Moldova: Between democracy and authoritarianism

Sorin Sclearuc, Foreign Policy Association of Moldova (Chisinau, Moldova)

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The closer it gets to Moldova’s parliamentary elections February 24, 2019, the more brutal Moldova’s policies become, and more primitive the means used to enforce them. In October, Moldovans were surprised by the excessive security measures taken during a visit by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the gifts brought by the Turkish delegation and, last but not least, the manipulative rallies organized by the Democratic Party on the last Sunday of the month. All this underscored the failed impact of the European vector that had been introduced to Moldova’s Constitution.

DOMESTIC POLICY: Whither democracy?

On October 18, the parliament was repeatedly unable to garner enough votes for a bill calling for the European vector to be introduced into the Constitution. Opposition MPs blamed the governing coalition, led by the Democratic Party, for transforming the European agenda into political PR. In reality, Moldova’s dialog with EU institutions has slowed down considerably.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to Chisinau served as an opportunity to demonstrate Moldova’s creeping authoritarianism: the entire capital was paralyzed with all the increased security measures. The bilateral meetings seemed more as exchange of experience between two authoritarian leaders. The gift the Turkish president gave the Moldovan government, two anti-riot armored vehicles, was quite symbolic. During Erdoğan’s visit, the opposition organized a protest under the slogan, “Stop dictatorship.” At the same time, several NGOs urged Moldovan authorities to repatriate all Turkish citizens who were illegally expelled from the country.

The month culminated in a rally organized by the Democratic Party on October 21, announcing a “pro-Moldovan” fourth path, supposedly instead of a European, Eurasian or Romanian one. According to media reports, participants were brought from the Moldovan countryside largely involuntarily, through pressure and intimidation by employers loyal to the Democratic Party. Moreover, these people were given strict instructions on how to dress, how to behave, and what to tell journalists.

The crowd responded to boilerplate speeches by Democratic Party leaders with indifference and silence, which profoundly reflects the social-political situation in Moldova.

ECONOMY: Asset amnesties and pork-barrel politics

The controversial Bill #284 on voluntary declarations and fiscal facilitation, basically a combination of tax reform and capital amnesty, that caused considerable debate among CSOs and in the international community, came into force on October 1. It replaces the current progressive tax of 7% and 18% with a fixed 12%, while the amnesty is supposed to legalize previously undeclared assets and supposedly bring more revenues to the state budget.

On October 19, MACRO Forum 2018 took place in Chisinau under the title, “Investing for the public good and the welfare of the people,” and organized by Expert-Grup and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, a the German foundation. The conference discussed the country’s investment policies, the prospects for and constraints on increasing private and public investment, and how such investments might become a real catalyst for economic growth and social development in Moldova.

“On the surface, we can see the economic situation stabilizing, with an increase of 4-5% of GDP, but to reach the growth levels of Central and Eastern European countries, Moldova needs to grow 7-8%,” concluded Adrian Lupusor, executive director of Expert-Grup. “Judiciary reform and the fight against corruption remain fundamental factors in attracting investment. Although the government understands the need for investments and is taking action in this regard, its impact is minor.”

In a weekly press briefing on October 23, Democratic Party leader Vladimir Plahotniuc announced that, as of December 1, 2018, following salary reform, public sector employees will receive salary increases in the 20-90% range. This clear display of pork-barrel politics was welcomed by the public.

FOREIGN POLICY: In the EU spotlight, again

Moldova is once again being criticized by Foreign affairs MEPs. This time, Petras Auštrevičius commented on the socio-political situation in the country, saying, “Moldova has been captured by oligarchic interests and its economic and political power is being concentrated in the hands of a small group of people who influence the parliament, government, political parties, state administration, police, judiciary and media.”

Chisinau and Ankara signed 5 bilateral treaties during President Erdoğan’s visit, including on travel using identity cards instead of passports, access for freight transporters to transit across the two countries without special permits, and joint military exercises. Earlier, Moldova’s President Igor Dodon said, “Turkey is ready to invest in various sectors of Moldova’s economy and to propose some concrete investment projects in infrastructure.”

With this gesture, Turkey appears to want to ensure additional support in the Black Sea region, especially in the context of its tense relations with the EU, Moldova’s own drift in implementing its Association Agreement with EU, and the emergence of the “pro-Moldova” fourth path.