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Presidential election in Transnistria: chances of candidates

On December 6, the unrecognized Transnistrian Moldovan Republic will be holding snap presidential election. The main voting day is December 11. Favorites of the presidential race are incumbent president Yevgeny Shevchuk and Chair of the Supreme Council Vadim Krasnoselski.

The latter appears to have more chances to win, as public opinion polls revealed the two favorites’ rating: Krasnoselski 44% and Shevchuk 25%. Krasnoselski enjoys support of the Renovation Party (at last year’s parliamentary elections, the party took 75% of seats) and Sheriff Holding, the second largest company that has almost become part of the state machine within years of its existence.

It is noteworthy that in 2006-2010, Shevchuk headed the Renovation Party, and he once was a part of Sheriff too, but later during his presidency, he spoiled his relationships with the powerful business group and started building his own business empire. Moldova’s Metallurgical Plant (MMZ) and Moldovan state district power grid are within Shevchuk’s area of interests.

The economic situation in the country is unfavorable for Shevchuk. Confrontation with the Sheriff Holding, sliding export prices, blockade by Ukraine and Moldova, shrinkage of the neighbor-countries’ economies have resulted in a situation when Yevgeny Shevchuk fails to present any positive social and economic results for the last five years. Last year, the government had to cut pensions and salaries of the government-run enterprises by 30% on a temporary basis. Shevchuk’s only relative success is that the Transnistrian ruble has remained at the level of 10.5-11.3 per US dollar in the period from 2012 to 2016.

The foreign policy discourse of the upcoming elections is focused on the relations with Russia. During the presidential campaign, Shevchuk issued a decree “On the implementation of the results of the nation-wide referendum of September 17 2016” (then 97% of the TMR citizens voted for unification with Russia) noting the need for bringing Transnistria’s legal system in line with the federal legislation of Russia.

However, the presidential contender Krasnoselski, who was born in the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, openly comes out as a pro-Russian candidate, supports Vladimir Putin and attends the sessions of the United Russia Party. “Krasnoselski’s program is United Russia’s program” - billboards with such content can be found today on the left bank of Dniester. Judging from the way Krasnoselski is mentioned in Russian mainstream media, Moscow pins hope with him.

Probability of Transnistria’s reintegration

With Krasnoselski’s possible victory in Transnistria and Igor Dodon’s coming to power in Moldova, the chances for Transnistria’s reintegration will grow significantly. Federalization of Moldova and provision of a special status for Transnistria was one of the key pre-election promises of the newly elected Moldovan president. Something of the kind could happen yet in 2003 when under “Kozak’s plan” Moldova was to restore control over the left bank of Dniester transforming into an asymmetric federation (the powers of the Gagauzian autonomy would be increased and the Russian military presence in Transnistria would be extended for 20 years). At the last moment, under pressure of the West, the “pro-Russian” president of Moldova Vladmir Voronin (who promised giving the state-language status to the Russian language and joining the Union State Russia and Belarus) refused to sign the respective memorandum.

One should understood that even if there are pro-Russian presidents on both the banks of Dniester, it will not ensure Tiraspol’s return under jurisdiction of Chisinau. First, Dodon, who is objectively interested in Transnistria’s reintegration to expand his own electorate, is yet to gain control over the parliament. Will he manage to do it is highly questionable even considering the anticipated economic growth in view of the arrangements to resume supply of the Moldovan fruits, vegetables and wines to the Russian market (combination of the EU and CIS free trade zones).

Second, a significant part of the Transnistrian elite opposes the country’s return under jurisdiction of Chisinau, because, first, the Moldovan-Transnistrian border will be removed spoiling business plans of the elites in Tiraspol – they will turn into junior partners of the Chisinau oligarchs.

Ukraine’s influence

It should not go unspoken that Ukraine has tried to influence the election campaign in Transnistria. The post-Maidan authorities in Kiev interfered with the elections in Moldova too. Then Ukraine extradited to Moldova Vyacheslav Platon (Ukrainian citizen, one of the top ten oligarchs of Moldova). During the elections in U.S., the Kiev leadership wiped up the scandal around political strategist Paul Manafort (ex-head of Donald Trump’s election headquarters) slamming him for taking money from Viktor Yanukovych’s team.

This time, the Kiev regime plays into the hand of Shevchuk’s financial and political group. In mid-November in Odessa, Ukraine’s Security Service searched the offices of Intertelecom mobile operator belonging to Victor Gusan and Ilya Kazmali, the beneficiaries of the Transnistrian Sheriff Holding, started criminal proceedings based on article “high treason,” and declared that “they have blocked an illegal communication channel with Crimea that might be controlled by Russian security services.”

Petro Poroshenko’s interests are evident i.e. the public trough inside Ukraine has been affected after pro-European forces in Moldova failed. Now, Ukraine’s president seeks to help his business-partners represented by Shevchuk & Co. retain power in Transnistria. It is no secret that Poroshenko has assets on both banks of Dniester. It was from this region that Poroshenko’s father launched Roshen business empire.

Practice shows that everyone Kiev staked on have failed during referendums and elections. It appears that this tendency will continue during the elections in Transnistria too.

Denis Gayevsky, Kiev

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