Even the most insincere dialogue is better and necessary than the definitive absence of dialogue. At least this was the principle that guided President Igor Dodon, Prime Minister Pavel Filip and Head of Parliament Andrian Candu, when they came together for a discussion in trilateral format (February 21, 2017). The substance and result of the meeting showed that the sides didn’t pursue the goal of coming to terms. They just wanted to state the divergences existing at institutional level. Consequently, the meeting of the three served as another stage for exhibiting the antagonism between the pro-Russian presidential administration and the government associated with the European integration.
In the meeting, each side laid emphasis on the opposition between the viewpoints that define their political essence. So, the attention of President Dodon remains anchored in the plan for coming closer to the Eurasian Union and in the powerful opposition to the pension reform, subsidization of agriculture and conversion of the money stolen from the banking system into a public debt. On the other hand, Premier Filip and Speaker Candu presented the government’s position, focusing on the protection of their standpoints and combating of the criticism leveled by Igor Dodon. There were yet made no personalized accusations and no remark about the coordinator of the government coalition Vladimir Plahotniuc.
The Transnistrian issue was the only consensus point between Igor Dodon and the Democratic duo Pavel Filip and Andrian Candu. But this was limited to the constitution of new discussion platforms. This is yet insufficient for believing that an efficient dialogue can exist between the Government and Parliament, on the one hand, and the presidential administration, on the other hand. However, both the government and the presidential administration showed that they need results and a minimum of blockages that will inevitably persist, especially until the 2018 elections.
Very predictable rendez-vous
At external level, President Dodon reminded of the commitment to sign a Memorandum with the Eurasian Economic Union. Given his limited powers, he needs a minimal connection with this organization. A Memorandum of cooperation with the Eurasian Commission fully matches the short- and medium-term objectives of the presidential administration. The symbolic content of the future Memorandum will offset the shortcomings related to the absence of any legal effect. In practical terms, such a Memorandum will enable to set up a permanent “discussion channel” between the presidential administration, which is the bastion of the pro-Russian forces and Moscow, and the headquarters of the Eurasian Commission. In fact, this sets new preconditions for popularizing the Eurasian Union among the Moldovans. Generating positive expectations of the Eurasian Union, President Dodon paves the way for electoral options that are unfavorable for the country’s European course, in the context of the elections of 2018.
In parallel, the President’s speech shows his evident intention to continue to discredit the Association Agreement, which he considers a source of the economic and social consequences, deliberately ignoring the statistical data that contradict him (CEPS, February 2017). Furthermore, the President does not stop to disseminate the idea that the pro-European sympathies are on the wane, proposing simultaneously a referendum on the geopolitical orientation of Moldova. At internal level, the messages of President Dodon centered on the disagreement with the pension reform, agricultural subsides and conversion of the money stolen from the banking system into a public debt.
For their part, Andrian Candu and Pavel Filip defended the current agenda of the government, which includes the reforms that are needed for normalizing things and that are supported by the foreign partners. The Speaker and the Prime Minister referred to the foreign partners not accidentally, but with the aim of defusing and diminishing the responsibility for the sensitive issues revealed by President Dodon. At the same time, Speaker Candu defended the EU and generalized the blame for the previous failures of the government. In general, the Democrats’ interest in promoting a positive image for the EU is strongly connected with their political survival. Without the association with the European integration, the Democratic Party can definitely lose the political profile, moving to the left dominated by the Socialists.
The issues from the agenda of the trilateral meeting (pensions, subsidies, banking frauds, energy tariffs) show President Dodon’s wish to shape an artificial ideological line that separates him from the government. This way the government is illustrated through the angle of the commitments made to the IMF, which are described as concessions with negative social effects. Against such a background, President Dodon and his party (PSRM) take sides with the disfavored categories of people, such as pensioners, farmers and others.
Who benefitted more?
The meeting of the three showed how vulnerable the government actually is and how swiftly the pro-Russian President, even if he does not have broad powers, managed to outstrip it in terms of legitimacy and, respectively, popularity. This meeting showed the rhetoric of President Dodon can no longer be neglected.
According to the latest polls, the President enjoys the support of about 26% of the people, being over ten times more popular than Prime Minister Pavel Filip. This discrepancy highlights the enormous image and credibility handicap that the Democrats cannot overcome despite their media monopole and control over state institutions. Namely for this reason, Speaker Candu and Premier Filip felt on a secondary position in relation to Igor Dodon.
If we presume that the meeting of the three was a simulation based on particular agreements between Igor Dodon and the leader of the PDM Vladimir Plahotniuc, the President anyway remains the key beneficiary. Now the Democrats are in a difficult situation. On the one hand, they contributed to the election of a pro-Russian President in 2016, who was used as a scarecrow in the dialogue with the foreign partners. On the other hand, the same President cannot be used to attract the pro-European segments around the PDM at internal level. Now many people see an enemy of reforms in the government led by the PDM, not a reliable partner.
Instead of conclusion
The meeting in trilateral format confirmed the disagreements existing between the two camps. None of the sides guaranteed yet that the dialogue between institutions will continue, regardless of the distinct geopolitical views. The Democrats cannot guarantee this thing because the process depends on Igor Dodon, while the latter didn’t want to do it because the conflict with the government fuels his popularity and, respectively, helps him build the political future. Therefore, the inter-institutional blockages can and will continue. President Dodon will create suspense and unpleasant surprises for the Democrats, at least until the elections of 2018.
Both of the camps need each other because this enables to ensure a more linear legislative process, also because these together benefit from the antagonizing and geopolitical polarization of the population. The Socialists and President Dodon enjoy yet advantages, while the Democrats continue to lose electoral ground.
The scaring with the geopolitical reorientation of the country, even if it’s possible after 2018, no longer works as a source for mobilizing the voters at internal level and has a diminishing effect on the foreign partners.
The EU’s care is increasingly aimed at the internal affairs (migration, political processes, economic growth) or regional ones (Ukraine, Western Balkans, North Africa). Thus, the dynamics of the internal policy of Moldova risks losing the already low interest of Brussels. Therefore, only the implementation of reforms and renewal of the pro-European political class can qualitatively change the Europeans’ perception of Moldova.
Meanwhile, the Democrats should keep under control President Dodon, but without making use of radical instruments (dismissal). They should identify immediate solutions to temper the geopolitical actions of President Dodon, if this is really a political project deriving from their political survival strategies. Only simple political coexistence is not enough.
Dionis Cenușa is a politologist, holding an MA degree in interdisciplinary European studies from the College of Europe.
Areas of interes: European integration, European policies, EU's foreign policy, migration and energy security.
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