180 degree changes or backtracking in Moldova

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

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The 2019 local elections in the Republic of Moldova are not simply local elections. They are not about the regions, cities, or the villages of the country, or about identifying the most competent public administration. It is power and political implications that are at stake. 

The former power is seeking validation and aims to instill doubt in the leading coalition. The current government has a strong vision of what reforms are needed and is somewhat praised for its accomplishments, as well as guided by foreign partners. Yet its performance is internally deemed as chaotic, inefficient or insufficient. What is more, the Socialist Party and its de facto leader, president Igor Dodon, are increasingly successful in cornering their coalition partner particularly. The advent and the aftermath of these elections have been so far, among other key processes, a cause of confusion, if not concern for the future and the direction of the changes that are taking place in the country. 


A peculiar change in Moldova

The justice sector reform  continues to be the focus of the government’s efforts. The struggles have prompted some of the most unexpected and sound outcomes. It is, however, difficult to infer whether those have been deliberate decisions, real or forced effects of a system rebuilding. A few had quite major implications. For instance, the controversial 2018 local elections in Chisinau have finally been validated. While Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Nastase, who competed again in the recent elections and was the winner of the 2018 ballot, regards the validation as being fair, Prime Minister Maia Sandu expressed distrust for the institutions from the justice sector, as they have yet to undergo reform. The filing of a no-confidence motion against the Sandu government by the former power, the Democratic Party, was also quite surprising and may be considered as elections-related. The democrats had the same rhetoric as president Dodon – dissatisfaction with the lack of policies for the people. Dodon has also alluded to the necessity to replace some members of the Cabinet, due to some ministries’ performance. Meanwhile, the struggle of identifying a General Prosecutor has yet to be settled. As a result, both the government and the coalition are put at a legitimate and real risk of being terminated, and the PSRM with an opportunity to gain even more leverage and power.

In the October local elections, both PSRM and ACUM have championed, with the former in the lead throughout the country. This outcome might seem favorable since both form the current coalition in power. A better understanding of the situation, however, can be inferred from the example of Chisinau elections, where the PSRM candidate (Ion Ceban) and ACUM candidate (Andrei Nastase) will faced each other again for the second round on November 3rd. The favorite and the winner of in the elections, Ion Ceban, suggested that the coalition be emulated at the city council level, since he believes that ACUM does not have any other options. Aware that such an offer could discredit the bloc ACUM, PSRM and Dodon may be the ultimate winners in Moldova within and outside these elections. It is not surprising then that both parties wanted the Constitutional Court to establish the electoral system (mixed or proportional) based on which the anticipated parliamentary elections could take place.


The cost and the focus of economic change

Moldova will access 40 million euros from the EU, in addition to the three planned installments of the macro-financial assistance program for the country that became available again after being first approved in 2017, but then frozen in 2018. The Government has received a $46,1 million loan from the International Monetary Fund, too. Both are said to be the foreign partners’ response to the accomplishments of the government in the justice sector and in fostering macroeconomic stability, among others. It is also meant to further support the development and implementation of anti-corruption policies, underdeveloped regions, as well as to alleviate the burdens of the budget deficits. The deal with the IMF, however, remains to be one of the many other subjects of contention between the prime minister and the president. According to it, the increase of the value-added tax for the Horeca sector (hotels, restaurants and cafes) was one of the conditions that led to the credit agreement in the first place. President Dodon believes that such a stipulate may endanger key economic sectors.

To probably ease the pressure coming from the president and address issues other than the high-level ones, Prime Minister Sandu has shown more interest for the 2020 state budget. In particular, the government wants to increase the wages and social aid for teachers and the vulnerable social groups. Making local public authorities more financially independent also seems to be an ambitious goal of the Sandu cabinet, if it stays in power.


Change in Moldova’s foreign affairs – the good and the bad

Moldova’s foreign partners seem to be ambivalent in assessing the country’s progress. Frederica Mogherini’s visit to Moldova is an important signal regarding the relaunch of Moldova – EU partnership and the latter’s increased trust in the government’s agenda. The Venice Commission and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe have shown, however, both support and criticism of some of the initiated justice reforms. The Venice Commission has made it clear that the system is in a critical condition, but the reform of the Supreme Court of Justice and the prosecution office should abide the Constitution. And according to PACE, the changes within the Constitutional Court should have been more transparent. Such major changes will also have to be more in line with the recommendations of the Council of Europe.

The country’s foreign affairs seem to be changing, too, although at a slower pace. At the European Conference of Presidents of Parliament, the speaker of the Moldovan parliament, Zinaida Greceanii, has reinforced the fairly recent commitment of the country to a balanced foreign policy. Among other signals that prove this is the official meeting between the Moldovan and the now former Romanian Minister of Foreign Affairs, as well as the participation of the MFA Secretary of State, Tatiana Molcean, at the 2019 meeting of CIS Council of Foreign Ministers. The former ended with a cooperation roadmap approved by both parties, while at the latter, the Moldovan delegation did not sign the agreement for a political-military partnership.

The resolution of the Transdnistrian issue is at a stalemate, if not actually backtracking. The 5+2 negotiations on the Transdnistrian settlement concluded in Bratislava without an agreement on a new protocol. The small-steps strategy, followed by the previous government and favored by Dodon, is heavily criticized by Prime Minister Sandu, which indicates that there is no political consensus internally. The strategy may have also been one of the reasons why the region is becoming more daring, since, supposedly, it plans to start issuing Transdnistrian passports in Moscow and other cities in Russia.