The variety of strategies applied in the Republic of Moldova by the Romanian parties does not agree with the more or less similar attitude of those in Bucharest. Between the parties in Bucharest there is no ‘Snagov Pact’ and no coordinated strategy for activities carried out in the Republic of Moldova, so each party acts more or less on its own, depending on circumstances.

The expert Costin Ciobanu is of the opinion that a more concrete agenda is needed, and the war in Ukraine somehow brings to the fore the theme of the security of the Republic of Moldova and how Romania is positioned in this regard, especially if the current situation were to escalate.

“And here we didn't get many details from the party leaders. I think the war brings to the fore the talk about how we can increase energy security, how the pro-European direction can be strengthened especially seeing the protests, and how it is fed from Chisinau by forces that are clearly not aligned with the foreign policy interests in the Republic of Moldova”, he said.

The analyst also believes that there are politicians in Romania who are trying, without success, to copy the behavior of Maia Sandu, who is much more trusted by Romanians than many politicians in Bucharest.

What is important, however, for the parties in Romania is not to interfere in the internal games of the parties in the Republic of Moldova, so that the internal animosities in Chisinau do not spill over against Bucharest.

PSD has already taken a wrong step by associating itself with Ceban. Even this strategy of half-open doors with Moscow's political exponents in Chisinau has always proved a losing one for the West in corpore and for Romania in particular. Without coordination, the Romanian parties could confuse the internal political life in the Republic of Moldova more than they could each benefit from some votes following electoral calculations.

If the Romanian parties only choose to do conjunctural politics in the Republic of Moldova, especially around the elections, as most of them are doing now, then such policies will not bring any added value. The chances will remain just as small to mobilize more than a few percent of the one million registered Romanian citizens across the Prut.

Tags: Republica Moldova , Romania
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