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What is important to know about Maia Sandu - the first woman President of Moldova

16 November 2020, Monday By Elena Arich

The 48-year-old economist Maia Sandu has been elected the new president of Moldova  - in the second round of elections, she defeated the incumbent head of state, Igor Dodon, who has ruled the country since 2016.

According to the voting results on November 15, Sandu was 15% ahead of Dodon. She was supported by 57.75% of voters, while the incumbent president was supported by 42.25%. 

CheapDeveloper tells about the main facts of the biography of Maia Sandu, who will become the first female President in the history of independent Moldova and intends to bring it closer to the EU.

Maia Sandu

Economist with Harvard Degree

Maia Sandu was born in one of the villages of the Falesti region of Moldova, which is located in the northwestern part of the country and borders Romania. Her mother taught at school, and her father was a veterinarian. Until the age of 17, when she went to study in Chisinau, Sandu lived in her small homeland.

Sandu received an economic education, and defended several diplomas not only in Moldova, but also in the West.

During the collapse of the Soviet Union, she studied at the Academy of Economic Education of Moldova, and later in the second half of the 90s, she studied international relations at the Academy of Public Administration under the President of Moldova. In 2010, Sandu graduated from the School of Management. John F. Kennedy (also known as the Harvard Kennedy school, one of the departments of Harvard University that trains specialists in public administration, economic development, and political science).

Career at the World Bank and the Ministry of Economy of Moldova

Maia Sandu initially focused her career as an economist and then a politician on Moldova's cooperation with European and Western countries. 

In 1994, she was appointed chief specialist in the Department of Foreign Economic Relations of the Ministry of Economy of Moldova. At that time, Sandu was in charge of the department responsible for the country's cooperation with the European Union and the Black Sea basin countries.

Already in 1996, she became a consultant, and soon became the de facto deputy head of the main department of the Ministry of Economy for cooperation with international economic organizations.

Maia Sandu

In the late 90s - early 2000s, she worked at the World Bank office in Moldova as a consultant and then as an economist. After several years of working in Moldovan government agencies, she returned to the World Bank (WB) — now in the Washington office of this organization as an adviser to the Executive Director of the WB (2010-2012).

In the interval before that (2005-2009) Sandu managed to head the department of macroeconomic policy and development programs of the Ministry of Economy of Moldova, then coordinated the UN development programs in Moldova, and then held the position of a consultant on central public administration reform in her country. 

Path in politics: minister-reformer, head of government, presidential candidate

In 2012, Maia Sandu joined the government of Moldova for the first time - for three years she headed the Ministry of Education (Education). During this time, she initiated a number of reforms: the rules for conducting national examinations were tightened (including through the technical equipment of examination centers), a draft of a new Education Code was developed.

"I saw how people work in civilized countries, and I returned home to contribute to the development of the country," she said about returning to Moldova after working in Washington.

Sandu insisted on compulsory secondary education up to 18 years, the need for universal study of English (while Russian offered to make optional — she prefers to speak the language of her country). In addition, the Minister proposed to adapt the assessment system in universities to the European system and tried to implement a number of other reforms.

Even then, after several years of Maia Sandu's work in the government, the Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova for the first time nominated her for the post of Prime Minister of the country. However, she did not achieve this position until years later.

After leaving the post of Minister in 2015, she remained one of the most prominent and influential Pro-European figures in Moldova's politics for the following years.

Maia Sandu

In late 2015, Sandu announced the creation of her own Pro-European political movement, Take a step with Maia Sandu, which was later transformed into the Action and Solidarity Party.

In 2016, she ran for the first time in the Moldovan presidential election. Then Sandu became the single candidate from the center-right opposition forces of the country and with a result of 38.71% of the vote took second place, reaching the second round. Four years ago, her opponent on the decisive day of voting was Igor Dodon — but then Sandu lost, and Dodon was elected President of Moldova.

On November 15, 2020, Sandu won a similar contest: as the candidate of the Action and Solidarity Party, she was ahead of Dodon by almost 4% in the first round of elections and by 15% in the second.

Before this triumph, Sandu's last political peak was the position of Prime Minister of Moldova in 2019, although she managed to work in this post for only a few months and not without problems. Then, after the parliamentary elections, Maia Sandu's party entered the country's parliament, and after long coalition negotiations, she was elected head of government. However, the previous Cabinet of Ministers of Pavel Filip refused to resign, and even tried to dissolve the newly elected parliament - using the powers of the acting President after the temporary suspension  of Igor Dodon by a court decision. Only after mass protests and pressure from several European powers — including France, Germany and the United Kingdom, which supported the government of Maia Sandu — Pavel Filip resigned as Prime Minister.

However, in November 2019, the Moldovan parliament passed a vote of no confidence in the Sandu government — after an initiative to reform the legislation defining the procedure for electing the country's Prosecutor General.

Family and fortune

Maia Sandu is not married and has no children. In Chisinau, she lives in a two — room apartment with an area of about 70 square meters-and in a recent interview with Dmitry Gordon, she said that she would not move out of it if she won the election.

"This is true, and I'm not going to move anywhere after I become President. I'm not going to spend public money on residence," she promised.

She moves in a 2007 Toyota Rav 4 car. 

What does Sandu's victory in the presidential election mean

The Western press regards the convincing victory of Maia Sandu in the second round of the 2020 presidential election as a victory for the Pro-European forces of Moldova.

Maia Sandu

The Associated Press recalls that Sandu is in favor of closer ties with the European Union and writes about her "decisive victory over a staunch Pro-Russian" politician, referring to Igor Dodon. The agency notes that the current elections in Moldova were seen as a kind of "referendum on two different visions for the future of this small Eastern European country." AP calls the Pro-European and Pro-Russian movements in Moldova such two vectors.

It is likely that Maia Sandu will try to breathe new life into the first of them. In 2014, when the country was governed by a Pro-Western coalition, Moldova signed an agreement on closer political and economic ties with the European Union. However, since then, Brussels has increasingly criticized Moldova's progress in implementing reforms.

BBC describes Dodon's defeat as "humiliating for the Kremlin", since Russian President Vladimir Putin openly supported the current President of the country in these elections. "It was a vote on whether Moldova should turn to the East or to the West," the BBC states.

During the election campaign, Sandu promised to make it a priority to fight corruption and try to unite the country. However, it will have to face other challenges, including the coronavirus pandemic and a weak economy (Moldova remains one of the poorest countries in Europe). Maia Sandu promised to attract loans from Western financial institutions to the country.

In addition, she plans to find an opportunity to declare early elections in the country in order to obtain a Pro-European majority in parliament, where Pro-Russian forces now control 51 out of 101 seats. 

Five quotes from Maia Sandu

  • "We want our rights to be respected, we want to be free people, we don't want to be told who to vote for and who not to vote for. We want to have a state that does not allow corruption" - about the Pro-European way of Moldova's development.
  • "I have always said that I respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine. And I believe that this is the only way to build a good relationship. I also believe that Moldova and Ukraine are in the same geopolitical link. And it is very important for us that Ukraine has set a goal, a task to be closer to the European Union. This is very important for us. And we hope that you will continue on this path. Because then we will be able to follow the path of rapprochement with the European Union," - about whether Russia considers an aggressor country for Ukraine.
  • "Perhaps you can learn from our experience. Because for so many years we have done so many things — and we see that we are not one step closer to a political solution [to the problem of Transnistria]. [...]. You need to be especially careful that corruption does not become the most important element of this conflict. Unfortunately, our economic interests have become one of the obstacles. I am not saying that this is the only obstacle, but I am saying that this is an important obstacle in order to find a solution," - about the similarity of the problem of the occupied Donbass and Transnistria.
  • "We will build a real balance in foreign policy, based on the national interests of Moldova, and a pragmatic dialogue with all countries, including Romania, Ukraine, European countries, Russia and the United States," — the first statement on foreign policy after the election.
  • "We talked with the leaders of Ukraine last year. Including helping us fight smuggling. We talked about these common points on the border. This is probably the most important thing that Ukraine can do" - about the additional role of Ukraine in resolving the Transnistrian conflict.

Maia Sandu - photo of the historic victory

Maia Sandu votes in the second round of the Moldovan presidential election on November 15, 2020

Maia Sandu
Maia Sandu
Maia Sandu
Maia Sandu

Igor Dodon, the main opponent of Maia Sandu, came to the polling station on November 15 with his wife Galina.

with his wife Galina

Residents of Moldova determine the fate of the country at the polling stations — as in Ukraine, the elections were held under strict "coronavirus" restrictions.

Residents of Moldova at polling station
Residents of Moldova at polling station

Maia Sandu gives the first press conference after her victory in the 2020 presidential election.

Maia Sandu gives the first press conference after her victory in the 2020 presidential election
Maia Sandu gives the first press conference after her victory in the 2020 presidential election
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