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Moldova in the midst of an anti-oligarchic revolt

An alliance of opponents of the oligarchy is revolting against a gradual state capture in Moldova.

June 10, 2019 - Oktawian Milewski - Articles and CommentaryHot Topics

Plenary session of the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova. Photo: Parlamentul Republicii Moldova (cc) on flickr.com

For over three months Moldova has been in a state of tedious expectation about its next legislative and political power cycle. At stake was the choice between a continuous ever-deepening state capture by Vladimir Plahotniuc and his henchmen from the Democratic Party on the one side, and an alliance theretofore impossible from the point of view of Moldova’s strategic orientation: the pro-European ACUM (26 MPs out of 101) party block and PSRM – the socialist pro-Russian party which won the highest number of seats (35 MPs) in the February elections. Whatever the colours, the fresh alliance managed to break a seemingly unsurmountable stalemate, vote in the speaker of the Parliament – the pro-Russian Zinaida Greceaniy and invest a government led by the reformist pro-EU Maia Sandu. Thus has begun a revolt against a state capture that has been gradually creeping for almost a decade.

A temporary alliance of oligarchy haters?

The mutual perception between the ACUM members and PSRM has always been anything but friendly. If Plahotniuc and his party are the ultimate evil for ACUM and Moldova in general, then President Igor Dodon and PSRM are next in line for a majority of the pro-EU block’s politicians. In these conditions the temporary agreement signed by the two sides comes as a shocking surprise. Moreover, dozens of analysts and pundits have been building scenarios wherein such an alliance was considered impossible and unnatural. The great majority were predicting either snap elections or a coalition of PD and PSRM which would reinstate and formalise a previous political cartel between Plahotniuc and Dodon, a cartel which was standing until last Thursday June 7th. This raises the question, how come the socialists became such an ardent anti-oligarchic party overnight?  

Their almost ad hoc agreement came to fruition only by an impossibly rare alliance of interests and perceptions about Plahotniuc and his party in Washington, Brussels and Moscow in the last months or weeks. To this parade of interests also contributed a handful of people from the ACUM coalition who needed time to understand that in the captured Gomorra style state cultivated by Plahotniuc even pro-Russian stooges could become hand-shakeable provided a minimum of governance decency can be retrieved. This lot has been silently joined by the diplomats of a number of western countries plus a few Moldovan experts who have worked assiduously for months to convince that this could be the last chance to rid the country of capture, sliding toward dictatorship.

It is in these conditions that the truly impossible has happened: the stepping in of Moscow against Plahotniuc and DP. On June 3rd and 4th, Chisinau has witness a simultaneous diplomatic parade of three emissaries from Brussels, Washington and Moscow who all met the stakeholders and expressed their emphatic preference for a PSRM and ACUM parliamentary coalition, conditional (especially according to the EU and US) to Moldova’s financial survivability for the foreseeable future. Russia on its side has been playing its old imperial divisive game but for the short-run it has aligned to depose Plahotniuc in order to straighten out the course for what in the future could be a dominating party (PSRM) capable of attracting at least a half of the Moldovan electorate. It is on orders from Moscow that PSRM and Dodon have uncordially agreed to turn against Plahotniuc.  

The coup d’état that isn’t. Yet.

What came next after the voting in of the speaker and the prime minister must have been a true shock for the omnipotent Plahotniuc. The key institutions in the state started acquiring their long awaited legitimacy through a blitz session of the Parliament last Friday convened on what was legally considered the last possible day to vote in a cabinet.

After having signed a temporary agreement the two parties started the anti-oligarchic de-capturing of some key institutions. Next to voting in the new cabinet to be led by Maia Sandu, the parliament adopted a political declaration named “On Moldova as a Captured State” which is an attempt to commit the socialists to politically assumed obligations. The heads of the National Bureau against Corruption and the Service for Intelligence and Security were dismissed among the first steps the parliament could take. Plahotniuc had to counteract with the best it had at his disposal from a still vast array of captured institutions while declaring that the newly legitimised institutions were in a constitutional offside. His usual trump card against the presidency and non-submissive parliament has been the Constitutional Court.

In the Moldovan political beau-monde the Moldovan Constitutional Court has an informal name: “Plahotniuc’s second pocket parliament”. The Constitutional Court (made of six judges) was gradually captured around 2012-13 when Plahotniuc bought out at least some of the members of the court and later replaced them with relatives and friends. So far nothing new, just a classic Moldovan story about political culture and the way institutions work through clienteles and social networks. However, in the last three years the Constitutional Court has become a total rubber stamp institution about which an impressive number of political jokes have entered into circulation in Moldova’s capital. The institution managed to invent constitutional practices defying any possible logic, like for instance its decision to declare in 2016 that Moldova was in a 17-year long state of “unconstitutionality” by having elected its presidents through a parliamentary vote and not directly. Back then it was a manipulation meant to deflect attention away from Plahotniuc’s state capture and install the hyper-loyal Dodon in office. The same Court would dismiss Moldova’s president five times “for only one hour” so that comfortable decisions could be taken regarding key ministerial appointments in cabinet reshuffles. It is in this normative egregiousness that “Plahotniuc’s pocket parliament” decided on Friday that the investment of the Sandu cabinet and any subsequent decisions would be null and void ab initio. On Sunday the court dismissed Dodon for failing to duly dissolve the parliament, this time Dodon was declared dismissed for good, and appointed the outgoing PM Pavel Filip as interim president. Filip in his turn announced the dissolution of the parliament and declared snap elections. Meanwhile, the US State Department and the European Union’s External Service have recognised the investment of the Maia Sandu cabinet and the speaker Zinaida Greceaniy as the only legal authorities in Moldova. 

In this generalised disorder and alleged duality of power, Chisinau has lived through another night in an atmosphere of fear. The country’s main institutions have been physically blocked by pickets and tents where people with dubious backgrounds working for Plahotniuc have been intimidating and blocking any legal authorities invested by the Sandu cabinet. A demonstration against the new government was hastily amassed in Chisinau by the Democratic Party in order to further intimidate and instil an atmosphere of fear. Everyone has been guessing if Moldova is in the midst of a coup d’état. The army has declared its absolute neutrality, while the head of the Moldovan police on the contrary has stated that the Police do not recognise the new minister of internal affairs who is none other than the other leader of the ACUM block – Andrei Năstase, a staunch oppositionist to Plahotniuc.

The possible way ahead

In all likelihood we are witnessing the last days of an oligarchic regime that had come close to installing a dictatorship. It has suddenly lost an important battle, however the corner has not yet been turned. A violent protraction, power duality and even power vacuum are still possible, given that Plahotniuc and his henchmen are in control of vast human, institutional and financial resources. What Plahotniuc has lost in reality is international support. His camarilla is increasingly isolated and in there lies the risk of it acting irrationally.

Chisinau – the Sandu cabinet first and foremost – is in dire need of resolute presence on the ground by Moldova’s external partners who should help the newly invested authorities to get the country on a functional track and convince the frightened public servants who for years lived in an atmosphere of vassal subservience that a new beginning is possible. The Moldovan political class needs a new post-oligarchic pact, yet for the time being there is one question without an answer: How to assure the exit from the political system of Vladimir Plahotniuc. The amount of crimes that have accumulated behind him in the last decade weighs too heavily to imagine that he can avoid prosecution at home or abroad. This is what feeds his desperation, and desperation in turn feeds his irrationality at present.

Oktawian Milewski is a political scientist specialised in Central East European area studies. He is currently a Poland resident correspondent for Radio France Internationale, Romanian office.  

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