By Keith Harrington
During January 2019, I attended a seminar with Maia Sandu, leader of ACUM DA-PAS. Her party was a coalition, recently made up of many leading reformists intent on reversing what they perceive as Moldova’s recent democratic backslide. In order to achieve this reversal, the party’s agenda was to increase the rule of law and begin fulfilling the necessary requirements for EU integration.
Following the seminar, many of those in attendance speculated that Ms Sandu’s new party was unlikely to perform well at the polls. However, ACUM-DA PAS performed strongly, capturing almost as many seats as the Socialists and the Democratics, the two largest parties in the country.
The election results brought the republic into a seemingly unsurpassable political deadlock. In such a situation, the Socialists and Democrats, who were suspected of working together in the past, were now expected to form a coalition.On June 8 the unthinkable happened. A coalition between the pro-Russian socialists and pro-Western Acum DA-PAS was formed. The newly formed government was recognised by Moldova’s president Igor Dodon, with Maia Sandu as its new Prime Minister.
The new government declared its intent to remove Vladimir Plahotniuc, Moldova’s leading oligarch and leader of the Democratic Party, from all aspects of political life. They then adopted a resolution which declared Moldova a captured state, held at the behest of Vladimir Plahotniuc.
The following day the Constitutional Court, which Plahotniuc basically controls, stepped in declaring the elections as illegal, and dismissed Dodon for failing to dissolve the Parliament. Pavel Fillip, former Prime Minister and Member of the Democratic Party, was appointed as interim president. Fillip immediately dissolved the new government and rescheduled elections for September.
Over the past few years the Court has been used by Plahotniuc to dispose of his enemies. Most notoriously, the court deemed the 2018 mayoral elections null and void when reformer and Plahotniuc critic, Andre Nastase, won the race for mayor. Unsurprisingly, the Courts were once again used, in a last ditch effort to maintain power.
While the Democrats, through their leader Plahotniuc, control much of the power within the country, they have made numerous enemies abroad. Last year the EU suspended funding to Moldova due to apparent disregard for democratic values. Both Russia and the West appear to be on the same page, a rare event nowadays, with representatives from both expressing their support for Maia Sandu’s government.
Moldova finds itself at a crossroads. Important decisions regarding the future of the country will be decided over the next couple of months. For the past few years, Moldova’s slide away from democracy has been getting continuously worse, with the Constitutional Court not hesitating to exert its power whenever Plahotniuc wishes.
It would appear that if the Democrats remain in power over the coming months, Moldova will likely slide further away from any chance of a stable democratic system. However, should the Acum-Socialist coalition remain in power with Maia Sandu at its centre, they may be able to preserve enough democratic values within the state to provide a brighter future for the country. If so, the process will be slow and arduous, and will likely only be achieved by the continued support of Moldova’s international partners.