* The most controversial election or why the West turned its back to Nastase. Is it a new divorce of never happened marriage ?
On 25 June, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Moldova annulled the results of the 3 June mayoral election in Chişinău, won by the opposition candidate Andrei Năstase. The controversial verdict was reached despite social protests and calls from the EU and U.S. respect for democratic principles. This makes it easier for oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc, who is Moldova’s de facto leader, to retain power. However, at the same time, this moves Moldova away from European standards.
What is the position of the would-be mayor of the capital on the Moldovan political scene?
In 2015, Năstase and Maia Sandu led the biggest anti-government protests in Moldovan history. The protests, were provoked by the scandal of $1 billion fraud in the banking system. Năstase’s Dignity and Truth Platform Party (PPDA) and Sandu’s Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS) are the only real, though non-parliamentary, pro-European opposition.
Both parties oppose the silent coalition of Plahotniuc and his ruling the Democratic Party, which pay only lip service to concepts of European orientation, and openly pro-Russian President Igor Dodon and his Party of Socialists. Thanks to the alliance between PPDA and PAS, Sandu was nominated as a common candidate in the 2016 presidential election, and Năstase in this year’s Chişinău mayoral election, which he won by gaining 53% of votes in the second round.
Why was the election result annulled?
Ion Ceban from the Party of Socialists, Năstase’s opponent in the second round, lodged a complaint that Năstase had violated election law. He alleged that Năstase had violated election silence by publishing a video in the Internet encouraging voters to make their voices heard (although not specifying any candidate) and that foreigners had participated in his campaign.
The Municipal Court in Chişinău dismissed the second allegation, but ruled that Năstase’s film could have had a significant impact on voters’ decisions. The court also stated that Ceban had also violated election silence, although no complaints had been lodged. In the end, the court refused to confirm Năstase’s victory and annulled the whole second round result. The decision was confirmed by the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court.
Nastase claims that the decision to cancel the results is politically motivated. He was one of the organizers behind Moldova’s large protests in 2015 after $1 billion vanished from the banking system.
Why is an ostensibly pro-Western government in Moldova allowing a court to invalidate these election results? Are the court decisions politically motivated? Is this government really committed to democratic values? What does it mean for Moldova’s long-term prospects? We asked Atlantic Council experts and UkraineAlert contributors to weigh in.
1.Michael Carpenter, former US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Senior Director at the Biden Center, and Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council:
The decisions by Moldova’s courts to annul the results of the Chisinau mayoral election raise troubling questions about the sanctity of the democratic process in Moldova. For a court to overturn an election, there need to be serious process violations that preclude a level playing field among the candidates, and so far at least it is not clear that such serious violations occurred in this latest election.
Particularly because the Moldovan judiciary was directly implicated in laundering over $20 billion dollars in illicit Russian funds to Western financial institutions, its credibility is at rock bottom. These latest court decisions only underscores the urgent need to overhaul the entire judicial system in Moldova.
2.James J. Coyle, Nonresident Senior Fellow, Atlantic Council:
Voiding the election disqualifies both mayoral candidates. Acting mayor Ruslan Codreanu will continue in that position. Codreanu issued a public statement on June 26 that he hopes to see Andrei Nastase in the mayor’s office quickly. The real winner, however, is ruling Democratic Party leader Vlad Plahotniuc. This oligarch characterized both the pro-Western Nastase and his socialist opponent Ion Ceban as his political opponents. The court rulings therefore perpetuates Plahotniuc’s control over Moldovan politics.
3. Agnia Grigas, Nonresident Senior Fellow, Atlantic Council:
Invalidating the results of a democratic vote are an unprecedented development for Moldovan democracy. It would be gravely concerning if this decision were politically motivated—and there is some reason to believe that it could have been. The turn of events suggests that oligarchs maybe playing a disproportionate role in Moldova’s democratic processes as they support different political candidates and vie for power.
The Supreme Court of Moldova should offer an explanation and clarify the path forward, especially given that these emerging practices could set a precedent for and be applied to the upcoming parliamentary elections.
4.John E. Herbst, Director of the Eurasia Center, Atlantic Council:
For about a decade, Moldova has been ruled by parties that proclaim their European vocation and commitment to democracy and an open society. These parties and the European vision suffered a major blow in 2015 when it became clear that major figures in their ranks were involved in the massive bank fraud that shook Moldova. Sadly the June 19 and 22 court decisions invalidating the Chisinau mayoral elections, won by reformer Andrei Nastase, have dealt another blow to Moldova’s democratic development.
The court decisions claim that the vote was invalid for the technical reason that both candidates in the race continued to address voters through social media after the legal end to the campaign.
Nastase claims that the vote was invalidated by the powerful Democratic Party, whose candidate, nominally independent, Mayor Sylvia Radu, lost in the first round of the mayoral elections and resigned. Nastase’s claim is made more plausible by the fact that if the Moldovan Supreme Court upholds the voiding of the election, Radu’s erstwhile deputy remains as acting mayor.
5. Timothy Fairbank, Nonresident Senior Fellow, Atlantic Council:
The Moldovan court system’s decisions to invalidate the results of the Chisinau mayoral election, a vote deemed fair and transparent by observers, is a disturbing sign that makes one question whether the authorities respect the will of the people. These decisions appear politically motivated and mark the most undemocratic action in the country’s twenty-six-year history.
The current government has taken some encouraging steps toward reform and has been a solid partner of the European Union and United States. This event, however, suggests they are afraid of losing hold of vital administrative resources leading up to the November parliamentary elections.
Many citizens and observers view this attempt to obstruct the will of the people to be a red line. Moldova’s long-term democratic prospects are in question, but seeing thousands of people exercising their right to protest and stand up for democracy and rule of law is an encouraging sign.
The publication is not an editorial. It reflects solely the point of view and argumentation of the author. The publication is presented in the presentation. Start in the previous issue. The original is available at: atlanticcouncil.org