Tug of war in Moldova? Dynamics within and outside Moldovan leadership

Laura Zghibarta, Foreign Policy Association of the Republic of Moldova (Chisinau, Moldova)

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Moldova’s current leadership celebrated its 100th day in power in September. This milestone is symbolic since both the parliament and the government are moving forward with their main priorities: reforming the justice sector, consolidating state institutions, resuming financial and political assistance from or cooperation with foreign partners, and delegitimizing the predecessors. This is also time marked by dissensions: slightly differing political and economic agendas, messages behind officials’ foreign visits, resignations from one of the coalition parties, as well as rivalry stirred in the anticipation of the local elections. The agreement between the ACUM bloc and the Socialist Party (PSRM) has been extended, but disagreements arise from both the inside and outside of the majority.


United or divided?

The Moldovan parliament and government have focused their efforts on the deoligarchization process and the advancement of judicial reforms, which are of great importance especially to the ACUM bloc. The law on prosecution was adopted and promulgated, establishing a new procedure of electing the general prosecutor, which would increase the independence of the formerly politicized institution. However, the heads of key institutions, including the prosecutor’s office, are yet to be identified and appointed. Moreover, the justice reforms triggered mixed reactions.

Certain accomplishments and remaining obligations have probably incentivized both ACUM and the Socialist Party to renew their alliance. The new agreement excludes prominent geopolitical references and focuses on common strategic priorities: the continuation of the judicial reforms, good governance and economic development, so as to prevent possible clashes within the coalition.

Despite this, president Dodon, the de facto leader of the Socialist Party, is uninhibited in voicing populist remarks and criticizing the performance of certain ministries under the government of ACUM member Maia Sandu, and the lack of social-economic policies. At the same time he remains committed to the alliance that overthrew the oligarchy. The Prime-minister’s approach, however, centers on purging the system as a prerequisite for delivering public policies.

Policy reform and improvement seems promising for the capital too, since, to date, there are 19 registered competitors for the mayoral position in Chisinau. The PSRM candidate framed the October elections as not centered on geopolitics, but rather on the electoral programs. Others are  lobbying hard against any Russian or Dodon interference in the capital. This discontent generated skepticism and resignations from Platform DA, part of ACUM. After winning the mayoral election in 2018 and facing its annulment, the current vice prime-minister, Andrei Nastase, will face again his former key opponent – Ion Ceban from  PSRM, but also a former member of Platform DA – Octavian Ticu. These elections will certainly challenge the strength of the alliance, the commitment of its members and the transparency of the process under the new reforms.


Impasse or improvement?

The performance of the Ministry of Economy and Infrastructure is evaluated as fairly negative by President Dodon. Major disagreements revolve around the possibility of a gas crisis taking place in the country.  The issue arose after talks about halting the transit of Russian gas through Ukraine. Mr. Dodon is certain that Moldova will be supplied with gas for the upcoming winter at even lower cost than previously, after negotiations with both Gazprom and Putin. On the other hand, the government is considering purchasing and storing gas supplies in Ukraine, and has already requested that two national companies hold minimum stocks. 

The 46.5 million dollars pledged for Moldova by the International Monetary Fund is also a matter of discontent between the parties, since in return, the government is required to partially increase taxes. Given this, president Dodon is interested in renegotiating the deal with the IMF. On the other hand, the US may become involved in the investigation of the $1 billion bank fraud, as a recent visit paid by Prime-minister Maia Sandu and other high-level officials to Washington shows. 


Coordination or separate strategies?

With the renewal of the coalition, ACUM and PSRM agreed to continue promotiing a balanced foreign policy. Both the government and president Dodon held meetings with Western and Eastern officials, but each had an agenda and message to deliver.

The Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration, Nicu Popescu paid a visit to his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. The meeting aimed to strategically re-establish the political dialogue, and resuscitate the economic cooperation between the countries. This may have been an attempt to pave the way towards the withdrawal of Russian troops from the separatist territory of Transnistria, supported legally by Moldova’s constitutional provision on neutrality, as well as the disposal of the Russian ammunition from the territory, preferably under the supervision of OSCE. The meeting did not suggest a redirection from or stop in the implementation of the Association Agreement, which Mr. Popescu reiterated to be at the core of the current government’s foreign policy, in an earlier visit to Berlin. A similar message was conveyed to the US Vice-president Mike Pence during the official visit to Washington. The reassurances given by Maia Sandu regarding furthering the European integration, strategic cooperation with the US and the democratization of Transdnistria may have increased Moldova’s chances of attracting US investments.

On the other hand, President Dodon spoke about the relaunch of relations in less limiting terms, during the Moldovan-Russian Economic Forum, held in Chisinau. The president’s messages during the meetings with NATO and OSCE secretaries-general also implied a different approach. Dodon emphasized the idea of neutrality and non-adherence to NATO without isolation, rather than cooperation, as promoted by Ms. Sandu, as well as incremental changes and building trust for the Transdnistrian settlement

And as expected, President Dodon presented his own stance on neutrality and the Transdnistrian issue during the 74th UN General Assembly session. After first pledging all support for the UN agenda and determination to continue honoring commitments and fostering good relations with all foreign partner states and organizations, Mr. Dodon swiftly called for Moldova’s permanent military neutrality to be de facto recognized at the international level. He framed it as a prerequisite for  resolving the Transdnistrian issue, as well as ensuring regional security. The Action and Solidarity Party, led by Prime-minister Maia Sandu, and part of the bloc ACUM, however, dissociated from the president’s statements at the UNGA session, insisting that the withdrawal of the troops from the territory is imperative for the case, and should have been clearly stated during his speech.