As featured in Edition 41, available here.
By WILL KINGSTON-COX (3rd year - History and Politics - Birmingham, United Kingdom)
Who is she?
As the first female president of Moldova, and both the founder and former leader of the Party of Action and Solidarity, Maia Sandu seeks a more liberal, equitable, and Western-centric Moldovan polity. A staunch Europhile, she defeated her pro-Kremlin rival, Igor Dodon, in the previous election, on a pledge to pursue meaningful cooperation with the European Union. This aims to address the systemic malfeasance in public office, and reverse years of societal poverty. Sandu, a Harvard-educated economist, broke social barriers in the post-Soviet state to become president, fighting off misogynistic attacks from her opponents, and the perceived stigma of being an unmarried woman in office. Her rise to power serves as inspiration to young women across Eastern Europe.
Rise to power
Sandu’s political success is attributable to her steely determination to restore trust in the relationship between Moldovans and its politicians. After serving as Education Minister, Sandu launched her political platform in the Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS). Sandu’s party has stood for both economic and social liberalisation, pro-Europeanism, and anti-corruption. These values saw Sandu elected as Prime Minister of Moldova in 2019, as well as being voted Moldova’s most trustworthy politician. Her cabinet made significant progress towards her goals, enabling her landslide presidential victory against Dodon in 2020. Sandu’s power was consolidated in July 2021, when the PAS won a landslide parliamentary majority. Such a hold on the levers of power is a requisite for Sandu to lead Moldova through the very real crises and challenges it faces today.
Crises and challenges
Geopolitically, the war in Ukraine has stoked fears of war in Moldova, drying up economic investment. Transnistria – the pro-Kremlin separatist state in Moldova’s easternmost region – could be utilised by Putin as a base for an attack on Odessa. Worse still, it could be eyed up for violent annexation by irredentists in Moscow. Socioeconomically, most Moldovans have been plunged into energy poverty with Russian gas exports becoming nonexistent. Inflationary and recessionary forces threaten to further weaken Moldova’s ailing economy. Domestically, the focus on anti-corruption and overturning economic inequalities requires top priority. Yet conflict spreading into Moldova proper would place these reforms on hold indefinitely. How can these crises and challenges be navigated? For Sandu, the answer lies in European integration and a transparent liberal economy.
Moving closer to Europe
Sandu addressed the European Parliament, declaring that “[Moldova] belongs in the EU.” She outlined how the war in Ukraine threatened the political and socioeconomic security of Moldova, and that integration with the EU would provide Chisinau with some much-needed military, political, and economic support. Sandu’s government then formally applied for EU membership, with the political bloc unanimously accepting Moldova’s candidacy. Accession to the EU would provide Moldova with considerable financial assistance and investment. To secure political stability in Moldova, Sandu must strive to overturn the decades of economic inequality and impoverishment. This is best achieved with european integration.
The ‘war on corruption’
Underlining all of Sandu’s policy positions is her determination to stamp out corruption in Moldovan politics. With trust in Moldovan politics historically tenuous, Sandu’s war on corruption – driven by a desire to end “the rule of thieves” – has provided her with the political capital required to consolidate power and enact change. Last June, Sandu launched a parastatal anti-corruption body to facilitate Moldova’s economic liberalisation and increase transparency. This includes ending the ‘Russian Laundromat’, Moscow’s systematic money laundering scheme in the country. Sandu’s insistence on anti-corruption has not only strengthened her domestic support but aided the facilitation of liberalising Moldova’s economy. Sandu must maintain her resolve through present crises and continue along this promising trajectory for Moldova’s future.
Image: Flickr/ President of Ukraine