MOSCOW – Women leaders often suffer brutal treatment in post-Soviet states. It takes courage to run for president against an autocrat, especially one backed by Vladimir Putin. All of this highlights the success of Maia Sandu, a Harvard graduate and pro-Western Democrat, who beat her competitor, Igor Dodon, the incumbent President of Moldova, in the first round of the country’s presidential election.
Sandu not only won despite Putin’s open support and “good luck” wishes for his opponent. She took a surprise lead over Dodon in the first round and now, according to experts, has a good chance of winning the second round of the presidential election on Sunday.
In an exclusive interview with The Daily Beast, Sandu said that Dodon had launched a dirty disinformation campaign against her with a “constant bombardment of fake news”. She said she was disappointed with her opponent’s leadership and lack of reform and fight against corruption. Dodon “inherited” a corrupt state system from a wealthy man long regarded as the puppeteer of Moldovan politics, Vladimir Plahotniuc, who was forced into exile, she added.
Moldova has condemned Plahotniuc for massive bank fraud and is asking for his extradition from Turkey. Last year, when she was prime minister, Sandu formed a coalition with President Dodon in hopes of reforming the attorney general’s office and the judiciary.
“Dodon made a serious mistake in rejecting our reform government; Dodon knows people are aware of his own corruption, ”she told the Daily Beast.
It was not Sandu’s first victory. The 48-year-old girl has huge ambitions to clean up her county of 3.2 million people. Working first as the country’s education minister and then as prime minister, Sandu lobbied for reforms, which takes courage in Moldova, as in other former Soviet states. An inefficient and corrupt elite is still in power. “It’s time for the right people,” says its slogan.
Every time she fell and had to get up, Sandu looked stronger. “We have come a long way, we got rid of the rogue oligarch Plahotniuc, it was a tough fight, but we succeeded, and now we have to get rid of Dodon, even though some people might feel tired, beat over and over again, ”she told The Daily Beast.
“We have a huge challenge to overcome to create a clean, transparent and honest political class … so that all political parties finance themselves in a transparent and legal way and not with money stolen from the state or taken by force. to businesses. This is the situation now and it is not fair competition. “
In September, Sandu’s opponents began producing dozens of YouTube videos and distributing flyers claiming that she had promised to quit Moldova’s partnership with Russia, shut down Russian-language schools and establish a NATO military base on the territory of Moldova. Her opponents have claimed she will order a full lockdown for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, which would be catastrophic for Moldovan small businesses.
But Sandu said none of those claims was ever addressed in his presidential platform. “Our people hear too many lies from Dodon,” she said. “We plan to improve our partnership with Russia; we never mentioned NATO bases, since only 20% of [the] The Moldovan people are in favor of joining NATO. She never mentioned the end of Moldova’s partnership with Russia.
The old way to keep power is to terrify the population and what could be Moldova’s biggest fear than losing Moscow’s support? This is the logic in which the creators of the disinformation campaign are inspired.
“Igor Dodon has always bragged about his good relations with Moscow, but he failed to meet Moscow’s expectations,” Sandu said. “His promises included renouncing our Association Agreement, as well as the trade deal with the European Union and the closure of the NATO office in Moldova – he created too many expectations, so now even Russia won’t doesn’t seem to believe it. “
Independent experts believe Sandu has a solid chance of winning on Sunday. Vladimir Solovyev, longtime Moldovan observer and founder of independent news outlet NewsMaker.md, said the Kremlin made a mistake in placing all its hopes on a politician, Dodon.
“People could see this for [the] The European Union worked on the real politics in Moldova, Moscow had only one politician, ”Solovyev told the Daily Beast on Saturday. “Dodon’s failure would be directly associated with Putin.”
“Dodon has tried to criticize her for being a single woman with no children for years, it’s nothing new. I expect her to win this election.“
Solovyev added that no one in Moldova is surprised to see fake news about Sandu. “Dodon has been trying to blame her for being a single woman with no children for years, it’s nothing new. I expect her to win this election.
On the eve of election day, a Moldovan court ruled to ban the Dodon flyers because they contained “defamatory information” about Sandu. It was one more small victory for the pro-European candidate.
Sandu is convinced of his chances. And she already has a plan for her first meeting with the Russian leader. “We must guarantee adequate conditions for Moldovans working in Russia, we must discuss export programs, the conflict in Transnistria and the withdrawal of Russian soldiers from the territory of Moldova”, she declared.
Russian schools will not close, she insisted, adding that she was determined to protect them. “We need to stabilize the number of students – a third of the population has left the country in the past four years, including more than 140,000 young people.” She said this drain is “tragic” for a population of 3.2 million.
At least 2,000 people have fallen victim to COVID-19 in this small country, and Sandu has said it is unfair for his opponents to put the blame on his shoulders.
“Dodon was in power during the pandemic. Instead of answering the question, why [they] not been able to fight the pandemic? they blame me, although I had no public position during this period, ”she said. “Fake news scares people, that I would close schools, hospitals and even churches, when Dodo has nothing good to report on his work… He knows people know he is corrupt.
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