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symbol of Moldova’s kleptocracy

Moldova’s pro-Western façade

in Conflicts · Crisis · Danube · Economics · Europe · Euroskepticism · Moldova · Money · Nation · Politics · Power · Russia · USA · World 147 views / 7 comments

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The EU must stop turning a blind eye to corruption in Moldova and start supporting its pro-democracy opposition.

While Russia certainly has an interest in keeping Moldova unstable and out of the European orbit, Moscow is not orchestrating these protests — and the country’s current government is hardly living up to its “pro-EU” billing.

Moldovan activists are bewildered at how the story is being portrayed in the West.

“It was extremely surprising to find that the European press reported on ‘anti-European protests following the appointment of a pro-EU Government,’” said Dumitru Alaiba, a prominent blogger and activist. “Then similar declarations from EU officials and institutions followed. I felt insulted. Many of us felt like that.”

  • The Moldovan protests do have one similarity with EuroMaidan: The dominant popular mood is frustration with pervasive corruption. In February 2015 it was revealed that approximately $1 billion, representing one-eighth of the Moldovan GDP, had vanished from the country’s banking system over the past four years — from three local banks in particular.
  • As a result, the Moldovan Leu has lost a third of its value, consumer prices hiked, and wages among an already impoverished population fell even further, fueling mass emigration.

Many Moldovans believe the country’s political elites were the beneficiaries of the scandal. Since then, two successive governments formed by the nominally pro-EU ruling coalition have fallen because of their apathy toward properly investigating the bank fraud, let alone holding anyone to account.

It’s easy to understand why citizens’ stormed the Parliament to try to prevent this same clique from forming yet another new government. To be sure, some of the protesters represent groups with a more pro-Russian orientation — such as the Socialist Party and Our Party — but the largest group, the Dignity and Truth Platform, espouses a pro-democracy and pro-European agenda. Citizens want to see their leaders live up to their declared “European” values.

Protesters push the police line inside of Moldova’s Parliament building

At the moment, the biggest danger for Moldovan democracy is not Russian meddling, but that deep-seated corruption could lead to complete disillusionment with Western democratic, free-market values.

And calling this government “pro-European” is not helping. While the governing parties successfully passed a major free-trade agreement with the EU in 2014, they have since relied on their “pro-EU” label for political cover and support from the West while the Moldovan economy crumbles and its politics descend into turmoil.

If the West is truly committed to a democratic future for countries like Moldova, Ukraine, and Georgia, we must support those citizens who seek to hold their political leaders to account.

In a recent visit to Washington, former Moldovan Education Minister Maia Sandu — a well-known reformer who is now a prominent opposition leader — warned the West may be trading long-term democracy for short-term stability in Moldova.

She argues that the governing parties serve the interests of powerful oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc, whom she says wants to use them to capture and run the state. In her view, the Moldovan protesters are concerned that the country could lose the few democratic gains achieved to date. Like the protestors, she insists on early elections to give genuine pro-democracy opposition groups a chance.

If the West is truly committed to a democratic future for countries like Moldova, Ukraine, and Georgia, we must support those citizens who seek to hold their political leaders to account, rather than blindly swallow their pro-Western overtures. If we don’t, there is a risk that governing parties will compromise the meaning of European integration, and that the disillusioned population will turn back to authoritarianism.

Natalia Otel Belan is a senior program officer for Eurasia at the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), and Marc Schleifer is a regional director for Eurasia and South Asia at CIPE.



Moldovan Check &Balances System-2

in Conflicts · Crisis · Danube · Economics · Europe · Euroskepticism · EX-USSR · Moldova · Money · Nation · Politics · Power · Russia · USA · World 86 views / 3 comments

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The pillars of Plahotniuc’s system

Vlad Plahotniuc (born in 1966) is a billionaire and simultaneously the most important, the most controversial and the most mysterious figure in Moldova’s political and business life. He embarked on his career in the 1990s, when – according to his official declarations – he was engaged predominantly in exporting wine to Russia and building a Moldovan-US investment fund.

However, some Moldovan media outlets have suggested that pimping and human trafficking were important sources of his income at that time. This presumed criminal activity reportedly helped Plahotniuc to build an extensive social network with political and business elites not only in Moldova but also in Romania and Ukraine. This has also reportedly enabled him to blackmail his prominent clients.

  • It cannot be ruled out that this was one of the reasons why Plahotniuc received a managerial position at Petrom Moldova, a subsidiary of the Romanian giant, in 2001. His position and influence helped him to establish close contacts with Vladimir Voronin, the then president of Moldova and leader of the Communist Party (which ruled the country by itself from 2001-2009) and his son, Oleg, one of Moldova’s leading businessmen.
  • Allegedly, resorting to blackmail and capitalising on his influence inside the state structures (the police, fiscal services and judiciary) resulting from his contacts with Voronin, Plahotniuc reportedly took over private companies and destroyed his business competitors.
  • At the same time, he was also building his fortune via the irregular privatisation of state property. The influence and assets he acquired at that time became a foundation on which he was able to build his present strength after Voronin relinquished power.

The system of controlling the state apparatus and the Moldovan political scene created by Plahotniuc is based on four complementary main pillars.

The reaction of the Moldovan public to the progressing monopolisation of power

The establishment of the new government has led to a tactical alliance of the two anti-government opposition camps, which are formally ideologically hostile to one another: the pro-European camp (where the main role is played by the informal Civic Platform Dignity and Truth, which was established in February 2015 by well-known Moldovan social activists, publicists and lawyers, and the political party originating from it which bears the same name) and the pro-Russian camp (the Party of Socialists and Our Party).

These two groups previously protested independently of one another (two protest tent cities existed from September 2015: the pro-Russian one in front of the parliament building and the pro-European one in front of the government headquarters). However, since 21 January, the leaders of the three major opposition forces have occasionally acted together, without displaying the symbols of their political parties.

  • Even though the opposition became temporarily united against the governing political arrangement, it remains divided not along ideological lines, but also as regards the methods of protest and their demands.
  • The leaders of both the pro-European and the pro-Russian demonstrators agree on some points, such as the need to hold a snap parliamentary election, but they disagree on when it should be held.
  • There is no doubt that these divisions within the opposition (between the pro-European and the pro-Russian camps) will continue to grow in the coming months due to the preparations for the presidential election which – as a result of a surprising decision from the Constitutional Court of 4 March 2016– will most likely be held in autumn this year.

The opposition will certainly prove unable to put forward a common candidate. Schisms may be expected inside both camps, especially between the Party of Socialists and Our Party. Relations between these two groupings are already tense (given the fact that they are vying for the same electorate), but they most likely will become even more tense due to fact that Renato Usatii, the leader of Our Party, will not be eligible to run for the presidency because of his age (he is 37, while the required minimum age is 40).

Another very important factor limiting the scale of the opposition’s activity is the fact that the demonstrators, despite high frustration levels, are painstakingly trying to avoid a violent scenario and bloodshed. The PCRM’s victory in the parliamentary election brought in April 2009 led to riots, during which several people were killed and many were injured; the trauma connected to this incident is still alive among the Moldovan public.

Both this memory and the serious concern that the Ukrainian Maidan scenario could be repeated in Moldova (and, in effect, the fear of a Russian intervention) play their part in making the violent scenario less likely. The government is perfectly aware of this and has definitely refrained from using any violent solutions so as in order to avoid provoking the demonstrators. However, it has instead threatened that court proceedings will be launched against demonstrators who break the law. This intimidates the protesters and discourages potential participants from taking part in the protests.

Possible developments

  • The future of Vlad Plahotniuc’s monopolist position is currently uncertain. His position could be challenged, for example, by the activity of the anti-government opposition and the deteriorating economic situation.
  • Although the protests are at present limited, it should not be ruled out that there could be an escalation of tension or even provocation, and this may lead as far as the collapse of the present cabinet and a snap parliamentary election.
  • Paradoxically, the present political deal will benefit from the new procedure of electing the president which was introduced as a result of the Constitutional Court’s decision in March this year (by general election instead of election by parliament).

The new government, aware of its lack of popularity and the vast public dissatisfaction, is currently focusing on actions that could quickly improve its image. Since 1 February 2016, gas prices have been reduced by around 10%, the distribution of cheap (‘welfare’) bread was reintroduced and government inspections of companies have been temporarily withheld.

It has also been promised to raise pensions and reduce electricity prices (in both cases by 10%). The government has also made intensive efforts to bring back EU financing which was suspended in summer 2015, to renew the loan talks with the IMF and to receive a loan of 150 million euros promised by Bucharest last year.

On 2 March, due to the non-transparent ownership structure and accusations of conspiracy, the NBM froze around 40% of the shares of Moldova Agroindbank, one of the country’s largest banks, and dismissed two vice presidents of Moldindconbank.

In turn, the parliament passed a number of laws intended, for example, at reforming the prosecution authorities and the NBM and at demonopolising the media. However, nothing seems to suggest that these reforms would really change the existing government system. At the same time, moves have been made to prove to the public how the new government is engaged in combating corruption.

If the government manages to stabilise the economic situation in the country and to remain in power for the next few months despite the social tension, it cannot be ruled out that it will begin to gain popularity.

  • In effect, the government system based on Plahotniuc’s clan which has crystallised over the past six months will grow even stronger and expand its influence still further.
  • This may lead to the formation of a specific kind of soft, nominally pro-European authoritarianism, where both the parliament and the government will become fully marginalised, deprived of independence (this process can already be observed) and will only play the role of executive institutions adding legitimacy to the real power centre, i.e. Plahotniuc’s clan.
  • In this situation, the chances for pro-European changes in Moldova and a genuine implementation of the Association Agreement will be rather distant.

Furthermore, the operation of this system will be a convenient propaganda instrument for the Kremlin in discrediting the idea of European integration and the effectiveness of the EU’s policy with regard to its Eastern Partners.

Kamil Całus



Moldovan Check &Balances System-1

in Crisis · Euroskepticism · Nation · Person 139 views / 5 comments

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Moldova’s political system took shape due to the six-year rule of the Alliance for European Integration coalition but it has undergone a major transformation over the past six months. Resorting to skilful political manoeuvring and capitalising on his control over the Moldovan judiciary system, Vlad Plahotniuc, one of the leaders of the nominally pro-European Democratic Party and the richest person in the country, was able to bring about the arrest of his main political competitor, the former prime minister Vlad Filat, in October 2015.

Then he pushed through the nomination of his trusted aide, Pavel Filip, for prime minister. In effect, Plahotniuc has concentrated political and business influence in his own hands on a scale unseen so far in Moldova’s history since 1991.

Plahotniuc, whose power and position depends directly on his control of the state apparatus and financial flows in Moldova, is not interested in a structural transformation of the country or in implementing any thorough reforms; this includes the Association Agreement with the EU.

This means that as his significance grows, the symbolic actions so far taken with the aim of a structural transformation of the country will become even more superficial. Furthermore, the Moldovan government system, which has become monopolised by a single political centre, is very unstable.

This is so because Plahotniuc’s position is strengthening, while 95% of the public declare a dislike of him. Given the arrogant manner in which Plahotniuc’s camp took power in the country, all this has rekindled protest sentiments, which are nevertheless unlikely to change the political situation in Moldova. It also seems unlikely that this situation could be affected by the restrained reactions from Moldova’s Western partners.

From the alliance of the two oligarchs…

When the Alliance for European Integration took power in Moldova in 2009, it kicked off the gradual process of subordinating the state apparatus to the leaders of the groupings which formed the government coalition (which was nominally pro-European and implemented the policy of EU integration).

The key actors and beneficiaries of this process were Vlad Filat, the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova (PLDM), the largest grouping in the coalition, and Vlad Plahotniuc, the informal but real leader and sponsor of the coalition’s second largest grouping, the Democratic Party of Moldova (PDM).

The two politicians and the third, smallest, coalition partner, the Liberal Party (PL) led by Mihai Ghimpu, in fact divided influence and positions in the country amongst themselves.

The system formed this way functioned for more than 5 years, even though it was very unstable and would regularly generate political crises.

  • Although Filat and Plahotniuc formally speaking were allies in the coalition, in reality they were business and political rivals, engaged in a constant struggle for expanding their political influence and control of the state apparatus.
  • However, they were forced to maintain this temporary alliance which ensured them a parliamentary majority and enabled them to remain in power and, consequently, to maintain their influence and secure their political and business interest
  • Even though it seemed that both politicians remained equally strong, over time it could be detected that it was Vlad Plahotniuc who had larger assets and greater sway (especially among the judiciary and partly in the law enforcement agencies) and who was more successful at limiting the position of his competitor. The fact that Filat was dismissed from the position of prime minister as a result of the political crisis in 2013 was one sign of this.

… to Plahotniuc’s autocracy

The turning point which led to the duopoly of power breaking took place on 15 October 2015, when – upon a motion from the prosecutor general, who was believed to be controlled by Plahotniuc – Filat was deprived of parliamentary immunity and was subsequently arrested by the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau and sent to jail.

He was charged with being directly involved in siphoning off US$1 billion from the Moldovan banking system at the end of 2014 and of accepting a bribe of US$250 million from Ilan Shor, the Israeli-Moldovan businessman who is believed to be the architect of this intrigue.

Plahotniuc’s influence began to expand rapidly after Filat was arrested. He managed to subordinate to himself the greater part of the political scene in just three months. The PLDM fell apart and became a marginal party, and some MPs from this party decided to openly support the candidate for prime minister put forward by the PDM. There was also an unprecedented split inside the Communist Party (PCRM) – most (14) of its MPs left the party and declared they were willing to co-operate with the PDM. It also seems almost certain that Mihai Ghimpu’s Liberal Party is at present under Plahotniuc’s strong influence. Many local activists and some primars (mayors), predominantly from the PLDM, have decided to join the structures of the PDM.

Capitalising on his ever stronger control of parliament, Plahotniuc made an attempt to become prime minister himself. This decision contradicted his previous strategy, which had included avoiding holding any important positions in the state administration, instead delegating people who were completely dependent on him or were members of his clan to these positions.

However, Paduraru withdrew from the mission of forming the government in circumstances which are yet to be defined. The PDM put forward a compromise candidate, Pavel Filip, Plahotniuc’s close and trusted associate. The president accepted this candidate. On 20 January 2016, Filip won a vote of confidence in parliament and formed a new cabinet.

The key positions in the new government, including those in charge of financial flows and the law enforcement agencies, were taken by people linked to Plahotniuc or technocrats with no political base.

As a result, in addition to the institutions they already controlled (the judiciary, anti-corruption institutions, the National Bank of Moldova (NBM) and the Constitutional Court) , Plahotniuc’s clan gained control of the fiscal and customs services (which are a serious source of revenue from corruption) and the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the police.

All state institutions and the management of state-owned companies have undergone an overhaul of personnel aimed at removing the PLDM’s nominees and replacing them with people linked to Plahotniuc’s clan.

Despite public and international protests, Plahotniuc’ clan has been tightening their grip on the institutions he already controls. One example of this was the re-election of Mihai Poalelungi on 7 February 2016 as president of the Supreme Court. At the same time, business assets owned by Filat are being seized. This process is presented as a way of regaining the funds he had allegedly stolen from the Moldovan banking system. Plahotniuc’s influence in the media sector, which is vast already, is also being expanded (this is described in more detail below).



Moldova’s kleptocracy

in Conflicts · Crisis · Danube · Economics · Europe · Euroskepticism · EX-USSR · Moldova · Money · Nation · Politics · Power · Russia · USA · World 120 views / 4 comments

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Although its power seems firmly entrenched, Vlad Plahotniuc’s government needs some external legitimacy and urgent financial support.

  • legitimization for Plahotniuc’s government. The EU, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank have suspended all financial support, attaching stringent conditions to any further lending to this government.
  • Some known pro-government commentators (who also describe themselves as “pro-Europe”) blame the EU’s mission in Chisinau for that situation and have launched scurrilous attacks on the mission (Deschide.md, April 6, 25)—a procedure that would have been unthinkable until now.

Russia, meanwhile, is hedging its bets regarding Moldova generally and Plahotniuc personally. He is not obtaining access to the Kremlin, but neither is he being attacked (as he was, with vitriol, in January) by Kremlin media. The Moldovan government has, in recent weeks, reopened several diplomatic channels with Moscow, seeking “normalization,” not rapprochement. This will not result in economic favors to the government, nor in some form of political acceptance of Plahotniuc in Moscow any time soon.

Plahotniuc’s government can only turn to Romania, until the Moldovan presidential election due in October. He hopes for two deliverables from Romania in the short term.

  • First, a start to disbursements of tranches from the €150 million ($170 million) credit line, as Moldova is still without a budget for 2016. The Romanian government and parliament have approved this low-interest credit, but disbursement is conditional on certain financial sector reforms and anti-corruption measures that Moldova has yet to enact.
  • Second, Plahotniuc wants Bucharest to urge Moldova’s pro-Western groups to desist from nominating their common candidate for the October presidential election. Plahotniuc will undoubtedly launch a controlled candidate (or more than one) in the presidential race.

That candidate might, however, be stopped by a joint candidate of the pro-Western parties. Plahotniuc wants those and other groups to support his nominee, lifting him into the runoff against the likely pro-Russia candidate, Socialist Party leader Igor Dodon. Such a scenario would cast Plahotniuc, with his resources and political apparatus, as Moldova’s protector from Russian influence.

However, Plahotniuc also seems to consider making a deal with Dodon in the run-up to the presidential election. A separate deal between them would marginalize Renato Usatii’s Our Party, which is the other pro-Russia party with a large Moldovan following.

  • This scenario is widely discussed in political circles and the press, based on the latest instances of cooperation between them. A television channel affiliated with Dodon’s Socialist Party has recently been granted a frequency with country-wide coverage, by decision of the Plahotniuc-controlled Audio-Visual Council (media regulatory agency).
  • In return, the Socialist parliamentary group has introduced and helped enact an amendment to the law on media ownership, enabling Plahotniuc to retain his four TV channels until 2021, instead of limiting his holding to two TV channels as of this year.
  • The Plahotniuc-controlled parliamentary majority is willing to appoint a Socialist as chairman of the Central Electoral Commission, ahead of the elections. Plahotniuc’s Democratic Party and the Socialist Party (along with the rump Communists) have together adopted a declaration in parliament, calling for restrictions on Moldova’s cooperation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and threatening to legislate such restrictions.

At the same time, Plahotniuc’s government is opening a wide scope for “unionist” Moldovan and Romanian groups to conduct their activities in Moldova. On March 27, the government-owned National Palace (Chisinau’s most prestigious conference hall) hosted a unionist congress with more than 1,000 participants, on the 98th anniversary of Bessarabia’s unification with Romania.

Blueprints and road maps for the Republic of Moldova’s re-unification with Romania were debated and approved at this congress (Unimedia, March 27, 28). Other unionist groups and initiatives are developing in parallel (see EDM, February 9). Some of these emphasize raising the Romanian national-cultural awareness among Moldovans; while others envisage political actions in preparation for 2018, the first unification’s centennial (see above).

The scope and tempo of these activities are unprecedented, but their significance is far more symbolic than practical at present. What makes such debates possible and perhaps inevitable (even if theoretically) is the breakdown of Moldova’s process of association with the European Union, the EU’s own inward turn, and Romania’s growing sense of responsibility for consolidating Moldova (see Part One).

A Romanian policy that disproportionately emphasizes Moldova’s Romanian dimensions will not be effective, however. Moldova’s Moldovan dimensions (i.e., the specific local identity) and the post-imperial “Russian-speaking” identities also need to be addressed. Romania has recently made a promising start in reaching out to the Gagauz.

The city of Balti can be next in line. Looking beyond those enclaves, to call for a “Moldova without Dodon and Usatii” is unrealistic.

Many, probably most of their voters in the territory between the Prut and Nistru rivers are Moldovan/Romanian-speaking. As Romania’s role and responsibilities increase in Moldova, it will need to reach out to the masses of voters of what are now the pro-Russia parties.



Romanian ambitions on Moldovan ground

in Conflicts · Crisis · Danube · Economics · Europe · Euroskepticism · EX-USSR · Moldova · Money · Nation · Politics · Power · Russia · USA · World 90 views / 4 comments

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Romania has surged as a political player in the Republic of Moldova in recent months, for the first time in a quarter-century (see Part One in EDM, April 22). Two inter-related failures—that of the European Union’s Partnership Policy in Moldova and that of Moldova itself, politically and economically—have created an opening and even strategic demand for Romania, a member of the EU and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), to assume greater responsibilities in Moldova. At the same time, Romania’s growing resources and its incipient attractiveness (along with the EU’s relative eclipse) have recently created a viable basis for a more activist and ambitious Romanian role.

At this stage, however, Romania has not yet established the necessary building blocks for political and economic influence in Moldova. This will take time.

  • For now, the main thrust of Bucharest’s policy is a high-risk deal with Moldova’s de facto ruler, Vlad Plahotniuc. The main thesis underlying this policy is that Plahotniuc “guarantees Moldova’s stability” generally, its “European orientation” in particular, and keeps the strong pro-Russia parties out of power, if only to protect his own power.
  • Without holding any state post, Plahotniuc basically completed an unconstitutional takeover of power in January 2016 (see EDM, January 15, 21), and is now putting the finishing touches on this process.

Bucharest’s apparent bet on Plahotniuc, however, meets with the disapproval of Moldova’s pro-Western parties and civil society leaders, skepticism on the part of EU officials in Brussels, and critique from Romanian members of the European Parliament. In those quarters, Plahotniuc is seen as the epitome of corruption, largely responsible for blocking Moldova’s reforms; while his informal rule is viewed as a case of state capture.

Meanwhile, opinion polls consistently show 90 percent of Moldova’s populace disapproving of him, and only 6 or 7 percent supporting Plahotniuc’s Democratic Party. Thus, any external bet on Plahotniuc would seem to count not on popular support to his de facto rule, but on Plahotniuc’s power apparatus to impose control over the country.

Relying on Plahotniuc to “maintain stability” is a proposition that might, perhaps, be argued with reference to Moldova’s fragility as a state and society. Instead, the justification is sometimes adduced that Plahotniuc’s government is “pro-European.”

  • While factually untenable, and widely contradicted in Moldova and abroad, this label produces a specific political effect in Moldova. It conflates Europeanism with state capture and corruption in the eyes of Moldova’s ordinary populace.
  •  The use of this label by the failed “Alliance for European Integration” and “pro-Europe Coalition” since 2014 (if not earlier) has tarnished the “Europe” brand in Moldova, playing into the hands of local pro-Russia parties and, potentially, Russia. Depicting Plahotniuc’s government as pro-Europe can only exacerbate that effect.

Following Plahotniuc’s successful annihilation of Vlad Filat’s Liberal-Democrat Party, a vacuum has opened on the pro-Western side of Moldova’s party spectrum. Two embryonic parties, “Platform for Dignity and Truth” and “Solidarity Action,” led by Andrei Nastase and Maia Sandu, respectively, are attempting to fill this opening, ahead of the presidential election expected to be held in October.

  • These parties staunchly oppose Plahotniuc—as does the Civic Forum, comprised of the country’s most respected civil society leaders.
  • These groups regularly participate in public events protesting against “state capture,” and they plan to contest the presidential election against Plahotniuc’s stand-in candidates.
  • These groups’ political experience and resources are meager, but they are the West’s and Romania’s natural allies in Moldova. They find it hard to accept or understand a Romanian policy that supports Plahotniuc.

Whether that policy rests on a consensus in Bucharest seems uncertain. Given all those downsides, it might not be a full-consensus policy. But it is the visible policy for now, perhaps seen as inevitable at this stage by its exponents. On one hand, it takes into account the undeniable fact that, according to Kamil Calus of the Warsaw-based Institute for Eastern Studies, “despite public and international protests, Plahotniuc’s clan has been tightening their grip on the institutions” .

On the other hand, the risky stake on Plahotniuc is a consequence of Bucharest’s inability during more than 20 years to establish serious political alliances in Moldova beyond the narrow circle of ineffectual “unionist” parties. The largest among those, Mihai Ghimpu’s Liberal Party, traditionally confined to 10 percent of the electorate, transferred its loyalty from Bucharest to Plahotniuc in 2013 and is down to 2 percent in the latest opinion polls (Infotag, April 21).

Plahotniuc, of course, is no “unionist” (he has no apparent ideology or vision beyond day-to-day tactics). It is public knowledge that he holds Romanian citizenship under a different name. Plahotniuc’s Romanian allies have included certain leaders of the Social-Democrat Party (SDP), particularly the disgraced SDP leader Victor Ponta (prime minister 2012–2015, indicted on multiple corruption charges).

Among Romania’s main parties, the SDP has been the most infested with corruption, and it tried hard to resist presidents Traian Basescu’s and Klaus Iohanis’s anti-corruption efforts. Local pro-Western opinion and Western embassies supported Basescu and, currently, Iohannis in this struggle. Plahotniuc, however, demonstratively aligned with Ponta and his group.

This struggle is still ongoing in Romania at present. Given this Romanian political constellation, the decision to bet on Plahotniuc might not be a whole-of-government decision, particularly considering its downsides.



Moldova’s Presidential Election : round 1

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Moldova’s presidential elections are shaping up to divide the electorate between pro-Europe and pro-Russia candidates even before campaigning officially gets underway.

On April 1, Moldova’s Parliament voted to hold direct presidential elections on October 30. It put off the official start of the election campaign until July 30 to allow Parliament time to pass electoral legislation and fill vacant seats in the Central Election Commission.

The vote in Parliament followed a surprise Constitutional Court decision on March 4 that struck down a 2000 amendment, which required a supermajority of sixty-one out of 101 members of Parliament to select a President. The political consensus required to obtain such a supermajority turned out to be more difficult than anyone had expected.  In fact, a failure to achieve a supermajority led to a 900-day period between September 2009 and March 2012 when Moldova lacked an elected President.

The October 30 election will take place against a backdrop of political turmoil in a country with a population of just under three million.  In April of 2015, the Dignity and Truth movement began organizing large-scale protests that tapped into public anger over the disappearance of around $1 billion from three Moldovan banks. For a country known as the “poorest in Europe,” this amounted to approximately one-eighth of the GDP.

The protesters demanded new parliamentary elections and collected signatures for a referendum on a new constitution. As a result of the protests and political intrigue of the past fourteen months, Moldova has seen six different persons serve in an official or acting role as Prime Minister. In addition, a former Prime Minister, Vlad Filat, was arrested for his involvement in the banking scandal.

Pro-… versus pro-…

The European People’s Party of Moldova nominated Iurie Leancă as official candidate for the Presidential elections from October 30th 2016. The decision was made on April 26th by the National Council of the Party.

  • “The new President of the country should help to depolarize the Moldovan society, he needs to think not only in a geopolitical way, but also to engage in unifying the citizens around the idea of revival of Moldova. I think that EPPM has the chances, because we have something other parties don’t- a team devoted to the cause of better living of the citizens and to making them stay home”, declared former PM Iurie Leancă.
  • The EPPM also discussed the possibility of appointing a joint candidate for Presidential elections from the behalf of the opposition parties, presumably from the right-wing ones, emphasizing on the profile and the experience of the candidate.
  • Iurie Leancă is a former diplomat with experience starting from the last days of the Soviet Union till the last 6 years, when he took control over the Moldovan diplomacy in 2009 as Foreign Minister and then as Prime-Minister of Moldova from 2013 till 2015.

During his premiership, the Moldovan Government succeeded in achieving the best state of relations with the states of the European Union and the United States of America and got the occasion to negotiate the visa-free regime with the EU and to sign the Association Agreement with the latter in 2014.

Nevertheless, also during his position as PM, the grand theft of one billion USD from three Moldova banks, Banca de Economii, Banca Socială and Unibank, was taking big “advancements”.

Leancă left the Liberal-Democrat Party in 2015, when he founded his own party, European People’s Party of Moldova.

  • If no candidate receives a majority in the first round of the presidential election, the top two vote-getters will face off in a runoff two weeks later. Socialist Party Chairman and Member of Parliament, Igor Dodon, is the most likely candidate to win over pro-Russia voters and make the runoff.
  • Ironically it was Dodon who provided a key vote in 2012 to break the 900-day impasse without an elected President.  Thirty-seven-year-old Renato Usatyi, the Our Party Chairman and Mayor of Moldova’s second-largest city Balti, is more popular with pro-Russia voters than Dodon, but the constitution requires the President to be at least forty years old.

On the pro-Europe side of the electorate, there is no decisive favorite in the first round and voters are likely to split their votes among a handful of candidates. According to a survey by the International Republican Institute (IRI) in November of 2015, former Education Minister Maia Sandu and former Prime Minister Iurie Leancă are the two highest-rated candidates.

Sandu won praise in June of 2015 for refusing to accept her party’s nomination as Prime Minister unless the General Prosecutor and Governor of the National Bank of Moldova were changed. Parliament subsequently selected another candidate who was voted out three months later. Leancă is widely viewed as an important part of Moldova’s signing and implementation of the European Union Association Agreement.  However, Leancă was maneuvered out of the Prime Minister’s post by his predecessor, Filat, in February of 2015.

Andrei Năstase, a key leader of the Dignity and Truth movement, is expected to join the race and capitalize on the success of the protests and his opposition to the country’s richest and most unpopular politician, Vlad Plahotniuc.

Plahotniuc, the main sponsor of the Democratic Party, is likely to encourage former Speaker and Acting President, Marian Lupu, to join the race. If Lupu agrees it would further split the votes from the pro-Europe electorate. Another pro-Europe candidate, three-term Chisinau Mayor Dorin Chirtoacă, is ineligible to run because he is thirty-seven years old.

In previous Chisinau mayoral elections, the pro-Europe electorate has been divided in the first round, but has united in the runoff to defeat the pro-Russia candidate. This was the case last June when Chirtoacă narrowly defeated Socialist Igor Dodon. While some believe this may be the case in the second round of the presidential election, it is simply not clear at this time.

There are three key scenarios to watch for in this election:

  • First, how much damage will the pro-Europe candidates do to each other in the first round?  In effect, the first round is the equivalent of a US political party’s primary.  If the eventual nominee emerges badly wounded, it bodes poorly for his/her chance to win the runoff.
  • Second, will the pro-Europe candidates unite behind the leader in the runoff?
  • Third, will the Democratic Party support the top choice of the pro-Europe electorate in the runoff, or could Plahotniuc’s interests be better served by throwing the party’s support to Dodon?  Suffice to say, Moldova’s first direct presidential election in twenty years may yield some surprising outcomes.

Brian Mefford is a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center. He writes a regular blog on Ukrainian and Moldovan politics at




Romanian national-cultural awareness in action

in Conflicts · Crisis · Danube · Economics · Europe · Euroskepticism · EX-USSR · Moldova · Money · Nation · Politics · Power · Russia · USA · World 97 views / 4 comments

GEOMETR.IT     http://jamestown.org/

For the first time since the fall of communism in Romania and the Soviet Union (1989, 1991), Romania has become an active contestant for influence in its own right in the Republic of Moldova. This policy has come about suddenly, but the prerequisites were accumulating to almost predetermine a more active and ambitious Romanian policy in Moldova.

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This policy (as currently shaped), however, is heavily betting on the wrong horse: Vlad Plahotniuc, the symbol of Moldova’s kleptocracy. Of all Moldovan public figures, Plahotniuc has the worst negative rating at more than 90 percent (the difference between approval and disapproval rates) in the public opinionpolls.

But Plahotniuc holds the state, law enforcement, and the economy of Moldova firmly in his grip, and has developed a pervasive political apparatus in the country. Those Romanian circles who stand behind this policy believe that working through Plahotniuc would be the most effective way to increase Romanian influence in Moldova, contain and mitigate Russian influence, and continue Moldova’s “European orientation.”

Exponents of this policy in Bucharest designate Plahotniuc’s government as “pro-European”, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

Such realpolitik is defensible as long as it promises to achieve the desired results. But it can boomerang, if Moldova’s populace perceives Romania as an ally of Moldova’s emblematic “oligarch,” and the “European orientation” as synonymous with Plahotniuc’s control of the state in the name of “stability.” In that case, Romania and the European Union will lose the contest in Moldova to the local pro-Russia parties and Russia.

  • This policy has the upper hand in Bucharest presently, but there does not seem to be a “whole-of-government approach” to it. Policy-making regarding Moldova used to be firmly concentrated in the state presidency during Traian Basescu’s tenure (2004-2014).
  • Presently it is not clear whether the policy originates from a single decision-making center or otherwise. President Basescu’s policy was suffused with irredentist undertones; but the current government and President Klaus Iohannis (elected in late 2014) do not use such tones.
  • Yet, from Basescu to Iohannis, major elements of continuity persist in Romania’s policy toward Moldova: the policy keeps within the general bounds of a Euro-Atlantic consensus, and it avoids any appearance of a Romania-versus-Russia contest in Moldova.

If anything Romania adds legitimacy to its Moldova policy by coordinating it with Brussels and (when Washington pays attention) with Washington.

The prerequisites to a more activist Romanian policy are both positive ones, resulting from Romania’s increasingly successful development, and negative prerequisites, necessitating responses to severe challenges in and around Moldova and in Europe writ large

  • In that sense, negative prerequisites include: the European Union’s multiple internal crises, along with the failure of the EU’s Eastern Partnership; misuse of the “pro-Europe” brand by the Plahotniuc-controlled government in 2013-2015, tarnishing that political brand;
  • full suspension of Western loans and grants to Moldova since early 2015;
  • Moldova’s failure as a state and an economy, except the concentration of power in one pair of hands that “provides stability;” rising popularity of the Eurasia option, currently surpassing pro-Europe preferences in Moldova’s public opinion polls; surging pro-Russia parties in Moldova, far outdistancing the pro-Western parties at present in the polls (Unimedia, April 13, 21);
  • and, hypothetically, Russian destabilization operations in Moldova if Ukraine’s situation deteriorates, a contingency that cannot be ruled out. These recent developments cumulatively require Romania to assume unprecedented responsibilities in terms of stabilizing and consolidating Moldova.

Positive prerequisites have also accumulated recently to enable an activist Romanian role. Romania’s image, traditionally unedifying with much of Moldova’s populace, is significantly improving. Economic growth makes Romania more attractive to Moldova’s citizens. Romania now enjoys annual budget surpluses and is offering a 150 million euro loan to Moldova, on conditions agreed with the EU and IMF, but less stringent than theirs (Adevarul, April 1).

 Romania’s crackdown on high-level corruption strongly resonates in Moldova, where the issue of corruption has almost become a national obsession, and Romania is seen increasingly as a model to follow.

With generational change in Moldova, the proportion of Moldovans identifying themselves as “Romanian”—still in the minority—has risen to at least 20 percent in recent public opinion polls, double the 10 to 12 percent share recorded during the last 25 years. These recent developments create a far stronger resource base and wider scope for Romanian policies toward Moldova.

Romania’s current policy objectives include, in the short term: ensuring “political stability” through Plahotniuc’s government, his parliamentary majority, and the administrative resources and law enforcement apparatus under his control; avoiding parliamentary elections in Moldova, as long as possible and at all cost, for fear that pro-Russia parties would win and shift Moldova toward Russia; develop Romania’s own political contacts (which are still very limited) in Moldova, increase the presence of Romania’s mass media (also very limited) in Moldova, and encourage the upgrading of Moldova’s partnership with NATO.

In the medium term, it envisages building electricity and natural gas inter-connections between Romania (i.e., the EU’s energy markets) and Moldova, so as to free Moldova from dependence on Russian gas and Transnistrian-supplied electricity. And in the short, medium and long term, Bucharest will undoubtedly promote Romanian national-cultural awareness in the Republic of Moldova, without officially advocating Romania-Moldova unification, but also without curbing unofficial “unionist” activities.



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