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Politics in the Republic of Moldova – Strong Essences in Tiny Bottles

Politics in the Republic of Moldova – Strong Essences in Tiny Bottles

No. 3, Jan.-Feb. 2017 » UNCOVERstory

The Republic of Moldova is a post-Soviet geopolitical entity, underdeveloped and currently maintained by financial interests, domestic and abroad: because of its geostrategic position in Eastern Europe, it is being used as an interface between the Eastern and the Western financial markets, an enabler for transactions and other movements that would otherwise not take place or be more difficult, especially for Russian oligarchs. At the same time, under this cover, Russian operatives affiliated to SVR are maintaining clandestine operations within the Western hemisphere because they have in their possession a “launching pad” – Transnistria, the first “frozen conflict” and the 14th Russian Army base, which can be used as a “pressure point” in different negotiations. Through this “open window” to Europe, plus their tradecraft ability, they are able to penetrate and control large swathes of the Republic: Russian speaking minorities, mass-media organizations and different political parties through businesses and other actors.

Chișinău's political landscape has been in a continuous turmoil since the 2009 riots when the Communists were evicted from power and a new formula was established – the Alliance of European Integration, formed by Liberals, Liberal Democrats and Democrats. Since the end of the unrest, the Alliance has pledged to integrate the country into EU: the Association Agreement was signed by PM Iurie Leanca in 2014 in Brussels. In the meantime, maintaining and exerting its power, a vast system of corruption with intricate gears has grown, connected to the cash flow from the Russian oligarchs, which have been using the banking system to launder money and inject significant amounts into Europe, especially the United Kingdom. 

Dramatis Personae 

The power plays caused major political instability with repeated extraordinary elections for the legislative forum, plus the following outcomes: inflation and a lack of foreign investment into Moldova's economy.

Because of this situation and the sentiment of invincibility engendered into certain figures in the political system, a power struggle has started inside the Alliance on the subject of electing the President of the Republic. The power plays caused major political instability with repeated extraordinary elections for the legislative forum, plus the following outcomes: inflation and a lack of foreign investment into Moldova's economy. The Democratic Party, who were Social Democrats by political inclination, was chaired by former Speaker of Parliament, Marian Lupu, who had wanted to run for President and had thus switched his affiliation from Communist to Democrat back in 2009. The Liberal Democrats, chaired by Vlad Filat, the then acting PM, wanted the position for its immunity. As for the Liberals, chaired by Mihai Ghimpu, former interim President of the Republic and Speaker of the Parliament, they were seen as duplicitous because of their leader's public position. The power struggle and economic instability created the perfect environment for shady deals between different individuals who accumulated great wealth and political influence. The most powerful was Vladimir Plahotniuc, who managed to neutralize the former Communist President of the Republic, Vladimir Voronin and, allegedly, command the imprisonment of Vlad Filat, with the help of his connections in the judiciary. In the meantime, the coalition voted in Parliament for the President to be Nicolae Timofti, former judge and Chairman of the Magistrate Council. He was seen as politically neutral, plus the Constitution gives the President limited powers, basically a symbolic status in the political echelon, while the PM holds the entire executive power.

In November 2014, general elections were held while the political landscape was almost explosive. A political party was excluded because it received foreign funds – Patria Party and its prominent leader, Renato Usatîi, a Russian-speaking businessman linked to Moscow. Also, a new political party was established, the Socialist Party, chaired by Igor Dodon, a Russian ethnic who left the Communists and received “the blessing” of President Putin. A tight race followed and the seat distribution shows that the Socialists could claim to have won the election, but they will not have a working coalition with any other party and, thus, will remain in the Opposition.

In the meantime, the Alliance had the necessary votes but the coalition was cracking due to the internal struggle for power between Democrats, who were led informally by the businessman Plahotniuc, and the Liberal Democrats with the acting PM in their corner, Iurie Leanca. When the new government was voted in, it seemed as a rejection and therefore Iurie Leanca left the Liberal Democrats and created a new party, the European Popular Party of Moldova, after which he was received by Chancellor Merkel and European People’s Party chairman Joseph Daul from the European Parliament. A new formula is established with the person of Chiril Gaburici, while the media published several reports and information hinting at a possible corruption ring linking Vlad Filat to shady banker Ilan Shor, who was arrested and testified against the former PM. The vote in the Parliament lifted Filat's immunity and he was charged with corruption in the case of “the stolen billion”.

Due to continuous research made by journalists and public investigators, it seems Mr. Shor was a small part of a larger operation: the “Russian Laundromat”.

Due to continuous research made by journalists and public investigators, it seems Mr. Shor was a small part of a larger operation: the “Russian Laundromat”. Particularly, one of the major players was Veaceslav Platon, former Representative and a well connected and established private investor, who created a network of judges, politicians and business people, including Ilan Shor, to help in the largest money laundering operation to date, worth 22 billion dollars. An outside firm, Kroll Inc., was hired to investigate the disappearance of almost one billion dollars, which represented almost 12% of the GDP. A working theory might be that due to political instability, the actors involved, foreign and domestic, did not get the necessary assurances and decided to withdraw that amount of cash, which meant a nearly collapsing economy, a social environment thrown in disarray and a deep political crisis – four governments were changed during the course of 2015. But, in January 2016, the Democrats were proposing Plahotniuc as their candidate for PM, which amazed all political figures. The move came about as a result of one consideration, which is already having the necessary votes in Parliament. Fourteen communist MPs defected with the intent to create a new faction, the Social Democrats, and made a pact to fully support any legislation initiated by the Democrats; alongside Democrats and ex-Communists, Liberals are joining the coalition, while the Liberal Democrats are in complete disarray. The press and civil society were presenting Plahotniuc as the embodiment of corruption, but the proposal was sent to the President, who refused to nominate because of the suspicions hanging over Plahotniuc, who had once wanted to become Prime Vice-Speaker of Parliament. Based on a Constitutional Court ruling that supporting a constitutional requirement that nominees be of good character and without suspicion of corruption hanging over them, President Timofti had cause for the rejection, which he restated in a formal press release. During this period of uncertainty, Igor Dodon, Renato Usatîi and Andrei Năstase started a series of protests in the capital and targeted Plahotniuc as the head of the corrupt system present in the country. Following the protests and official refusals of the President, the Democrats and their allies announced Pavel Filip as the new proposal and received the sanction to form a new executive. 

Power plays 

Plahotniuc was maintaining political influence, while also engaged in building, for the outside world, the public profile of a Western politician.

The year 2016 witnessed total war in the political sphere, caused by a continuous frictions from the Socialists and the Civil Society in light of the major event whereby the Parliament voted a bill which upheld Constitutional Court’s ruling on the Presidential election being decided by popular vote and not by indirect vote, through the Representatives. This measure overturns the indirect election method established by the Communists in the early 2000s when they wanted to maintain a strong political control over essential institutions. In the meantime, the government began a series of reforms in the social and economic areas and partly succeeded to win back the trust of foreign investors. Also, Vladimir Plahotniuc announced that he will leave the economic sphere and will focus on politics by going to Washington DC and engaging in a series of meetings with key decision-makers in the IMF and State Department. He buoyed his Grand Tour further with a series of national initiatives in the interest of the meritorious youth. Thus, he was maintaining political influence, while also engaged in building, for the outside world, the public profile of a Western politician. Certain analysts perceived his hand behind every decision to preserve the current relationship with the West, and especially the EU. This became especially important since the future Socialist candidate for Presidency, Igor Dodon, announced his intent to annul the Agreement with the EU and pursue the integration of the Republic into the Eurasian Economic Union and ancillary initiatives controlled by the Kremlin. During this period of time, the former Education Minister, Maia Sandu, managed to launch a political initiative espousing the principles of transparency, system reform and anti-corruption. She managed to become the presidential candidate of the extra-parliamentary opposition and to even be considered a real contender for President.

At the last minute, the Democratic candidate, Marian Lupu, dropped out of the race in favour of Maia Sandu, while the liberal leader, Mihai Ghimpu, went on. The main messages of the first round were: Dodon – we go with Russia; Maia Sandu – we go with the EU and the West; Mihai Ghimpu – we must reunite with Romania. But the vote was clear: Dodon – 48%, Sandu – 39%, Ciubasenko – 6%, Leanca – 3.1% and Ghimpu – 1.8%. The second round brought Dodon to power as President and at the moment we have two people leading the country, Plahotniuc and Dodon. 

High stakes 

In that spirit, what will be the response of Moldova if NATO invites it, again, to send a delegation to the Extraordinary Summit to be held in Brussels on May 25th?

After the presidential elections were concluded, Marian Lupu resigned and Vladimir Plahotniuc was elected as Chairman of the Democratic Party and those 14 ex-Communists Representatives will be joining the Democratic faction in Parliament. The 34 seats thus controlled mean that the Democrat are the ruling force and have enough power to exert control since the Speaker of Parliament, Andrian Candu, is a Democrat. At the moment, the parties are preparing for the coming general election of 2018. The Democrats announced a bill to change the election system by forming 101 electoral colleges. Also, the bill contains a measure to oust an elected official through a local referendum, but this measure will not apply in the first year or the last year of his mandate. A political analysis seems to outline that this measure tends to favour certain political parties, especially the Democrats and Socialists, due to the resources in their possession: manpower(local officials), money and political influence. Meanwhile, President Dodon announced his intent to call a national referendum in order to amend the Constitution to gain the prerogative to dissolve the Parliament, a measure which serves an immediate political interest – Dodon won the presidency with 52% which suggests he may be able to push the Socialists to a single majority and create a Government in order to deliver on his promises and reroute Moldova to the East. Also, the President announced his intent to block the bill, but he will accept a mixed electoral reform: 51 Representatives to be elected on party lists and 50 to be elected in electoral colleges.

Since December, President Dodon had 3 important meetings:

  1. He crossed the Dniester River and met with the separatist leader, Vadim Krasnoselski, in order to have a working relationship and perform a breakthrough in the diplomatic process of settling the conflict;
  2. The President travelled to Moscow to a high level meeting with President Putin where he received a map of the medieval state Moldova (including Ukrainian and Romanian territory, amounting to two thirds of the medieval state) and pledged to pay the immense debt of Transnistria to Gazprom worth 6 billion dollars;
  3. In February, the President met with the PM and the Speaker where he announced his intent to abolish the Association Agreement with the EU and sign an agreement with the Eurasian Union in April; another point of discussion was the coming opening of a NATO office in Chișinău, a topic of disagreement between the present actors because the President thinks it affects the stated neutrality of the country. In that spirit, what will be the response of Moldova if Nato invites it, again, to send a delegation to the Extraordinary Summit to be held in Brussels on May 25th?

Considering the facts and the public statements of Moldova’s officials, we can establish that there is an ongoing pre-election campaign assumed by all actors in Chișinău in order to win votes because “in love and war everything is permitted”, especially since the Republic is a nexus of different geopolitical interests in this prolonged crisis.

 
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OEconomica No. 1, 2016