While a part of the Moldovan political class affirms that Moldova experienced ‘oligarchization’ and ‘state capture’ during the previous government, the other disagrees with the narrative. The affirmative side relies on Parliament’s Declaration which formally acknowledged the capture of state institutions, while the negative side dismisses the claim, deflecting it with its own accusations of attempts by the current government to subdue the state institutions to political interests and retaliate against political rivals. This was discussed during a public debate titled “Freeing Moldova from ‘Oligarchy’ and ‘State Capture’: Limits of Legality,” organized by IPN and Radio Moldova.
Igor Boțan, IPN Debates’ standing expert, describes oligarchy, a Greek word for “the government of few”, as a political regime where power is concentrated in the hands of a relatively small group of people and serving the interests of this group rather than the public interest. In political theory, state capture is “a type of systemic political corruption in which private interests significantly influence a state's decision-making processes to their own advantage.” The expert recalled the European Parliament’s Resolution on Moldova, of 14 November 2018, where both notions are mentioned. Boțan also cited a 2015 article published in the New York Times by Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland, who concluded it by stating that “first, this captured state must be returned to its citizens.”
In Moldova today, notes Igor Boțan, there are two parties with different visions which admit they have formed an unlikely coalition, but what they have in common is the goal to “free the country from oligarchy and state capture”. This is reflected in PSRM’s electoral program, while for the bloc ACUM this is the cornerstone of its very existence. The parties are united by a Declaration which says that they don’t trust the law enforcement and regulatory bodies, because of leaders appointed by people who they accuse of state capture. “My understanding is that these parties don’t question the fact that Moldova remains within constitutional and legal boundaries; it’s not a state of great national emergency or something, and so the only question is just how long this process of freeing the country of oligarchy and capture is going to take until normality is restored,” said Igor Boțan.
Socialist MP Gaik Vartanean says both notions have been talked about publicly for a few years now. “To some extent, this is what voters also spoke about on February 24, when they voted for the two largest opposition forces, and this is what Parliament talked about when it adopted the June 8 Declaration at its inaugural meeting.” The lawmaker thinks the Moldovan government was “paralyzed” over the last few years. “Many agencies didn’t work properly, and some remain unfunctional today – from the regulatory agencies, to defense, to law enforcement and the judiciary.” Vartanean said the Prosecutor General’s Office was standing out as an example of a non-functional institution, “For a month now, prosecutors have been refusing to understand that the government changed and people expect the implementation of the de-oligarchization Declaration into practice.”
“Everybody is perfectly aware that the Democratic Party and the governmental agencies were just tools that Vladimir Plahotniuc was using for his business ventures. He was using these agencies to rake in profits from state-owned companies; he was profiting from all sorts of schemes and all his contacts. The three million Moldovans were mere statistics to him suffering from poverty, corruption, and captured institutions,” declared Vartanean.
Democratic MP Sergiu Sîrbu, on the other hand, says that what happens in Moldova today is “a plain case of political retaliation and redistribution of spheres of influence by the new government.” Sîrbu claims that incumbents are being replaced by people docile to the new government, bypassing competition formalities, and that appointments to independent agencies are being made on political criteria. He says that the notions of “oligarchization” and “state capture” are electoral in nature and they have no legal or constitutional grounds. “It’s just a pretext used by the current coalition, formerly our electoral rivals, to revenge.”
Sîrbu says that his party was a strong ruling party, with internal discipline that yielded certain results, something that other parties could not accept. With nothing else to criticize the government for, claims the MP, the other parties invented the ‘oligarchization’ and ‘state capture’ narrative. What began as an electoral slogan became a formal Declaration adopted by Parliament, but Sîrbu says it “has zero legal value and is a mere cover for dismissing inconvenient officials.”
MP Vladimir Bolea, of the group ACUM/PAS, says that what happened in Moldova in the last few years is undoubtedly rooted in how the republic had been built back in 1991. “In the last few years, the power was concentrated in the hands of a single party and a single man, which is not to say that before that the Republic of Moldova hadn’t been a captured state”. He believes it wouldn’t be correct to talk about a “return to normality” because there wasn’t any “normality” to begin with.
"If someone says that at one point the Democratic Party grabbed all the power for itself, it does not mean that before them the Republic of Moldova was a free and wonderful state, and everybody was happy. In this context, I think we need to talk about the future of Moldova rather than about a return. State institutions functioned in the interest of a group, and not at all to the benefit of the people. The judiciary system had been put on its knees way before 2015, as judges already had a reputation of being highly corrupt. I think we are only starting the construction of the Republic of Moldova and we believe that all political parties need to be involved in order to complete the reforms. Moldova is today a dysfunctional construction and much elbow grease is needed to make it work,” stated Vladimir Bolea.
“The Republic of Moldova is this ridiculous hybrid creature built on the ruins of the Soviet Union, a former Socialist republic that still hasn’t fully implemented any democratic reform or reforms based on liberal, capitalist principles, despite attempts to start such.” Therefore, thinks Bolea, everything in Moldova must be started anew, even if the process is going to take quite some time.
The public debate “Freeing Moldova from ‘Oligarchy’ and ‘State Capture’: Limits of Legality” is the 113rd installment of the “Developing Political Culture through Public Debates” Series, held with the support of the Hanns Seidel Foundation.