Moldova – Another Misadventure

Moldovan politics, which have been a recurrent scene of crisis and scandal over the course of many years has once again entered into a period of upheaval. On October 29th a no confidence vote brought down the government of Valeriu Streleț (Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova). Streleț had only been in office since late July at the head of a three party pro-European coalition the Alliance for European Integration III made up of his party along with the Liberal Party and the Democratic Party. His was the second government formed since elections in November, 2014. The first, formed by Chiril Gaburici after three months of difficult negotiations, fell in June of this year over allegations that he had falsified his educational credentials.

This time the immediate source of the problem is an ongoing and monumental banking scandal that led to the arrest of one of the most important political figures in the country, Vlad Filat, PLDM party leader and a former Prime Minister. Following months of unrest and street protests focused on pervasive corruption and monopolization of Moldova’s political life by a small number oligarchs, Filat was stripped of his legislative immunity in a vote which passed with the support of 79 out of 101 member parliament. He was then detained and led out of the Parliament in handcuffs on Thursday, October 15th.

Former Prime Minister Filat has been charged by anti-corruption officials with complicity in the theft of over $1 Billion from the Moldovan banking system earlier this year. The banking fraud, which amounted to around 12% of the country’s total GDP, is thought to have been coordinated through a group of companies controlled by another of the country’s well entrenched oligarchs, Ilan Shor, who was elected Mayor of the city of Orhei in June 2015 elections, despite allegations of his involvement in the banking fraud.

Filat’s arrest came after months of protests in central Chisinau. The protest movement was led by two distinct groups. The first of these is a pro-European umbrella civil society organization, the Platform for Dignity and Justice. It is associated with a number of liberal civil society leaders and their supporters. At the opposite political pole, growing pro-Russian sentiment coalesced around the Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova, and Our Party “Partidul Nostru” (PN) the political vehicle of firebrand pro-Russian politician Renato Usatii. Following Filat’s arrest, pressure against the government continued, both within the parliament and among the population. Calls continued for more thoroughgoing reform and a more general investigation and house cleaning within the justice system. Ultimately it was Prime Minister Streleț’s resistance to this pressure that led to his government’s fall.

The no confidence vote in the Streleț government and Filat’s arrest reflects another clash in the ongoing battle for political dominance between Filat and one of his two coalition partners, Vlad Plahotniuc and the Democratic Party (PD). Dismissing the Strelet government only possible when the PD broke with its coalition partners and supported the PSRM and the Communist Party of Moldova on the measure in a 65 out of 101 member vote. While formally led by party president Marin Lupu the PD is widely understood to be under the control of Plahotniuc, a long time and bitter rival of Filat. Plahotniuc, who also came under suspicion in the banking affair, gave up his seat in parliament and voluntarily stepped down as the PDs first vice-president on October 15th, the day of Filat’s arrest, stating that he did not wish to be associated with the party until the banking fraud investigation is completed.

The fall of Streleț’s government and rupturing the AEI III alliance leave Moldova in a highly tenuous situation. President Nicolae Timofte is currently holding talks with party leaders, but these cannot be expected to go smoothly. Re-establishing a pro-European coalition would require the support of the same three AEI III parties PD-PLDM-PL. Together these parties account for 51 out of 101 parliamentary seats. Former Prime Minister Iurie Leancă controls 5 independent pro-European MPs, and might join a new pro-European coalition, but these votes are not sufficient to form a majority with any two of the three major AEI parties. The PCRM (21 MPs) could form a left alliance with the PD (19 MPs), but the pro-Moscow PSRM (24 MPs) will not enter into a coalition with any of the pro-European forces, hence a left wing-alternative does not seem viable. If a new government cannot be formed within three months the constitution call for new elections to be held. However, the constitution also provides that legislative elections cannot be held within six months of presidential elections, which should occur in mid-March 2016. Thus Moldova could be facing several months under a care taker government. Furthermore, the Moldovan election system, which requires the support of 3/5s of Moldova’s 101 MPs to elect the president, has produced recurrent deadlocks, and can be expected to do so again under current circumstances
The likely outcome of early elections would be a substantial gain for pro-Russian parties and serious problems for pro-EU politicians, who are now thoroughly compromised in the eyes of the public. Recent polling by the International Republican Institute (Public Opinion Survey Moldova: September 29 – October 1 2015) shows the pro-Russian Parties, Igor Dodon’s PSRM and Renato Usatii’s Our Party (currently not in parliament), to have widespread support, leading each of the three AEI partners that have governed the country since 2009 by two to one.

Asked for whom they would vote should elections be held respondents supported:

Our Party (Renat Usatii) 20%,
PSRM (Igor Dodon) 15%,
European Peoples’ Party (Iurie Leancă) 12%,
PCRM (Vladimir Voronin) 7%
PL (Mihai Ghimpu) 5%,
PD (Marian Lupu) 5%,
PLDM (Vlad Filat) 3%

Finally, to place all this in the regional political context, Our Party and the PSRM both clearly have the support of the Russian Federation, and both have supported Moldova’s adherence to the Eurasian Customs Union over association with the European Union. The rapid rise of the PSRM in the past three years is largely the consequence of defections of more pro-Moscow members from the PCRM. Its leader, Igor Dodon, has frequently met publically with high level representative of the Russian government. Our Party is completely a personalist vehicle of Renato Usatii. Usatii, who has been implicated in Moldovan financial misdeeds over the years, pursued a business career in Russia for several years before returning to Moldova and entering politics in 2014. His party during the 2014 legislative elections “The Party of Renato Usatii,” (PaRUs) was excluded from participation in because of violating election laws by receiving financing from foreign sources. He was elected mayor of Bălți, Moldova’s second largest city, which has a large Russophone population in June’s local elections. Since assuming leadership of Our Party, Usatti’s attacks on the AEI III coalition have been unremitting. His populist appeal clearly resonates with disillusioned voters and undermining support for the pro-European parties.

William Crowther

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