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Crisis spiral in Georgia and Moldova – commonalty, distinctions and ways out

The political crises in Georgia and Moldova can only be resolved through national dialogue. The West could help by at least remaining consistent in its messages to both partners.

March 8, 2021 - Denis Cenusa - Articles and Commentary

Constitutional Court of Moldova (constcourt.md/) and imprisoned opposition leader Nika Melia (wikimedia.org)

Two political crises, different in essence but quite similar in their destructive nature, are boiling with varying intensity along the EU’s Eastern borders — one in Georgia and another one in Moldova. The two countries are struggling with endemic and protracting political crises, very much of internal manufacturing. In both cases, the political paralyses have, in a way or another, origins in the oligarchic influence over democratic institutions. Georgia and Moldova are equally ill-placed at the crossroad of multiple crises that additionally aggravate the political one. In unprecedented circumstances, the political configuration of these countries is taking away energy from focusing on overcoming economic and epidemiological difficulties. The COVID-19 vaccination has been launched in Moldova (early March), but not yet in Georgia, and there is high stress on the economy because of budgetary deficits and stagnating economic growth. The severe socio-economic unbalances make the political crises riskier than they would be otherwise. At the same time, external partners are either powerless (Georgia) or timid (Moldova) in contributing to figuring out efficient solutions to the political turbulences in these countries.

Georgia — again a crisis or the same crisis?

Georgia’s democracy is battling against the prolongation of an older political crisis simply reincarnated. In March 2020, with EU-US diplomatic meditation, the opposition managed to obtain some concessions from the ruling party — “Georgian Dream.” Along with some, not total, improvements in electoral legislation, the opposition politicians and political activists who faced charges and trials were given liberty. Supposed to be a fresh exit out of the deadlock, the parliamentary elections of October 2020 only renewed, instead of lowered, tensions between the ruling party and the opposition. The victory of “Georgian Dream” allowed them to keep legislative supremacy (90 out of 150 seats), but the elections were embroiled with various shortcomings that solidified the opposition’s determination to boycott the parliament. Western partners welcomed the results, though not wholeheartedly. The international observers that monitored the elections had various critiques about the quality of the electoral process, admitting that the pandemic created limitations. The opposition boycott cracked the legitimacy of the “Georgian Dream” — which held a dominant majority right after the elections, opening older unhealed wounds. The departure of the oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili from “Georgian Dream” also did not help repair the broken dialogue with the opposition. The critical point of the renewed political crisis was the brutal arrest of the opposition leader Nika Melia (United Nation Movement – UNM), who refused to conform to the court’s decision. While the ruling party wanted to show strength in enforcing the law, the opposition aimed to manifest resistance against the state institutions, questioning their independence from the oligarchic regime which was built around the allegedly retired-from-politics oligarch Ivanishvili for almost one decade. The Western partners are asking for political dialogue to find solutions, on the one hand. They remind, on the other hand, that the ongoing crisis has costs for the country because it compromises the Euro-Atlantic and European perspectives. The recent visit of the president of the European Council Charles Michel to Tbilisi was meant to calm the spirits. The Europeans agreed to act as “mediators” in the Georgian political crises, but they cannot fill in with force or artificially the lacking trust between the ruling party and the opposition. A plebiscite inquiring the tired citizens whether they want early elections or not could prolong the crisis. Simultaneously, triggering early elections is not easy to arrange because the “Georgian Dream” does not want to lose power, on the one hand, and the legal conditions are not met, on the other one. National reconciliation is in high demand, but the EU alone appears to be ineffective unless it starts to use conditionality mechanism or other tough tools.

Moldova — old issues under the new presidency

The considerable exposure to political instability has not left Moldova even after the presidential elections, which resulted in the victory of the pro-reform opposition leader Maia Sandu. She conducted her electoral campaign on the promise to fight corruption across state institutions, starting with the parliament elected in 2019. President Sandu is in desperate need of a functional and loyal government if she intends to implement any ambitious reforms. After she effectively took office in December 2020, the past Prime Minister Ion Chicu resigned, following in the steps of the loser of the presidential elections, ex-President Igor Dodon. The remaining executive has limited competencies, unable to draft new bills or conduct negotiations with external lenders. Nevertheless, President Sandu is not interested in establishing a new healthy government that would depend on an untrustworthy parliament. It represents the reminiscence of the oligarchic regime that fell in the summer of 2019. That is why Sandu is determined to terminate the activity of the controversial legislative body at all costs, even by breaking constitutional norms. One of the most convenient ways to dissolve, sooner rather than later, the parliament is through a double failure of the appointment of the prime minister. With this in mind, President Sandu appointed her former party colleague Natalia Gavrilita (Party of Solidarity and Action) as the candidate for the Prime Minister position. Sandu’s initial calculus went accordingly because Natalia Gavrilita received zero votes in parliament, bringing the country one step closer to early elections. The Socialists and elements of the former oligarchic regime in the parliament, however, formalised a 54 parliamentary majority and proposed their own candidate for the premiership office. Referring to the corrupt profiles of the newly formalised coalition, Sandu rejected the candidacy, proposing instead Natalia Gavrilita for the second time. The Socialists brought the case to the Constitutional Court, which ruled against Maia Sandu’s decision and suggested that she and the parliament search for viable solutions to overcome the political crisis. The president showed disagreement with the qualification given by the Court, which used the wording “unconstitutional” in describing Sandu’s action. Wanting to avoid clashing with one of the few politically independent institutions in the country, President Sandu did not commit publicly to obey the Court’s decision. She argued that the situation is abnormal and that requires exceptional actions. The subtle refusal to take the ruling of the Court into consideration creates more political uncertainty. That deepens the political crisis as the country remains without a well-equipped government and cannot trigger early elections that would breathe new life into the parliament. Unlike Georgia, Western actors have not shown concerns about the political crisis in Moldova, even if the country has higher institutional instability – interim government and largely corrupt parliament – than Georgia does. Charles Michel who recently visited Moldova on his way to Georgia mentioned no word about the Moldovan political and constitutional crisis. As for now, for the EU matters more to give unconditional support to the pro-EU and pro-reform President Sandu than to come with a unilateral offer of mediating a political dialogue aiming at stabilizing the country and ensuring democratic and fair early elections in 2021.The best solution in the case of Moldova is to see a pro-active EU, deterred from applying the “ostrich policy” of overlooking a harmful crisis and preventing it to escalate to a Georgian model.

Undoubtedly, both Georgia and Moldova are going through political storms generated by oligarchic regimes. The political crises in these countries involve contested parliaments. In one country, it is boycotted, in the second one — is accused of political corruption. While the opposition in Moldova succeeded in winning the presidency, the Georgian opposition is fighting to rebalance political power from the streets. Finally, the political crisis has more chances to end in viable solutions in the case of Georgia, as it involves both domestic and international stakeholders, primarily from the EU and national states. It is less so possible in Moldova, where the West did not comment on the unconstitutional decisions of the president, showing timidity to intervene and mediate political solutions for the existing political crisis. The two countries would benefit greatly if the West makes use of “carrots and sticks” to bring together all legitimate sides to design the way out from the political paralyses. Without that, it is unimaginable that the focusing full attention on economic recovery, countering the pandemic and restoring the full speed of the reforms that are necessary to consolidate the resilience of the states against internal and external insecurities will happen. 

Denis Cenusa is a PhD candidate and researcher at the Institute of Political Science at the Giessen University in Germany. He is an associate expert at the “Expert-Grup” think tank in Moldova and a contributor at IPN News Agency in Moldova since 2015.

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