Presidential Elections

November 1, 2020


In the first round, Maia Sandu garnered 36.2% of the vote while Igor Dodon received 32.6%, the two advancing to the second round (Usatii received 16.9%, Nastase 3.3%). Maia Sandu won the second round, and thus the presidency, with 57.7% of the vote compared to 42.3% for Dodon. Turnout was positively high, reaching 58.2% in the second round, and the diaspora votes accounted for 15% of the ballots, likely tipping the results in favor of Sandu.

However, the Socialist party (associated with Dodon) legislated to strip her of the presidency’s control over the Information and Security Service after her victory, prompting thousands of protesters to rally in the streets and call for the resignation of the government, in support of Sandu.


  • Presidential election in a parliamentary constitutional republic; president elected to a 4-year term, renewable once (consecutively).
  • Two-round voting system for individual candidates; 2nd round if no absolute majority is reached in the 1st round; turnout must reach 33% in 1st round for election to be valid.
  • The president is the head of state; they appoint the prime minister following parliamentary elections, can dissolve parliament, call a referendum, and grant pardons.
  • Incumbent: Igor Dodon, backed by the Party of Socialists (PSRM), since 2016.



Top candidates:

  • Igor Dodon: backed by PSRM, left-wing, populist; socially conservative; controversial nationalistic figure, was suspended by a court in 2019 after refusing to dissolve parliament (as dictated by the Constitutional Court); Euroskeptic, anti-NATO; pro-Russian.
  • Maia Sandu: backed by the Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS), center-right, liberal; runner-up in the 2016 presidential election against Dodon; briefly prime minister in 2019; pro-European; seeks more distance with Russia.
  • Renato Usatii: Our Party, left-wing, populist; currently mayor of Balti, 2nd-largest city in Moldova, and businessman; pro-Russian, though Russian authorities have accused him of financial crimes in Russia; Moldovan courts charged him with attempted murder in 2016.
  • Andrei Nastase: Dignity and Truth Platform Party (Platforma DA), center-right, liberal; populist; former prosecutor and ally of Maia Sandu; led 2015 protests against corruption; pro-European.


Impact on U.S. Interests

  • Since 1992, the United States has provided over $1.5 billion in assistance to Moldova; it currently provides around $25 million/year (strengthening economic growth and competitiveness, reforms to improve the business climate, developing democratic governance).
  • Moldova signed an Association Agreement with the EU in 2014, but in 2018 the European Union passed a resolution recognizing Moldova as a “state captured by oligarchic interests” and suspended macro-financial assistance to the Moldovan government.
  • Moldova is unfortunately known for one of the most significant cases of money laundering and illicit financing: the “Russian Laundromat,” whereby Moldovan courts certified fictitious debt between companies, allowing illicit funds to be transferred from Russia to European bank accounts—thereby laundering over $20 billion.
  • Russia has de-facto occupied Transnistria where 1,400 Russian “peacekeepers” have remained since 1993. In 2019, the “Official Representation of the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic in the Russian Federation” (Transnistria) opened in Moscow—another sign of Russia’s desire to keep Transnistria close to its orbit and retain influence in Moldova.
  • In 2016, Igor Dodon stated that Crimea was a part of the Russian Federation, although he announced in 2017 that Moldova would not officially recognize the annexation.
  • Vlad Plahotniuc, a Moldovan oligarch and former politician who is alleged to have participated in a massive bank theft of $1 billion (the “Missing Billion”), fled Moldova in 2019 and was found in the United States despite a visa ban. He requested asylum but was denied and Moldova asked for his extradition; however, in September 2020 he was reportedly in Turkey and still has not been extradited to Moldova.


Key Issues to Watch

  • The aftermath of the 2019 parliament elections and a subsequent constitutional crisis brought together pro-European forces (led by Maia Sandu as prime minister) and pro-Russian forces led by Dodon’s PSRM in an unstable coalition government. A vote of no-confidence ousted Prime Minister Sandu after the government attempted to reform the judicial system. The current government is a minority government headed by a member of Dodon’s PSRM.
  • Moldovans remain concerned about the economy and unemployment (6% of the population, but 28% of 15 to 24 year-olds are neither employed nor in education or training), healthcare, corruption, and emigration; in a recent IRI poll, 72% said the country was headed in the wrong direction (only 15% said it was going in the right direction).
  • The government’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis has made it unpopular; Moldova has had more than 55,000 cases in a country of 3.5 million people.
  • Although Dodon and Sandu will lose some votes to Usatii and Nastase respectively, they are still favored to make it to the second round, where they will face a very close race. Sandu’s anti-corruption, pro-European argument must compete with Dodon’s control over government resources and the media, with support from Russia.
  • Recent investigative reporting alleged that some of Igor Dodon’s political advisers for his re-election campaign are close to the Kremlin, and that he has ties to Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). These reports contradict Dodon’s statements that he will pursue a ‘neutral’ or ‘balanced’ foreign policy.



A recent International Republic Institute poll places Maia Sandu in the lead position in the first round (20%) followed closely by Dodon (18%), with Usatii at 7% and Nastase at 3% (other candidates are between 1 and 4%). Party support closely matches these numbers: 17% of people polled prefer PSRM while 16% support PAS. A second-round match-up between Sandu and Dodon suggests a tie in the polls. The election results will either bring Moldova closer to Moscow or help loosen Dodon and Russia’s grasp on the country’s politics, media, and economy.