The victory by Andrei Nastase, the centre-right opposition candidate, in the recent elections for Mayor of Chisinau was invalidated by a court decision on 19 June. His appeal against this ruling was rejected two days later. The opposition parties, who supported Nastase’s candidacy, have announced that they will hold daily rallies to protest against this decision. The stage is now set for a major trial of strength between the government, which controls the state institutions, and the opposition who are determined to defend their election victory.
On the evening of 19 June the Court of Appeal in Chisinau invalidated the results of the second run-off of the election for Mayor of Chisinau. This election on 3 June had seen Andrei Nastase, leader of the centre-right Dignity and Truth movement, with 52.57% of the vote defeat Ion Ceban from the pro-Russian Socialist Party who gained 47.43% of the vote. Following the election result Ion Ceban, the losing Socialist candidate, had filed a complaint against Andrei Nastase accusing him of ‘campaigning on election day’ and receiving support from ‘foreign sources.’ The justification issued by the court, a day after the decision, stated that while there was no evidence that Nastase was the recipient of foreign support he had used social media on polling day to call on voters to take part in the election. They stated that although Nastase had not said who the electors should vote for this still amounted to ‘agitation’ on polling day. The judged, however, ruled that Ion Ceban had also engaged in polling day campaigning and on that basis the decision was taken to invalidate the entire election.
The decision and the reasons subsequently given to justify it were strongly condemned by Andrei Nastase and representatives of the other political parties who had supported his candidacy. Andrei Nastase said that it was an ‘arbitrary decision’ which had been taken as part of a ‘perfidious game.’ Vadim Pistrinciuc, an MP and vice-president of the Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova, stated that the move to cancel Nastase’s election victory represented ‘the destruction of the social contract between the citizen and power and the dissolution of the covenant between the individual and the state.’ Nastase immediately lodged an appeal against the decision and called his supporters out to demonstrate.
The Socialists also, in spite of the fact that their complaint had initiated the process, professed themselves to be angry at the annulment of the election results. They had apparently believed that if their complaint was successful this would lead to Andrei Nastase being disqualified. This would then allow Ion Ceban, the second placed candidate, to become Mayor of Chisinau. The court decision instead meant that no new elections would be held until 2019 when local elections are set to take place across Moldova. The Socialists expressed further dissatisfaction over the fact, as they saw it, that the court decision would make a ‘victim’ of Nastase and further strengthen his position in the run-up to the autumn 2018 parliamentary elections.
The main beneficiaries of the court decision, and those who are held responsible by Nastase and the opposition, would appear at least in the short term, to be the governing Democratic Party led by the oligarch Vlad Plahotniouc. Pavel Filip, the Democratic Party Prime Minister, stated after the court decision that his party had no interest in seeing the elections annulled. Silvia Radu, the third placed candidate who was known to be backed by Vlad Plahotniouc, also said that the court decision had left her ‘confused.’ She was not, she said, aware of any violations of election regulations which would have warranted such a response. The invalidation of the results will, however, allow Plahotniouc’s Democratic Party led government to install an interim administration. This will mean that the opposition will be denied control of Chisinau in the run up to the autumn 2018 parliamentary elections. It will also mean that the Democratic Party will have a year to consolidate their position in Chisinau in preparation for the next election contest in the capital city. Plahotniouc’s Democrats may be calculating that any demonstrations organised by Andrei Nastase will be hard to sustain over the summer months.
The court’s decision to invalidate the elections also prompted an international response. The European Union delegation in Moldova issued a statement saying that Andrei Nastase had been elected with popular support, a fact which had been recognised by observers, and it was of ‘the utmost importance that the will of the people was recognised.’ It called for the appeal procedures to be conducted in a way which was ‘fair and fully transparent.’ The United States embassy stated that the ‘unexpected and non-transparent invalidation’ of the election was ‘extremely troubling’ and the United States would continue to examine the developing situation carefully.
The opposition rallied against the decision of the evening on 20 June. Andrei Nastase told his supporters that the invalidation of the election was the act of ‘an oligarch government that feels its time is coming to an end.’ Maia Sandu, the leader of the Solidarity and Action party and opposition presidential candidate in the 2016 elections, told the demonstrators that if they did not take a stand to defend the mayoral election result then the government would be able to similarly thwart the will of the people in the upcoming parliamentary elections. She said that ‘there is dictatorship beyond this red line.’ Alexandru Bujorean, the vice-president of the Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova, said that the people had been ‘robbed in a cynical way with an embarrassing justification.’
Andrei Nastase’s appeal against the decision was heard on the afternoon of 21 June. Nastase’s supporters gathered outside the court to await the decision. They were dismayed when early in the evening it was announced that the court had decided to uphold the previous judgement on the invalidation of the election. Andrei Nastase responded by saying that ‘We are witnessing an absurd process.’ The government is now expected to install its own appointee to run the city. The opposition have stated that they will now appeal to the Supreme Court. Alongside this they will also be organising daily protest rallies to put pressure on the government. A crucial contest is now set to unfold between the ruling party with their grip on the state structures and the opposition whose recent election victory has given them a mandate to govern.