This is a translated and slightly adapted version of an article originally published in Romanian on October 19.

Moldovans prepare to hit the polls in the general local elections this Sunday following a somewhat relaxed race, at least in Chisinau. This is partly due to the elimination of the oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc as the main antagonist for every contender pivoting on an anti-graft message, and partly to the fact that the coalition components ACUM and PSRM need to find ways to get along if they want to keep governing together. Let’s look at this and other differences between last year’s snap mayoral election and Sunday’s regular elections.

1. Favorites doing each other a favor

As allies in the ruling coalition, the bloc ACUM and the Socialist Party have made some sort of a non-aggression pact. In Chisinau, the bloc’s common candidate Andrei Năstase and the Socialist Ion Ceban, who are once more the leaders in the mayoral race, have had only soft punches for each other in the media, if any (they have been a little less restrained during ground campaigning, though). Also, knowing that they are the favorites to make the runoff, Ceban and Năstase didn’t participate in electoral debates with other competitors and only delegated surrogates. Ceban and Năstase don’t want to share their popularity and public attention with their less well placed contestants. This way, they avoided the risk of alienating voters who intend to support a different candidate in the first round or the risk of being roasted on concrete issues by more knowledgeable rivals (this is especially true for Năstase, who lacks experience in city management). The deal made by Ceban and Năstase boils down to this: let’s leave those no-chance minnows have their fight, and we’ll see each other in the second round.

2. The missing villain

The ousting of the PDM government and Plahotniuc’s disappearance left the Moldovan political landscape without an arch-antagonist. The current government promises freer and fairer elections, and without Plahotniuc’s tight grip on every institution, they have the potential to be so, all in all. However, the latest report from the reputed domestic observation mission Promo-LEX shows that many of the old problems persist: both PSRM and ACUM are accused of misusing administrative resources for campaign purposes and of failing to report their campaign expenses in a transparent manner. But perhaps the worst incident to date has been the refusal to formally register Ruslan Codreanu as a candidate. Codreanu, a former acting mayor of Chisinau who planned to run as an independent, accused the coalition partners of putting pressure on electoral authorities and the courts to get him eliminated.

In Chisinau, a weakened PDM couldn’t field a candidate to break the Năstase-Ceban duopoly, like the oligarch’s party tried to do with Silvia Radu during last year’s election. Andrei Năstase is no longer able to rely so heavily on his “down with Plahotniuc!” mantra. Now a member of the government, the old clothes of the anti-system candidate don’t fit him anymore. Of the goals to fight for freedom and against corruption, Năstase can now profess only the latter.

3. Politics aside

Without Plahotniuc, and with the geopolitical rhetoric put away for now, candidates in the Chisinau mayoral and city council race suddenly found more time to discuss issues like the overcrowded public transport, bad roads, chaotic parking, the foul-smelling wastewater treatment situation and so on. Admittedly, ACUM still insists on the general political context, while pro-unification advocates like Valeriu Munteanu argue that it’s impossible to be a good mayor or city councilor unless you pick a side (Romania and the West in his particular case). Overall, however, actual municipal issues have gained importance and increased attention compared to previous elections.

A trend of this race has been for many candidates to ride non-political/non-partisan platforms. Despite being a leading member of his party, Ion Ceban chose not to display the Socialist ruby star on his campaign visuals, promising to act as a manager rather as a politician if he wins. The activist Victor Chironda and his team – while formally running with a political party, so as to circumvent the high registration requirements imposed for independents – outright demonized politics, identifying “political interests” as the root cause of all the problems in the city. The media manager Dumitru Țîra or the ex-Chisinau chief prosecutor Ivan Diacov ran without holding the membership of the parties that fielded them. Ironically, Ruslan Codreanu, the race’s only hopeful who tried to register as an independent, was disqualified.

4. The unionist lot

Having nothing to do with labor unions, unionists are a variety of Moldovan politicians advocating Moldova’s reunification with Romania. Ironically enough, the unionists are quite a fragmented lot. Last year most candidates belonging to the unionist movement could be separated into two camps – the ones on board with Plahotniuc, and the ones against him. This year, every unionist party is on its own. The candidates Valeriu Munteanu and Vlad Țurcanu are the leaders of two newly founded parties. Octavian Țîcu is running on behalf of PUN. Even Dorin Chirtoacă and his Liberal Party are back in the game. PNL fielded Lilia Ranogaeț. Whatever is left of PLDM has rebranded itself as a unionist party and fielded Alexandru Fetescu.

None of them will make the runoff, so their realistic goal is to win one or two seats in the Chisinau Council for their parties.

5. The City Council election

Last June, Chisinau held a snap mayoral election after the premature departure of Dorin Chirtoacă. This Sunday, however, there will be a City Council election as well. The Council is notorious for being over-generous in dealing out municipal property to the right people. It’s also the body that killed a great deal of good initiatives like e-ticketing. The next mayor will not be able to do his job, unless he has the support of a Council that is more or less decent.

Sadly, the mayoral race traditionally overshadows the competition for the City Council. Mayoral candidates are usually the top of the party ticket for the Council, while voters seldom look beyond that line. Don’t be surprised if you find there people who’d seem more interested in the municipal property split-fest than in the good administration of the city.

Go out and vote

And do so consciously. Take some time to study the City Council lists. There will be no second round for the City Council, so it’s important that you choose well now, and remember that you are not obliged to vote for the councilor list of your favorite mayoral candidate if you don’t like someone on that list. In the first round of the mayoral election, you can choose whoever you think is best, regardless of his or her chances according to the polls. In the runoff, your choice will be narrowed down to two options. Whoever you choose, our most important piece of advice is that you go out and vote. The bigger our number and the more conscious our vote, the bigger the chance we get a good mayor and City Council.

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