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CHISINAU (Moldova), October 28 (SeeNews) - More than 10 candidates vie for the votes of Moldovans favouring closer ties with the EU, while voters supporting the pro-Russian option have a single candidate for president, which makes them stronger, Moldovan political analyst, journalist and writer Petru Bogatu said.
Voters in Moldova are and will remain split along the EU-Russia divide when they go to the polls on Sunday, Bogatu told SeeNews in an emailed interview.
A third of the voters are pro-European, another third are nostalgic of the times of the USSR or are Russia sympathizers, while yet another third are apolitical, marginal and undecided, oscillating left or right, he added.
“As the credibility of the actors who dominated the political scene in recent years has fallen, people want a substantial change. The populist and opportunist elements, which are now in the spotlight, are taking advantage of the situation and are adding to their politic capital,” Bogatu opined.
Moldova will hold its first direct presidential elections in 16 years after the Constitutional Court ruled in March that the head of state will be elected by popular vote. Since 2000, the Moldovan president has been elected for a four-year term by 60% majority in the 101-seat parliament. Incumbent president Nicolae Timofti, a former judge, was elected in 2012 as the first president with no party affiliation, but had the support of the pro-Russian Socialist Party, PSRM, to get into office.
A poll conducted by the Moldovan Institute of Public Policies (IPP) earlier this month showed the opposition Socialist candidate, PSRM leader Igor Dodon, ranking first with 27% support.
Maia Sandu, leader of pro-EU Action and Solidarity Party (PAS) which is not represented in parliament, followed with 9.3% support. Andrei Nastase, leader of another party outside of the current parliament, the center-right Dignity and Truth civic platform (DA), ranked third with 8% support.
Nastase withdrew from the presidential race earlier this month and said he would support Maia Sandu.
Democratic Party (PD) leader Marian Lupu ranked fourth with a 7.5% score but on Wednesday he withdrew his candidacy, too, saying that Maia Sandu stands a bigger chance to defeat Dodon.
The IPP poll, for which 1,109 adults were interviewed, has a margin of error of +/-2.8%.
Bogatu said elections in Moldova over the past decade have been "free and broadly correct" - an estimate also made by international observers.
“I do not see why the situation should escalate in 2016,” he said.
While Dodon counts on the pro-Russian and undecided voters and has no one to compete against for their support at his side of the track, at least 10 candidates vie for the votes of pro-European Moldovans. The most notable candidates are former prime minister and Liberal Democrat Party (PLDM) member Iurie Leanca, former president (August 2009 - December 2010) and Liberal Party (PL) leader Mihai Ghimpu, and Unionist Party candidate Ana Gutu, all credited with scores below 2% in the IPP poll.
“This conglomerate has its forces scattered and that is why there is no absolute favourite of the pro-Western electorate,” Bogatu said.
According to Bogatu, who had contributed analyses for American publisher and global intelligence company Stratfor, Maia Sandu is not the single candidate of right-wing voters, as she is also a representative of Nastase’s DA platform, which is not seen as a centre-right party.
However, Maia Sandu is a new face not involved in shady deals and therefore enjoys a certain degree of confidence among the pro-European electorate.
“For now, she has the biggest chances to qualify for a run-off, if there will be one”, said Bogatu, who is among the authors of a collection of political essays on 2009 anti-Communist protests in Moldova, "Twitter Revolution. Episode One: Moldova".
Another factor, which is discrediting pro-Western forces and giving populists and pro-Russian elements a boost in the race, is the banking fraud that took place during the tenure of a pro-EU government in 2014, Bogatu added.
Moldova has been trying to cope with a major banking crisis since November 2014, when about $1 billion (915 million euro) mysteriously disappeared from three of the country's banks. The sum is equal to about 16% of the impoverished ex-Soviet state's 2015 gross domestic product.
“The $1 billion theft is discrediting politicians who were previously voted massively into office, but it is the economic problems in particular that have caused a great disappointment in society. This negatively influences the election campaign and apparently will determine the outcome of the vote,” the analyst commented.
A pro-Russian president elected two years before parliamentary elections will lead to conflict at the top of the pyramid, creating problems for the future prime minister and for the parliamentary majority, Bogatu said.
However, externally and in terms of real politics, the president's influence will be insignificant, as Moldova is a parliamentary republic, and with the levers of executive power held by the government, the president's powers are limited, he added.
Last but not least, when talking about elections in Moldova, "the Europeanisation of Moldova mostly depends on the EU's readiness to open its doors," Bogatu commented.
"For now, the ambiguous position of Brussels on the issue of enlargement induces much confusion and wandering of minds at Chisinau”, he said.