New government in Moldova: Test by compromise

Natalia Stercul, Foreign Policy Association of Moldova (Chisinau)

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The temporary coalition between the Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova (PSRM) and ACUM bloc is a compromise decision, the overthrow of the oligarch regime being its main result. From now on, Moldova is no longer referred to as captured state. Deoligarchization of institutions and full reorganization of the system built by the previous government are underway. But the coalition has yet to pass the main test of its ability to make compromises, facing many challenges in the future. Overcoming disagreements within the coalition and developing consensus agreements may bring reputation risks. This looks inevitable and logical given the polarization of views, positions and geopolitical preferences between the pro-Russian PSRM and the pro-European ACUM. 

Political crisis and change of government in Moldova 

The June political crisis in Moldova widely reverberated in and beyond the country. The main reason was the determination of the Democratic Party to hold on to power at any price. Still, Moldova escaped snap parliamentary election: the pro-Russian PSRM and the pro-European ACUM entered into a temporary coalition at the very last moment, despite the divergences and conflicts between them. ACUM leader Maia Sandu heads Moldova’s new government while PSRM’s Zinaida Greceanii became the Speaker of Parliament. One of the new coalition’s first documents was the declaration of Moldova as captured state at the first meeting of the Parliament on June 8. The Democratic Party expressed discontent and disagreement with the appointments and the new status quo. 

As a result, the Constitutional Court removed the President from power and appointed Pavel Filip as Acting Prime Minister, claiming that the three months available for coalition talks had expired before it was formed. The Parliament was dissolved and snap parliamentary election was announced. This created ground for a unified position of all external political players, including the US, the EU and Russia — for the first time in Moldova’s history as an independent country. At the end of the day, this played the defining role in the resolution of the domestic crisis. On June 14, Filip’s Cabinet resigned and Plahotniuc, the leader of the Democratic Party, left Moldova and resigned as party leader. Government buildings were unblocked and the Constitutional Court annulled its earlier verdicts. A new turn in the country’s development began. 

In Moldova’s case, it is difficult to speak about benefits or flaws of the coalition agreement: this was the only possible compromise in the given situation. The specific short-term goal of the PSRM and ACUM joining forces in a coalition was to disrupt Plahotniuc’s regime. Real change is hard to think of with the PSRM, although the coalition is working quite constructively together despite scepticism of many politicians, experts and analysts. Apart from that, deoligarchization turns out to be a complex process. The system built by the Democratic Party’s leader is a mechanism that continues to operate smoothly, resisting the new government on all fronts. Despite the barriers to the Democratic Party’s actions, the new government still faces resistance that can aggravate intracoalition disagreements, cooperation alliance partners and disrupt their temporary union. 

Reluctant to leave the Democratic Party’s illegal efforts to hold on to power unaccounted for, Interior Minister Andrei Nastase has requested an internal investigation from the Prosecutor General’s Office. But former Prosecutor General did not see any crimes in the claims listed in the request. Meanwhile, new appointments — also temporary for now as the coalition has not yet come to a unified decision on this issue — have delivered results. Prosecutor General’s Office has revised its earlier decision and decided to open a criminal case for usurpation of power in the state from June 7 to June 14. 

The Democratic Party declared this decision illegal: “The opening of a criminal case for an alleged coup is part of an effort to persecute Democratic Party representatives and is in line with the new government’s aspiration to hit political pluralism and declare the Democratic Party outside the law”. The Parliament does not yet have constitutional grounds to declare the Democratic Party outside the law. And the Democratic Party will not dissolve voluntarily. Its next convention is scheduled for September 7. It will discuss restructuring and plans to elect new leadership. 

Since it entered into power, the new government looks capable of negotiating on many issues, avoiding provocations and trying to build a constructive debate. Its top priority actions include return to the proportional election system; adoption of the law to change the procedure for appointing Prosecutor General; making the State Guard accountable to the President; amendment of the law on Information and Security Service, and more. One of the most important tasks is to reform the Constitutional Court, justice and attorneys sectors. But there are many stumbling blocks on this path that make the reform difficult. Some NGOs have expressed concern over non-transparent appointment of two Constitutional Court justices by the Parliament and asked it to amend the Constitutional Court Law. 

The change of government in Moldova created ground for more proactivity from political forces, leading to the emergence of new parties in Moldova’s political landscape. The Save Bessarabia Union emerged, founded by Valeriu Muntianu, former leader of the Liberal Party; APEL (Protection of Individual is Law) was established as a pro-European left-of-center party;  Mark Tkachuk and Yuriy Muntian set up the Party for Collective Action — Civic Congress presenting itself as the first anti-crisis party in the Republic of Moldova. New political parties aim at entering the political battle. This could bring the new forces to a higher level and create conditions for a reload of civic relations within the state. This will also increase political competition. 

In any case, these changes launched a chain political reaction, somewhat overcoming inertia and passivity of political groups and the population. A glimpse of hope emerged: the changes are real and there is a chance to build a democratic state, which means that Moldova has a future. It is therefore important that the current government does not disappoint EU partners and, first and foremost, its own citizens.  

Foreign policy reference points: both EU, and Russia 

Some changes emerge in Moldova’s foreign policy triggered by the aspiration to build constructive relations with all partners. Prime Minister Sandu went to Bucharest on her first visit, then to Brussels, Kyiv and Berlin. While clearly declaring its European aspirations and definitive commitment to cooperation with the EU and implementation of the Association Agreement, Sandu’s government also included in its platform an item about promotion of permanent institutional dialogue with the Russian Federation to create ground for mutually beneficial cooperation. Sandu is scheduled to travel to Moscow in September. The agenda has a range of issues, including trade cooperation between Moldova and Russia and free trade zone within the CIS as priorities. Resolution of the Transnistria conflict and the issue of the Russian military presence in the region are also on the agenda. These are seen as extremely important points given the impression that the new government has not yet chosen a way to resolve the Transnistria issue, and that it will rely on the tactics of small steps which is not productive, given the experience of the past years. Sandu’s visit may help to clarify many issues — for herself as Prime-Minister first and foremost –, including Moldova’s position on the future cooperation. 

The impression is that an agreement may be reached on trade cooperation while the Transnistria issue will remain frozen. 

On the other hand, the expansion of the Presidential Administration’s foreign policy links with the West deserve a note. Igor Dodon is scheduled to travel to Brussels and Washington to attend a UN Assembly General session in September-October. President Dodon has recently more than once marked the importance and the value of the EU as Moldova’s partner in his speeches.  

Apart from that, the dialogue with development partners resumed after it had been suspended as a result of irresponsible actions by the previous government, including tax amnesty and decisions that resulted in budget disbalance. Successful completion of evaluation missions under the IMF program allowed it to extend the current program through March 2020 and Moldova to receive macrofinancial assistance. 

The geopolitical factor will continue to affect Moldova in the future. External players still have diverging interests in this region. But Moldova’s current choice of tactics makes sense from the perspective of rethinking and reloading relations with some partners given its own interests and its choice of civilizational development. 

Controversial coalition: how long will the union last? 

PSRM and ACUM are not simply parties with different political platforms and diverging visions of the country’s strategic course. They are political competitors. This requires a search of the best possible consensus decisions and the ability to accept mutual concessions. The greatest tests are ahead and all coalition representatives probably realize this. This is because of the opposing views on many issues of political nature and diverging geopolitical preferences; because of how unsustainable, unclear and shaky the domestic situation in Moldova is, and because of the scale of the tasks faced by the coalition. The key question is how long the new coalition will last and whether it will stand the test of resilience. 

Local elections in October 2019 will be one serious test. PSRM understand how obscure the situation is and demand that ACUM signs a political agreement with them stating clearly the main goals of domestic and foreign policy. The key task is to prevent risks that could prove destructive for governance, consolidation of society and balanced foreign policy. This was President Dodon’s main motivation when he initiated the drafting and signing of a “Non-Aggression Pact” between the PSRM and ACUM as a solid basis for further work of the coalition partners. 

While few believe that this coalition will last, it may stay in place longer than initially expected. The importance of crucial decisions it needs to take in order to implement reforms can bring PSRM and ACUM together. Of course, this requires political maturity. Still this coalition is purely temporary and aimed at accomplishing the set goal. Hardly anyone can confidently project the future balance of power in Moldova. One thing that can be stated with certainty is that the country has experienced political change and a change of those in power.