The political stage in Chișinău is once again in crisis. The incompatibility between the pro-European president Maia Sandu and her governing opponents, from the camp of the corrupt pro-Russia “establishment” in Chișinău, has led to new confrontations and situations hard to anticipate.
Dodon rebuilds the alliance with oligarchs to keep the levers of power
Following the election of Maia Sandu as president, Dodon went back to the helm of the Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova (PSRM), after getting a new political endorsement from its members. A host of excuses were used to justify losing the presidential elections, from the coronavirus pandemic to numerical acrobatics on the difference of “only a couple of dozens of votes” between Maia Sandu and Dodon. The latter’s Socialist colleagues had no trouble getting over the defeat and officially re-elected him as leader of the party.
“The next political decisions that are key to the country are impossible to make without the Party of Socialists (…). We have two goals: to strengthen the PSRM at central and local level and to get ready for the early elections that will definitely take place in 2021. We will not join any coalition. Any move towards building a coalition is over. After the early parliamentary elections, we will make a decision” said Dodon on December 30th 2020, at the formal congress of the party, where he was re-elected.
A week earlier, on December 23, 2020, the former prime-minister Ion Chicu had submitted his resignation, univocally pleading for the start of early elections, in order “to bring the country back to normal”. The stand was shared by the Speaker of Parliament, the Socialist Zinaida Greceanîi, who said: “this parliament does not reflect the result of the election. It must be dissolved.”
At the time, the tactic was designed for the PSRM and the interim government to sabotage all of Maia Sandu’s projects, and for the media subordinated to the party, the Shor Party and Plahotniuc to constantly erode Maia Sandu’s popularity until somewhere in late spring or early summer, when the Socialists would have liked to see early elections.
However, less than two months on, Igor Dodon changed his mind. Neither he or the PSRM want early elections anymore and have come up with a new strategy to rebuild the Dodon-Plahotniuc biome via Ilan Shor, the controversial hideaway oligarch convicted in the first instance for masterminding the “one billion dollar theft” from Moldovan banks between 2012-2014.
Therefore, on the day of the vote in Parliament on Natalia Gavriliță’s candidacy, on February 11, while Igor Dodon was flying to Moscow, a new majority coalition was getting shape in Chișinău, proposing Mariana Durleșteanu for the office of prime minister.
The coalition was just a means of rendering formal the political alliance that had been functioning since 2020 already, between the PSMR, the Shor Party and the ‘For Moldova’ members (defectors from the Democratic Party and the Pro Moldova Party) and several independents close to the Democratic Party.
Natalia Gavriliță got zero votes in Parliament after stating publicly that she would only head the government for a couple of weeks, to then resign and create the grounds for early elections. On her part, Maia Sandu vehemently rejected the candidacy of Mariana Durleșteanu, whom she described as the political emanation of a corrupt majority.
"I am talking about people who were subjected to the act of kidnapping, who were held hostage. Also, people who were involved in the theft of the billion and deputies who have changed several political parties and several parliamentary groups and, relating to some of these cases of political party switching, there are reasonable suspicions of corruption and external pressure. Under these circumstances, we decided to promote Natalia Gavriliţa as candidate for the office of prime minister ", Maia Sandu said.
Free fall from the polls and change of direction
The repeated nomination of Natalia Gavriliță and the rejection of Mariana Durleșteanu's candidacy triggered virulent reactions from the Socialists and their political allies in the Plahotniuc-Shor camp.
Although right after that episode, Dodon and his Socialists threatened a potential suspension of Maia Sandu, their mind suddenly changed after the publication of the Barometer of Public Opinion (BOP) poll, commissioned by the Institute of Public Policy (IPP).
According to the said poll, among respondents who know whom they would vote for if elections were held next Sunday, the Action and Solidarity Party (PAS) would gather 48.6% of the votes, the Socialist Party 26.6%, the Shor Party 8.7% and Our Party 6.2%.
The survey also indicates an upward trend for PAS and a downward one for PSRM, more specifically an increase of 20% for the first and an 8% drop for the latter, as compared to the BOP survey conducted in October 2020. Moreover, to the question “who are the politicians you trust the most”, Maia Sandu got two times more points than Igor Dodon. She enjoys the trust of 22.5% of the respondents, while Dodon comes second with 11%.
The figures mentioned above have changed Dodon’s and his allies’ power plans. Thus, the PSRM leader abandoned the scenario focused on eroding the image of Maia Sandu and that of PAS until summer, in the event of early elections, and moved to the tactic of strengthening power precisely to avoid early elections.
Dodon went from putting pressure to cascading threats in order to force Maia Sandu's hand and have her accept Mariana Durleșteanu's candidacy. "By March 9, the president must nominate Mrs. Durleșteanu for the position of prime minister. To sign the decree. If this does not happen, we will convene and establish other actions. We will take more decisive political actions, even if this means that the position of president will become a decorative one, as it was until 2016", Dodon threatened in a press conference on March 1.
In its decision of January 23, the Constitutional Court too says that Maia Sandu must start negotiations with the parties in order to reach a consensual decision on the candidate. However, Maia Sandu stated on ‘In Depth’, a show on Pro TV Chișinău, that she had no intention of nominating a new candidate for prime minister.
"I do not see the point [...] Parliament wants it, let it initiate the impeachment procedure, because citizens should choose what they want ", Sandu said.
On March 23, three months will have passed since the Chicu government stepped down and there are no signs that this crisis could end by then, even if, normally, a new government would have to be elected or early elections organized.
Attacks on the EU in coordination with Moscow
Even after the investigations carried by RISE Moldova were made public in the press, as part of the #Kremlinovici series, describing in detail the coordination between Dodons’ position and that of Moscow within the Kremlin’s “Moldovan Department”, such practices have not ceased. Quite the opposite, they have intensified.
Dodon started a furious attack on the EU Ambassador to Chișinău, Peter Michalko, after the latter criticized the attempt to form a new Government by people involved in the stealing of one billion dollars from Moldovan banks and supported the solution of early elections. Therefore, the EU official placed himself on the same position as Maia Sandu, which triggered discontent on the left wing.
“It is worrying when people who have been involved in bank fraud are involved in negotiations or the decision-making process regarding the formation of the Government.” “It is important to take into account the will of the people, over 70% of citizens want early elections. It is important for the Republic of Moldova to have a functioning Government, a reliable Parliament. We too prefer reliable partners”, Michalko said.
Dodon reacted right away and said that Michalko should stop “interfering in the Republic of Moldova’s internal affairs”.
“The Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova urges the head of the Mission of the EU to the Republic of Moldova, as well as all the representatives of the diplomatic corps accredited to our country, to respect Moldova’s independence and sovereignty, to respect the status of a diplomat and not to break the diplomatic protocol”, reads a communique issued by the PSRM on February 23.
The same formulas were used by the Russian diplomacy with regard to the same topic, as they were annoyed as well by the fact that Michalko also criticized the lack of reaction of the Audiovisual Council to the external media propaganda. On February 26, Moscow urged the ambassadors of the EU states accredited to Chisinau to respect "the basic rules of diplomatic ethics and to refrain from interfering in the internal affairs of sovereign states."
In response, all the EU embassies accredited to Chisinau showed solidarity with Michalko.
“We, the Ambassadors of the EU and the EU Member States, wish to refute the recent attacks on Ambassador Peter Michalko and other Ambassadors formulated by the Party of the Socialists and the fugitive MP Ilan Shor” reads a joint statement by the US embassies in the Republic of Moldova.
Moreover, the visit that the president of the European Council, Charles Michel, paid to Chisinau on February 26th strengthened EU’s stand on the collaboration with a new government and the support for early elections in the Republic of Moldova.
“I send a clear message of EU support to President Sandu’s strong focus on reforms, strengthening the rule of law and tackling corruption. […]We also discussed the prospects for early elections, as the best chance to deliver a Parliament ready to support the President’s reforms. We expect all political actors to act in the best interests of the people of Moldova”, the European official stated.
What analysts say about the future political scenarios
Analysts in Chisinau have tried to shed more light, for the veridica.ro portal, on the implications of and solutions to get out of the current political crisis in Chișinău.
"The survey commissioned by IPP clearly shows that Dodon's popularity is declining, just like that of the PSRM. This weighs heavily in their current decision-making process. But I don't think it's the only data they have. Certainly, there are other unofficial polls commissioned by PSRM and I think this worries them, because it is clear that PSRM will lose a lot in the next elections and will not be a force capable of forming an alliance that would propel them to power by creating a majority", the president the Foreign Policy Association of Moldova (APE), Victor Chirilă, told veridica.ro.
Asked what we can expect, early elections or the impeachment of Maia Sandu, the analyst believes that the situation is still volatile, and an accurate forecast would be risky.
"It is difficult for me to say what will happen. Certainly, impeachment would be a risky step for the Socialists and for Dodon and even for other political forces in the current Parliament. It would be a boomerang for them. It would not strike Maia Sandu, but the parties that will initiate this procedure. Therefore, they will not do this. They are afraid and will try to avoid it”, the expert said.
Victor Chirilă did not rule out the possibility of street protests. "It's risky, Dodon is trapped in the vise and tries to find solutions, but the solutions are not the best for him. But they are full of the unknown and that is why the decisions they will make could further aggravate the political crisis and cause social instability.”
In his turn, expert Ion Tăbârță, with the “Viitorul” Institute, explained for veridica.ro that, besides Dodon, neither Plahotniuc nor Ilan Șor wants early elections.
"Together they have about 20 seats and can make some more arrangements. If early elections are held, Plahotniuc will certainly not enter Parliament, no matter his political projects. Plahotniuc will not pass, and Shor could get a maximum of about 10 seats. Of course, in this position they also lose influence, not to mention spending money in vain", the analyst said.
Tăbârță also explained that Dodon's step back was related to the increasingly bad polls for him and the PSRM.
"Credible polls show a poor score for Dodon, but most importantly, the fact that, in a favorable context, PAS could accumulate as many as 51 seats [out of 101]. This means it could ensure a parliamentary majority by itself; or a potential right-wing bloc. Which is a major risk for Igor Dodon as well ", the expert also said.
He also explained that PSRM relied on lowering Maia Sandu's rating through repeated and widespread criticism from their media trusts. "But, as you can see, they will not succeed by June. When you still have leverage, you can control things. They now have their own government, but it is a government that sabotages rather than builds for Dodon”.
Ion Tăbârță stressed, though, that Maia Sandu should respect the decisions of the Constitutional Court and observe the procedure, until all legal means are exhausted, if she wants early elections. “Parliament does not want parliamentary elections, the Presidency wants them, and her stand is rather provoking here. That is why I say she should play a smoother game. She must observe the procedures and consult the parliamentary factions. From there, it’s for her to decide how she’s going to play it”, the analyst explained.
As regards the alliance formed in Parliament by the Dodon-Plahotniuc-Shor trio, the expert believes that the degree of influence is the only element that has changed:
“When Plahotniuc was here, he would control everything. Shor was a satellite, and Dodon was a sort of a fake rival. Or we could call him an inferior ally. Now things have changed and I believe that, on the one hand, we have Dodon, and on the other we have Shor and Plahotniuc. It’s a sort of parity between Dodon on one side, and the Plahotniuc-Shor tandem on the other”, Ion Tăbârță also said.