Reading List – 15th February 2021

Election officials held in Myanmar ‘in bid to prove fraud’

The army in Myanmar is seeking to justify its takeover of the government by suggesting that elections held at the end of last year were fraudulent. In those elections, the National League for Democracy, the party of Aung San Suu Kyi, won an easy victory. According to the Guardian, election officials are being arrested in an attempt to prove fraud.

Moldova’s Parliament Rejects Government Lineup Put Forward By President

Newly elected President Maia Sandu has failed to see her nominee for prime minister of Moldova approved by the parliament. This was an expected move as it is the first of two such rejections necessary to allow for the dissolution of parliament and fresh elections. President Sandu hopes that new elections will allow her to cement a governing majority in the country.

EU support for Russian democracy is inadequate

In an article first appearing in the FT, Constanze Stelzenmüller argues that the EU has failed to develop a united approach to Russia following the arrest of Alexey Navalny.

Kazakh elections in social media

The Memo 98 organisation has crunched the numbers from last month’s elections in Kazakhstan.

Reading List – 8th December 2020

Moldova has a new president – What next?

A run down of why Maia Sandu won the Moldovan presidential election – and by a huge margin – and what comes next for the country. Early parliamentary elections seem a foregone conclusion.

Russia loses patience with Belarus dictator Lukashanka

The Kremlin is seeking ways to secure an orderly transition in its closest ally, but nobody should be under any illusion that Lukashenka would be happy to go.

Facebook splits up unit at center of contested election decisions

Facebook has disbanded its elections team which was at the centre of efforts to try to rein in the wildest political posts. The platform claims that the work will continue but observers are concerned that this is another example of the inability of the social media giant to understand the importance it plays in elections around the world.

How Biden will impact Russian domestic policy

President-Elect Biden won’t just be causing Russia to reassess its foreign policy. There will be repurcussions on domestic matters too.

Biden’s Democracy Summit

A plug for my essay on what could make the President-Elect’s major initiative stand or fall.

What does the election of Maia Sandu as President of Moldova mean

Moldova in the last decade or so has been split between three political forces, the pro-Russians led by out-going President Igor Dodon, the pro-Westerners led by new President Maia Sandu and the oligarchs such as Vlad Plahotniuc who have taken so much out of the country. Typically two of these forces will band together to try to see off the third. Sandu became PM when she allied with Dodon to get rid of the oligarchs. But she was outmanoeuvred by the other two less than a year later and before any of her anti-corruption measures could have significant effect. Now Sandu has defeated Dodon (and credit should be given to him for conceding so quickly), apparently with the support of the oligarchs.

Much of the victory is apparently down to the votes of Moldovans living abroad and there are reports of long queues to vote in both Birmingham and London in the UK – and no doubt many other diaspora voting stations as well.

So what does this mean for Moldova and its relationships with the rest of the world:

1. Russia

There have been reports that President Dodon and others in his party used to run their speeches and major policies past the Molodova desk at the Russian MFA. And whilst there has not been much outward sign of Kremlin concern about Moldova, the country is still part of their ‘near abroad’ and a domino which Russia will be concerned does not fall irrevocably to the West. There are many tools in the Russian armory, including formenting civil unrest or undermining the incoming administration. Which, if any, will Russian employ?

2. The West

One outcome of the Nagorno-Karabakh peace deal has been to highlight just how disengaged the countries of the west had become from the conflict and the belligerents. Despite the USA and France supposedly being co-chairs of the Minsk Group, their one attempt at mediation failed and it was Russia which has emerged as the key player. Much the same is the case with Moldova. It is considered a small and insignificant country by much of Europe. Maia Sandu is not just pro-western but has been laying out her requests for co-operation with the EU and other bodies for a number of years. The people of Moldova have put their trust in her and if she cannot deliver then she is unlikely even to make it to the full term of her office. The Moldovan economy is small, so effective levels of support will not cost very much and can focus on key changes which help to stamp out corruption. Sandu and many Moldovans might ultimately want their country to join the EU but that need not be immediately on the table. Some have argued that the new President must make the first move and it is clear that the EU and others cannot give away the farm. But without some early wins in terms of either aid or policy changes, it is unlikely that Sandu will be able to be effective at all. Getting ahead of the oligarchs has to be the key to her presidency.

3. The oligarchs

Vlad Plahotniuc and others may no longer be in day to day control of Moldova but their writ still runs large across the country. They have proved in the last 12 months or so that they can buy up MPs to create a new bloc and it is clear that without their support Sandu would probably not have won the Presidency. What their price will be is going to be key. Plahotniuc is facing legal challenges in the USA and elsewhere which he would no doubt like lifted. He might also believe that he should be free to keep wetting his beak in the country’s meagre economy and will be eying increased western support keenly. The defining moment of Sandu’s presidency is therefore likely to come early. She will either be in hock to the oligarchs or make a decisive break from them.

4. Transnistria

The Trasnistria conflict is very different from Nagorno-Karabakh. If nothing else, there is regular trade across the unofficial border. But it is still a conflict in which the Minsk Group and others have proved powerless to effect a solution. Russia has a major interest in keeping hold of its major arms dump so close to NATO and on Ukraine’s western border and so will be unlikely to sponsor any significant peace deal. Indeed, the last proposal was transliterated into the Ukrainian context as a possible solution in Donbas. There is no silver bullet of a solution, but increased engagement from different players will both persuade the people of the region that they are understood and ensure that further changes to their detriment are less likely to take hold.

The OSCE/ODIHR preliminary statement on the second round of the Presidential election can be found here.