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Demagog - Chisinau Report (2021)

The Republic of Moldova, (again) at a crossroads. July 11th elections – the last chance for a drifting state?

Alegeri
©EPA-EFE/DUMITRU DORU  |   Nephew of an elderly woman help her to cast ballot at a polling station during the second tour of presidential elections in Hrusova village, 25 Km North from Chisinau, Moldova, 15 November 2020.

A Google search returns dozens of headlines in the press in the Republic of Moldova and Romania such as “the Republic of Moldova, at a crossroads”, starting 2009 and, especially, around the elections. Dozens of other similar headlines were probably written before 2009 as well, only they remained in the newsrooms’ archives, without being posted online. The point is that little has changed in the Republic of Moldova durig the past decade and just as little in the past two decades or in the 30 years since Independence. And every election is viewed by citizens not only with the hope that things will change, but also with the fear that if the “others” come, they will turn everything 180 degrees (or 380, as a former Speaker of Parliament once said).

The Republic of Moldova – three decades of instability

Elections in Moldova have always carried the potential of bringing radical changes: it is a small country, with a motley ethnic composition, identity issues and politicians with diametrically opposed foreign policy visions (eastern vector vs. western vector). If in Romania, for example, at least officially, the political struggle after the Snagov declaration was based only on visions of internal reforms, in the Republic of Moldova the foreign vector and the direction of foreign policy have remained one of the main topics of debate over the past 30 years. The failure of reforms, stagnation and even the periodic deterioration of living standards, poverty, have caused citizens to distrust their own state and have always radicalized the population, starting from the desire of some to unite with Romania and the nostalgia of others who dream of the former USSR.

And the results of parliamentary elections have reflected this situation, putting the power in the hands of either right-wing or left-wing parties. The Republic of Moldova started with the “Parliament of Independence”, which voted for the separation from the USSR on August 27, 1991, much later than the Baltic countries and only after Ukraine had done it too. This was followed by the coming to power of the “Agrarians” - the Agrarian Democratic Party, consisting of former Soviet nomenclaturists, mainly from the second echelon, such as kolkhoz presidents, who, as they admitted themselves, tried to implement capitalism based on the Soviet mentality. In the next elections, in 1998, the “agrarians” didn’t even make the electoral threshold, and the center-right parties managed to form a governing coalition, which, however, did not make it till the end of the term.

In 2001, the Party of Communists came to power, and they stayed there until 2009. The Communists came juggling the idea of ​​Moldova's accession to the Russia-Belarus Union, only to later promise European integration. They did neither and, it seems, upset both Moscow and the West. After the Communists won a new election in April 2009, tens of thousands took to the streets, and public pressure, along with that of the opposition, eventually led to the holding of early elections. These allowed the transition of the Republic of Moldova to a new stage - that of the center-right coalitions, declared pro-European - which deserves a special page in the history of the Republic of Moldova.

From the Eastern Partnership success story to international isolation

On July 29, 2009, early parliamentary elections were held in the Republic of Moldova, amid severe tensions in society caused by the April protests, cases of torture in places of detention, at least one death and allegations of fraud in the April elections. The Communists were confident they would score a new victory, but four center-right parties formed the majority and the first governing coalition: the Alliance for European Integration. Pro-Europeans rejoiced, and Vlad Filat's government managed to unblock relations with the West, sign an agreement with the IMF and even get a promise from the West for nearly two billion euros in aid under a four-year program.

The Republic of Moldova seemed to have irreversibly chosen the path of European integration and was presented as the “success story” of the Eastern Partnership. The honeymoon was short-lived, though. The political crisis caused by the impossibility of electing the country's president lasted until 2012, a period during which a referendum to amend the Constitution failed and new early elections took place. Less than a year after the successful election of the head of state, however, a political crisis disrupted the agreement with the IMF and delayed the signing of the Association Agreement with the EU. However, in 2014 the Republic of Moldova was the first country in the Eastern Partnership to obtain the visa liberalization regime with the EU, and soon after, signed the Association Agreement. After only a few months, it was found out that a billion dollars had been stolen from the banking system ...

Rivalries within the ruling coalition intensified. In 2015, Filat, dismissed two years earlier, was arrested, and shortly afterwards power was taken over by the Democratic Party, led by the controversial oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc. Even though it declared itself pro-European and started an open conflict with Moscow, the PDM government did not promote the reforms it had promised. Moreover, they made a series of virulently criticized decisions, in terms of both domestic and foreign policy, changing the electoral system, canceling the elections for mayor of Chisinau, won by one of the most vocal critics of Plahotniuc - Andrei Nastase -, extraditing some Turkish teachers at the request of the Erdogan regime, etc.

All that led to the external isolation of the Republic of Moldova, the suspension of an agreement with the IMF and of a program of macro-financial assistance from the EU and, finally, a coalition between right and left, which ousted PDM in June 2019. The Coalition between the Party of Socialists and the NOW Bloc, however, lasted only five months, after which the Socialists of the former President Igor Dodon practically took over the government. However, Igor Dodon lost the November 2020 presidential elections to the pro-European Maia Sandu, leader of the opposition and a declared supporter of the reforms aimed at ensuring the Republic of Moldova’ rapprochement with  the EU.

At a crossroads again (last chance)

The required reforms have been the same for almost 30 years - primarily that of the justice system, which in the Republic of Moldova is perceived as corrupt and subservient to politicians and obscure economic groups. A study found that, in 2018, citizens’ trust in justice was lower than in 2011, when extensive legislative changes were made, including by significantly increasing judges' salaries. The fight against corruption is another area where things are lagging, and resounding cases such as that of the former Prime Minister Vlad Filat, or the controversial businessman Veaceslav Platon, had strong political valence, and the two were released after the change of government. The case of Ilan Shor, the main defendant in the bank fraud of 2014, has been stalling for almost four years at the court of appeal and there is no guarantee that the money will ever be recovered. And the question that many citizens ask themselves is: “is there a force in the Republic of Moldova that really wants and can implement these reforms and change things?"

Maia Sandu, who is supported mainly by young people and Moldovan citizens living abroad, promised reforms and the promises were hailed by the West. On June 1st, Brussels announced a plan of economic recovery of the Republic of Moldova worth 600 million euro, for the period 2021-2021, the main condition being the continuation of reforms.

On this occasion, the European Commission President Ursula von der Layen stated that the Republic of Moldova “is at a crossroads”.

Against this background, the early parliamentary elections of July 11 are a new chance for the Republic of Moldova, which in the last decade, has once again turned from a “success story” into a country going adrift, crushed by corruption, with weak institutions and a growing number of citizens leaving to settle abroad. This indeed may be the last chance…

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  • A Google search returns dozens of headlines in the press in the Republic of Moldova and Romania such as “the Republic of Moldova, at a crossroads”, starting 2009 and, especially, around the elections. Dozens of other similar headlines were probably written before 2009 as well, only they remained in the newsrooms’ archives, without being posted online. The point is that little has changed in the Republic of Moldova durig the past decade and just as little in the past two decades or in the 30 years since Independence. And every election is viewed by citizens not only with the hope that things will change, but also with the fear that if the “others” come, they will turn everything 180 degrees (or 380, as a former Speaker of Parliament once said).
  • The failure of reforms, stagnation and even the periodic deterioration of living standards, poverty, have caused citizens to distrust their own state and have always radicalized the population, starting from the desire of some to unite with Romania and the nostalgia of others who dream of the former USSR.
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