Is the Campaign Season Starting Early in Moldova?
The upcoming Vilnius Summit of the Eastern Partnership has caused heightened political tensions in Moldova for the last several months.
Distrust toward the ruling coalition has been constantly increasing, yet, as the recent public rally (which was the greatest manifestation of its kind in ten years) held in support of the idea of euro-integration has proved, the ruling parties in Moldova are not only unwilling to give up power, but are actually getting ready to start an election campaign.
The approaching initialling of the Association Agreement with the European Union seems to be a unifying force for the coalition parties who are forced to calm any internal conflicts existing between their members. While they have managed to do so temporarily, political commentators already predict that the friction in the coalition might double its intensity after the Vilnius Summit. The fact that some of the coalition politicians are considering some political manoeuvre is evident by the unexpected decision of Vladimir Plahotniuc, the leader of the Democratic Party and the richest Moldovan oligarch, to resign from his seat in parliament. Plahotniuc announced that he wants to be closer to the common people and is going to focus his efforts on social activity. Of course, parliamentary elections are already approaching and are set to take place at the end of 2014 / beginning of 2015.
A Moldovan Velvet Revolution?
The opposition, the Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova (PCRM), has been declaring their intention for months to carry out “a velvet revolution” in order to remove “the coalition of oligarchs” from power. Up to this point, marches organised by the communists have not enjoyed much popularity, but “the march on Chișinău” has been billed to be a real breakthrough in this regard. It was announced that this march will take place on November 21st. Once again the communists have been trying to build a broad coalition of left-wing political parties. So far their call has been met with a relatively positive response from Igor Dodon, the leader of Socialist Party and a former member of the PCRM. Other parties haven’t shown overt enthusiasm over the communists’ actions.
Considerable intensification of political life has been seen lately in Gaugazia, where every now and then a new referendum is being considered: be it a public vote on Gaugazia’s independence from the Republic of Moldova – declared to take place in 2015 if the authorities in Chișinău “continue to disregard the law on the special legal status of Gagauzia” – or a referendum on the geopolitical course of the country (the European Union versus the Customs Union).
The fundamental question regarding the ruling coalition then is if it is going to survive its term and if it manages to regain the public’s lost trust. The success of the manifestation organised on November 3rd in support of the idea of euro-integration proved that the coalition parties still have it in their power to mobilise their electorate. The media that are favourably inclined towards the government claim that the demonstration gathered as many as a 100,000 people, whereas according to other sources that number was reduced by half (at least). Even so, Moldova has not seen such a great manifestation since 2003 – when its people protested against the reintegration of the country with the breakaway Transnistria, under the terms imposed by Russia (the so-called Kozak memorandum), or perhaps even since the end of the 1980s or the beginning of the 1990s.
Soon enough the question arose if all the demonstrators were there of their own accord. Dirk Shuebel, a former EU representative in Moldova, also shared his doubts concerning this issue on Twitter. As a matter of fact, the event had been organised for some time, the demonstrators were brought to the square by buses and once there, they were assigned a sector in which they were to stand – each sector representing a town or region that the participants came from. There’s no doubt that the manifestation was organised with the use of “administrative resources”. What’s most important, however, is the fact that the main goal set by the coalition has been achieved – they proved to be far more effective than the Communists at mobilising and organising a huge social demonstration. At the same time, the demonstration was a great opportunity for Marian Lupu and Vlad Filat, the leaders of the Democratic Party and the Liberal-Democratic Party respectively, to make their presence felt; they both had kept a low profile since the cabinet crisis last winter and spring in an effort not to damage the image of government led by the prime minister, Iurie Leancă. On Sunday, November 3rd however, they were the ones who were addressing the crowds – neither Prime Minister Leancă nor Igor Korman, the chairman of the parliament, were present at the demonstration.
Surveys measuring public support show that the PCRM does have a clear advantage over their opponents, with 28 per cent of survey participants declaring that they would vote for this party. Prime Minister Leancă’s Liberal-Democratic Party enjoys only 12 per cent support whereas the Democratic Party of Marian Lupu and Vlad Plahotniuc barely crosses the election threshold with only 7.3 per cent. However, the 6 per cent electoral threshold would be unattainable for both the “liberal reformers”, who are part of the coalition, and for their parent party – the Liberal Party of Mihai Ghimpu (the poll was conducted on November 6th 2013 by the Association of Sociologists and Demographers).
Nonetheless, the ruling party considers the November 3rd demonstrations to have been a success at least in terms of image building – it can be assumed that they expect the signing of Association Agreement with the EU to become yet another trigger for attracting their electorate. How effective their policy will be is largely dependent on the amount of time the coalition allows itself to implement it, in other words – are they able to hold out until the end of their term? The election campaign preparations may already be under way – with the November manifestation and the resignation of Plahotniuc as clear indications. Plahotniuc’s announcement to become involved in social activity, and more specifically in building a chain of charity shops and affordable housing for the poor, would imply that he is trying to redefine his role on the political scene.
Plahotniuc might be trying to help improve the Democratic Party’s poor ratings or perhaps he is planning on following a completely new course in politics that would be clearly welfare-oriented. Opinion polls show that the Moldovan political scene needs a new political power. Such an opinion was expressed by 13.6 per cent of the people participating in the poll mentioned above – a phenomenon quite unheard of yet a few years ago. What’s more, it is the people in need of social care services who are the undecided voters and to whom Plahotniuc wants to appeal. Until recently the needs of the poorest part of society were customarily addressed by the Communist Party which has focused its efforts on international politics for the past few months, advocating the idea of Eurasian integration and Moldova joining the Customs Union.
The November 3rd demonstration is by no means indicative of the public support for the ruling party which is dramatically low. By organising the demonstration, however, the coalition issued a serious challenge to the Party of Communists. With the standards set so high, the Party of Communists would suffer a serious blow to their image if the planned “march on Chișinău” were to be poorly organised or, worse, poorly attended.
There’s no doubt that the communists will do everything to force early elections, though they do not seem to be in a position to accomplish much as it is still the coalition that still holds the key to the immediate political future of Moldova. If the initialling of the Association Agreement with the EU turns out to be the only unifying force for the coalition there might be no need for a “the velvet revolution”. However, if the coalition is able to take impetus from the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius and try to cater to the welfare needs of their potential electorate; and if its leaders manage to bury the hatchet and give up on their personal ambitions, it might turn out that they have sufficient time to secure a new mandate to rule for years to come.
Translated by Agnieskza Rubka
Piotr Oleksy is a PhD student at the Department of Eastern Studies at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań. He is currently involved in creating a web portal dedicated to cultural and business relations between Poland and its Eastern neighbours (EastWest).