The parliamentary election in the Republic of Moldova represents an important stake for Bucharest, for several reasons: its partnership with Chișinău, the existence of thousands of people with double citizenship, etc. Political and non-political actors have got involved in the election campaign which has entered its last week in the Republic of Moldova, considering this Sunday, on July 11, snap elections will take place. A brief overview of some of the latest developments paint a rather interesting picture of direct interests of the Romanian state, but also a number of special ones, more often than not in gray or outright black areas.
Romania’s support and AUR’s attempt at exploiting media attention
As regards the Romanian state and the attention it pays to the Republic of Moldova, we should start with the medical support Romania has been providing in terms of anti-COVID-19 vaccines. In December, 2020, president Klaus Iohannis spoke about an assistance worth 200,000 shorts of anti-COVID vaccine to be delivered to Chișinău, at a time when Romania’s stocks were low as they were.
Today, some six months later, after several delivered batches, Romania not only made good on its promise, but actually doubled it. Therefore, 405,600 shots of vaccine have reached the Republic of Moldova. Similarly, in recent months, the Cîțu Cabinet has been sending medical equipment to Chișinău worth several million Euro.
Another major aspect is Romania taking Russia’s place in terms of providing fuel to Moldovan farmers seriously affected by the drought of 2020. In this case as well, the Government in Bucharest has delivered 6,000 tons of Diesel fuel to Moldova. The first delivery of fuel supplies arrived on May 17, less than a week after the campaign for the parliamentary election in the Republic of Moldova officially kicked off.
Therefore, the presidency-government dyad has worked hard in recent months to support the Republic of Moldova, and this translated into soaring approval ratings for Romania in Chișinău. At domestic level, president Maia Sandu had the most to gain, as she enjoys close relations with Bucharest authorities and her Romanian counterpart, Klaus Iohannis. By extension, her former party, PAS, also scored popularity points in light of these actions, as compared to other pro-European political parties.
Populist parties in Romania also tried to get the lion’s share of this deal. More specifically, the Alliance for the Union of Romanians (AUR) has been trying to feed on Romania’s public image in Chișinău and score election points by trying to enter the Moldovan Parliament. Just like other unionist parties, AUR is promising pensions and salaries similar to those in Romania by virtue of a possible unification, making populist promises on behalf of Romania, with no real economic justification.
Furthermore, AUR risks dragging Romania into a bigger scandal by escalating tensions on the Varnița border crossing point (near Tighina), where AUR members and loyalists have launched a self-victimization campaign, claiming they are not allowed to campaign in the breakaway region of Transnistria. AUR will likely forcefully cross into the separatist region and possibly clash with the Transnistrian border police, which will inevitably turn Romania into a target for pro-Russian forces competing in the election.
Corrupt magistrates and PSD’s reach
Since the fight against corruption remains the top priority of the election campaign of the Action and Solidarity Party (PAS), the number one pro-European party in Chișinău, the judiciary is one of the most important stakes in the upcoming election. The political climate in Chișinău favors pro-European parties, which, jointly with president Maia Sandu, could unleash the fight against corruption. The scenario might very well follow the same pattern of 2004 in Romania, when PSD and Adrian Năstase lost power and president Traian Băsescu started the fight against corruption during his first term in office.
The stake is all the more important as political forces in the post-Soviet kleptocracy in Chișinău firmly oppose this move. Players currently pillaging the state have joined forces to strike their common enemy, Maia Sandu and PAS. We’re seeing Socialist Igor Dodon and Communist Vladimir Voronin fighting on the same side after a decade of squabbling and mutual disrespect. Sworn enemies in the past, billionaire Vladimir Plahotniuc and Veaceslav Platon, a plunderer and money-launderer working for Russian groups, have also taken up a stand against Sandu and PAS. As did the fugitive oligarch Ilan Shor, sentenced in the infamous “billion-dollar theft” case, who is running a smear campaign against pro-European parties and the president.
PSD has also interceded in the political struggle in the Republic of Moldova. The Social-Democrats signed a partnership with Plahotniuc’s former party, the Democratic Party. Moreover, a special episode grabbed headlines last week. The Association of Magistrates in Romania (AMR), the Association of Judges for the Defense of Human Rights (AJADO) and the Association of Prosecutors in Romania, three Romanian associations that support the controversial Section for Investigating Crime in Justice and which criticize the European Commission’s reports under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM), sent a letter.
The three organizations criticize Maia Sandu for dismissing a corrupt magistrate, appointed in the last days of Igor Dodon’s term in office. The magistrate in question is Vladislav Clima, the former president of the Chișinău Court of Appeal, who in May 2018 inexplicably invalidated the election for the Chișinău City Hall, a race won fair and square by Andrei Năstase, the leader of the pro-European Platform for Justice and Truth (PPDA).
The reaction of the three associations in Romania came on June 30, nearly a month after Maia Sandu’s decision to sack Clima on May 28, as the election campaign for the early parliamentary election in the Republic of Moldova was already in full swing.
What’s interesting is the fact that the three magistrates’ associations have highly controversial members, such as former judge Andreea Ciucă (AMR) from the Târgu Mureș Court of Appeal, who was caught receiving bribe from a local politician as part of a sting operation, or Florica Roman (AJADO), who was also brought to court after she and other magistrates tried to help a person charged with rape avoid prosecution. Another controversial figure is Elena Iordache (APR), the prosecutor who started criminal proceedings against the former president, Traian Băsescu, and abandoned the case six months later, and who is also a faculty teacher at the University of Iași, together with Tudorel Toader, the former Justice Minister during PSD’s term in power.
Maia Sandu responded that the letter drafted by magistrates’ associations from Romania defending the controversial judge Vladislav Clima is simply an act of ingression in the election campaign in Chișinău from corrupt and politicized judges who fear the reform of the judiciary.
“I don’t know if the Superior Council of Magistracy in Romania allowed these associations to campaign in the Republic of Moldova. I made the decision to dismiss Clima a month ago. The fact that their reaction comes right now, ahead of the election, is a clear electoral ruse”, Maia Sandu said.
Romanian political and corrupt trolls working for Moscow in the election campaign in Chișinău
Having fled prosecution in Romania and moved to Chișinău, where he pulled some strings to obtain the Moldovan citizenship and safe haven, former PSD deputy Cristian Rizea has been actively involved in the election campaign at the Central Electoral Commission (CEC). Although his candidacy was rejected, Rizea is now liaising on behalf of CEC, which allows him to publicly represent the “We” Party led by Vladimir Dachi, who in turn worked for a number of years in Moscow. Rizea has thus flooded the Moldovan media with his TV appearances. Rizea has been constantly attacking Romania and praising Russia for defending the interests of the Republic of Moldova, posing as a “Moldovan sovereigntist” who is doing his patriotic duty for his new country.
His party is manifestly pro-Russian, militating for statehood and the “Moldovan language”. Moreover, in a recent debate broadcast on TV 8, Rizea said his party is advocating for good relations with Russia, and that his boss, Dachi, went to Moscow to negotiate with the Russians Igor Dodon’s replacement.
Rizea’s role is to feign an alliance with pro-European parties and Maia Sandu, in an attempt to associate himself to their image. He quickly became unpopular in Chișinău as well, in light of recent revelations by the local media about his acts of corruption in Romania. In 2019, the High Court of Cassation and Justice in Romania handed Rizea a prison sentence of four years and eight months for influence peddling, money laundering and witness intimidation.
Rizea’s tactics is also used by Veaceslav Platon, who also liaises with CEC for a minor independent candidate, which gives him the possibility to appear in televised debates in order to attack Maia Sandu. Just as in Rizea’s case, Platon’s own freedom is in play. He was recently released from prison, but Maia Sandu has called on prosecutors to review all the big corruption cases where he is being investigated.
Finally, the “spoiler” New Historical Option political party has also enrolled in the election. The party tried to change its name to “The Alternative and Chances” (PAŞ), in an attempt to double the acronym of Action and Solidarity Party (PAS).
CEC rejected its request, but the interesting thing about this party is that it is being backed by Victor Alexeev, a former head of PSD Moldova and former State Secretary with the Ministry for Romanians Worldwide (MRP) over 2018-2019, when Liviu Dragnea was president of the Social-Democratic Party.
All these elements have made Romania a part of the election campaign in the Republic of Moldova, its name having been dragged into political shenanigans used by a number of controversial figures with no official standing or mandate from Bucharest. The last week of the election campaign is bound to get even more intense, as fake news, disinformation and “kompromat” tactics will surely be thrown into play by the candidates in Chișinău. Willingly or unwillingly, Romania will get ensnared into political four plays at “a turning point” for Moldova, as European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, recently said.