The festivity after the oligarch’s escape could be replaced rapidly by fierce political fighting
This article was published on 26 June 2019 on the Romanian section of the site “The Barricade”.
The carnival of victory and freedom has been going on for over a week in Moldova. Former enemies are shaking hands and foreign commentators keep explaining to their stunned audiences why the United States, European Union and Moscow decided to go hand in hand against the oligarch who had run the country for a decade. However, the celebration may be very soon replaced by fierce political fighting.
And the main actors in Moldovan politics do not hide it. Both pro-European, liberal ACUM bloc headed by Maia Sandu and Andrei Nastase and pro-Russian Party of Socialists of Republic of Moldova (PSRM) have claimed that their coalition is of temporary character. Both parties are honest enough (and this is to be appreciated, given the general standards of Moldovan politics) to say: we have succeeded to take power from Vladimir Plahotniuc, just like all the mighty international powers wished, now we are going to vote a set of anti-oligarchic laws and to remove Plahotniuc’s people from courts, prosecution offices and state administration. After that, the coalition would be dissolved and new parliamentary elections would take place, as soon as this autumn.
The parties do not need to add that it would be totally impossible to reconcile their programs and promises, as well as the expectations of supporters of each of them. The majority of ACUM electorate are well-educated, Romanian (Moldovan) speaking residents of Chisinau, central and western parts of Moldova, plus a huge share of the diaspora working in Western European countries. They are this part of Moldovan society who still has not lost all hopes connected to European integration, the hopes that were extremely high ten years ago and have been fading since then as Europe tolerated the kleptokratic system in Chisinau and hardly uttered a word of criticism. On the other hand, PSRM has consolidated the less succesful, rural population, the remnants of the working class and (since the collapse of the Communist party) enjoys unquestioned authority among the national minorities. For ACUM sympathizers, Igor Dodon and leaders of PSRM are no less than agents of Moscow, while the PSRM supporters remember Maia Sandu as the minister of education who closed schools in the province and ostensibly favoured Romanian language over Russian, which is spoken almost exclusively in the Moldovan South.
And there is one more thing, perhaps much more important than any programs and ideologies (which, as Plahotniuc’s Democrats and the Socialists too have shown, should not be taken too seriously in Moldova). Both PSRM and ACUM wanted to fight Moldova off Plahotniuc’s hands in order to become dominant power in the country, not to work on building a liberal democratic system. This has also been the intention of the international actors who support each side. For Russia, the perfect scenario would be as follows: Igor Dodon is considered the one who destroyed the oligarch, his party consolidates its supporters and wins a landslide victory in the autumn election. Then it takes over the state apparatus, therefore securing support from those working there (still among the most wanted jobs in Moldova) and persuades the former Democratic cadres to merge into the party. Dmitriy Kozak, the Moscow envoy who persuaded Dodon to go for a coalition with his former rivals, has visited Moldova again, clearly with more advice and instruction. In the end, the proper geopolitical course is more or less secured. Perhaps, even some social reforms are included so that the party’s popularity does not fade away. And what would the EU and USA want? Just replace Dodon’s name with those of Nastase and Sandu, who is just planning her first visit abroad, to Brussels, and you get the picture.
Both sides seem very confident about their plans. The Socialists, who scored a victory (not definitive, though) in last parliamentary elections in February, hope to win again thanks to popular support: they count on getting at least half of the votes of former Democratic Party electorate as well as of those who voted for Shor Party, an one-time enterprise of Ilan Shor, another oligarch who has run away soon after Plahotniuc did. The ACUM bloc hopes rather to get an impressive package of benefits from Europe, which would allow them to present themselves as the ones who succesfully battled the oligarchy and then ensured stability and blossoming of the country. But while both sides will be underlining how they fought the oligarch, they would be also looking for ways to neutralize and/or co-opt his assets. After all, Plahotniuc’s people still control, for instance, most of the Moldovan media – a crucial actor in the electoral year. Sure, the anti-oligarchic laws may lead to a complete restructurisation in this sector. But we have also the experience of previous turning point in Moldovan politics – the 2009 protests in Chisinau which led to the collapse of Vladimir Voronin rule and the establishment of a pro-European government. They, too, seemed to start an epoch without oligarchs, and did not.
Similar worries accompany another crucial anti-oligarchic measures which without a doubt would be taken – clearing the judicial system of the most corrupt and dishonest individuals and investigating the grand financial scandals of previous decade. It is obvious that the general revision of prosecutor general’s office and the judiciary should take place on the basis of competence and integrity, but it is equally obvious that no one in Moldova can actually guarantee that. What if the parties engage, instead, in score-settling and assuring that the institutions become packed with people loyal to them? As for the investigations on billion-dollar bank theft and other infamous affairs, they are to be led by parliamentary committees with limited competences, with the deputies of Democratic party as well as Shor party still present in the chamber. And the new coalition has already made some gestures pointing that, perhaps, some of the ‘old regime’ minor faces could be co-opted into the new deal rather than stigmatised and kicked off politics. Making a representative of Shor party head of human rights committee is just the most striking among these gestures.
Where are the ordinary Moldovan citizens in all that? It seems that they stayed busy with their own problems, bread-and-butter everyday struggles and basic questions to solve. During the previous large political crisises in Chisinau, in 2009 and 2015-2916, there were large demonstrations in front of the parliament. This time the people has not spoken at all. The only demonstration that took place turned out to be rather a theatrical show, with people being paid for expressing their ‘indignation’ after PSRM-ACUM ‘unconstitutional’ moves. The Moldovans have more than correctly guessed that their opinion does not matter much, since the great powers has already reached consensus on what to do with the oligarch who was getting more and more illoyal and uncontrolable to everyone.
However, there’s another way in which the Moldovans will, ultimately, decide the fate of the state which was once labelled ‘the orchard of Soviet Union’. If the new ruling elite that emerges after the elections turns out no better than Plahotniuc’s company, if no definite changes take place and no new opportunities are offered, the people will continue to emigrate. And while Moldova has already lost a bigger share of population than many war-torn countries, it would not survive two decades with current demographic trends. Does any of the parties now preparing to fight for power take that into consideration? The coming months will show.
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