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Moldova Readies for Local Elections Seen as Test of Moscow’s Influence

Sunday’s local elections in Moldova are seen as a major test of the ability of the country’s pro-Western authorities to maintain their course – and resist the power of well-financed pro-Russian parties.

Moldova holds local elections on Sunday in which around 3,900 candidates for mayors and councils from 898 localities will participate. The stakes are seen as huge, as they will test the ability of pro-European forces to maintain a stable course under the pressure of pro-Kremlin forces and the “hybrid” war that experts say Moscow is waging to destabilize the country’s pro-Western government.

Moldova will stage three types of elections in less than two years – local elections this November, presidential elections in November 2024 and parliamentary elections in July 2025.

The most significant race on Sunday is for the capital, Chisinau. A record 27 candidates will run for the post of mayor. The current incumbent, Ion Ceban, a former pro-Russian Socialist who currently declares himself pro-European, is rated as having the best chance. His strongest opponent is the candidate of the governing Action and Solidarity party, PAS, Lilian Carp.

Ceban can win the election in the first round if he receives more than 50 per cent of the votes. However, if Carp makes it to the second round, analysts predict a tight race, as all Ceban’s competitors might urge their voters to vote for Carp.

Chisinau is seen as the bastion of pro-European political forces in Moldova. However, Ceban won the city in 2019 with the support of the Socialist Party and a team of specialists from Russia who the US authorities say were close to the Russian intelligence service, the FSB.

Until last year, Ceban maintained active ties with Russian politicians and the local administration in Moscow. But since then he has left the pro-Russian Socialist Party and created his own party – the National Alternative Movement – which espouses a more pro-European discourse.

Carp is a history teacher who previously worked in Chisinau City Hall, also holds Romanian citizenship and is a member of the Romanian parliamentary opposition, the Save Romania Union.

The local election race has been dominated by Russian interference through parties funded by the exiled oligarchs Ilan Shor and Vladimir Plahotniuc – both currently on the run and on US and UE sanctions lists.

The director of Moldova’s Intelligence and Security Service, Alexandru Musteata, on Friday revealed evidence of millions of euros spent by Russian special services on shaping the elections.

“In the last few months alone, more than 90 million lei [4.5 million euros] have been identified and documented for the corruption of voters, electoral competitors and the illegal financing of the electoral campaign,” he said.

“Estimates according to data from partners show that the amounts allocated by Russia for the destabilization of Moldova amount to about 1 billion lei [50 million euros],” Musteata added.

He said exponents of Shor’s group, having failed to overthrow the government, were now focusing on these local elections. “Considering that their actions to change the government could not be carried out successfully, we observe a massive concentration on compromising the elections,” he said.

On October 30, Moldova’s Audiovisual Council suspended the licenses of six TV stations owned by Shor and Plahotniuc. It also closed 31 news portals in Moldova of prominent Russian-language publications accused of waging propaganda and influencing Sunday’s local elections.

Source : Balkan Insight