Republic of Moldova between state capture and new oligarchy. Op-Ed by Anatol Țăranu



In such conditions, the only solution for PAS is to create a broad political front to support the European reforms by coopting to the government political representatives from outside the own party, who yet have expertise and reforming political will. The insisting on political party selfishness will have fatal consequences for PAS and also for the European destiny of the Republic of Moldova...


Anatol Țăranu

Recently, it has been three years of the adoption, in the Parliament sitting of June 8, 2019, of the historic statement on the recognition of the state capture in the Republic of Moldova. Those who subscribed to the statement - 61 MPs representing three parliamentary groups: 35 Socialist MPs, 14 MPs of PAS group and 11 MPs of PPDA group – ascertained with concern that the state institutions and the law enforcement agencies of the country were captured, noting that all the citizens of the Republic of Moldova were suffocated by endemic corruption, thefts and illegal actions to privatize public property, the full control over the justice system exerted by the oligarchs and the multiple attacks on the human rights and freedoms. But this concern of most of the newly elected MPs wasn’t shared by the parliamentary groups of the Democratic Party (PDM) and Șor Party that, together with the unaffiliated MPs, didn’t vote for this statement.

Oligarchy as inheritance of Soviet system

The story of the appearance and strengthening of the oligarchic regime in the Republic of Moldova is long lasting and is not at all a purely Moldovan invention. There had been witnessed a kind of rule in the process of abandoning socialism by the former Soviet republics that, in most of the cases, occurred by establishing oligarchic political regimes in the new independent states. In the Republic of Moldova, political life started to be oligarchized immediately after the declaring of Independence, even if this process at the incipient stage didn’t have an evident character. The strengthening of political power of oligarchy took place in the first decade of the new century and intensified as a result of the coming to power of the Party of Communists led by Vladimir Voronin. Not at all accidently, the most odious Moldovan oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc grew his economic muscles namely under the protective wing of the Communists and President Voronin.

But not even the Twitter Revolution that led to the removal of the Communists from power in 2009 and the taking over of the political power by the self-declared pro-European parties could stop the oligarchic anarchy in the political and economic life of the republic. In the middle of the second decade of the current century, it became evident that the success story of the Republic of Moldova, as the Moldovan reform was characterized by the European partners with a lot of foretaste at that time, came to an end. In August 2015, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe Thorbjorn Jagland in an article for New York Times spoke about the Republic of Moldova as about “a state captured by oligarchs”. In the context of the US$1 billion theft, the high-ranking European official in 2015 warned that the Republic of Moldova was on the verge of a precipice and could be saved only if the state was returned to the citizens.

Inter-oligarchic war instead of anti-oligarchic war

But the curing reaction to this political dialogue was delayed for too long. A whole electoral cycle was consumed not on the front of the anti-oligarchic struggle, but in a real inter-oligarchic war that ended with the establishment of the political domination of the regime of Plahotniuc. As a result, electoral democracy in the Republic of Moldova was profoundly distorted by the massive corruption of MPs when a group of 14 PCRM MPs lead by Violeta Ivanov, on December 21, 2015, surprisingly abandoned Voronin and swiftly joined the parliamentary majority led by Plahotniuc’s PDM. The political corruption process continued by persuading eight PLDM MPs to leave the party and to join the nucleus of the parliamentary majority of PDM. The press reports said hundreds of thousands of euros were offered to each of the turncoats who joined Plahotniuc’s camp.

As a result, on January 11, 2016, following an agreement with Mihai Ghimpu’s PL, Plahotniuc formed a heterogeneous majority that didn’t reflect the outcome of the November 30, 2014 elections and was formed of PDM, PL, 14 former Communist MPs and eight dissident Lib-Dems – a total of 56 MPs, which was enough for constituting a parliamentary majority.

Following the logic of oligarchic seizure of power, the parliamentary majority formed by corruption and blackmail designated oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc as a candidate for the post of Prime Minister of the Government of the Republic of Moldova. But a big surprise was caused by the then President of the Republic of Moldova Nicolae Timofti, who categorically refused to name Plahotniuc as a candidate for the post of Prime Minister, invoking the Constitutional Court decision of April 22, 2013, which stipulated that the persons named to executive posts should not be suspected of lack of integrity or of corruption. President Timofti maintained his position despite the statement of the parliamentary majority signed by Marian Lupu (PDM), Mihai Ghimpu (PL), Violeta Ivanov (PSDM) and Ion Bălan (Liberal-Democratic MPs), who this way reaffirmed the parliamentary majority’s position of support for the candidacy of Vladimir Plahotniuc and called on President Nicolae Timofti to take into account the will stated by the absolute majority in Parliament. But President Timofti didn’t give up.

State capture: final stage and “heroes”

This way, the oligarchic regime of Plahotniuc was established through the agency of Pavel Filip, who was promoted to the post of Prime Minister. During the next few years, the ruling Democratic Party, which was abundantly dominated by Plahotniuc, turned out to be increasingly thirty for all-embracing power and strengthened it quasi-absolute power. In the autumn of 2015, Plahotniuc managed to remove his main opponent and political rival Vlad Filat, who was arrested on charges of appropriation of public property, including the “bank fraud”. In a year, the oligarchic regime strengthened further its positions by promoting as President Igor Dodon, a convinced and declared pro-Russian dependent on Plahotniuc through corruption. President Igor Dodon became a real petty meddler placed between Moscow’s influence and the regime of Plahotniuc. He was the target of ironies, including in Russia, to which he travelled very often, being accused of being in the full service of Moscow, and he even asked the State Duma to maintain the Russian occupation troops in Transnistria.

Shortly afterward, the regime managed to transform Parliament into a decorative institution subordinated to the important state institutions by installing devoted persons in all the key posts. It can be said that PDM became the state party that somehow tended to be similar to the unique one existing in all the totalitarian regimes. As regards the relations with the presidential institution, PDM had a concealed partner in the person of President Dodon. To camouflage this political marriage, the party resorted to the support of the subdued Constitutional Court, broadly using the short-term suspension method of the President so as to impose all the measures to strengthen the own power.

As the counterweight to the government, the opposition gave the signal of the fight against the state capture in the street, but managed to form an electoral bloc of two parties called ACUM. But the results of the parliamentary elections of February 24, 2019 turned out to be inconclusive for the post-electoral development of the Republic of Moldova. These enabled three large political forces (PSRM, PDM and ACUM Bloc) to enter Parliament with an almost equal number of seats (35, 30 and 26). This made them dependent on the prospect of forming a majority parliamentary coalition. In this incompatible political triad, the Russian vector had a big say. Aiming to keep its influence in the Republic of Moldova trough the fifth Socialist column, this opposed a toxic alliance between PSRM and PDM, which was led by the anti-Russian oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc against whom the Russian Prosecutor’s Office started a number of criminal cases. The West didn’t have any reason to offer support to the oligarchic regime. In such conditions, a temporary anti-Plahotniuc political consensus was reached by the opposition from inside the country with foreign decision makers.

Fall of oligarchic regime

Under such exceptional circumstances, high envoys of the EU, the U.S. and Russia – European Commissioner for Enlargement Johannes Hahn, Director of the Office of Eastern European Affairs of the U.S. Department Bradely Freden and Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak – made a surprise visit to Chisinau on June 3, 2019. Even if the meetings of the three envoys weren’t transparent, the unanimous opinion in Chisinau was that either the mediation of a majority alliance with the assistance of the great powers – Russia, the European Union and the United States – was arranged or the general lines of a government coalition were agreed. The political events that followed the next few days confirmed those suppositions.

Being forced to fulfill the instructions of his backers from Moscow, President Dodon renounced the political alliance that was negotiated with PDM for a long period of time and formed parliamentary majority with ACUM Bloc. Feeling betrayed, Plahotniuc leaked videos of negotiations held with Dodon behind the scenes in which the latter appears as a corrupt person and as Russia’s agent, causing a huge scandal in society. During the next seven days, from 8 to 14 June, 2019, a duality of power existed in the Republic of Moldova, which was a unique development in its post-Soviet history.

After a week of political, institutional and legal stalemate, during which the Constitution Court annulled all its decisions of June 7-9, 2019 that were made under the pressure of Vlad Plahotniuc, the Court dissolved itself. The National Political Council of PDM convoked on June 14, 2019, following the surprise visit and Plahotniuc’s meeting with U.S. Ambassador in Chisinau Dereck J. Hogan, decided that PDM would withdraw from power and that the Filip Government would resign. The same day, the leader of PDM Vlad Plahotniuc left the Republic of Moldova, signaling the fall of the regime he managed this way.

Compromised by Socialist and affected by lack of PAS concept

The ousting of the oligarchic regime of Plahotniuc opened the way for the implementation of the provisions of the statement on the recognition of the state capture in the Republic of Moldova. The reality was yet much more complicated for the state deoligarchization process. At the beginning, this process was compromised by the Socialists led by President Dodon. After the victory scored by Maia Sandu in the presidential elections of 2020 and by PAS in the parliamentary elections of 2021, the deoligarchization process in the Republic of Moldova met with the lack of a clear concept of this profound reform. They followed the path of half-measures by imitating the justice sector reform, wasted precious time and, together with the time, the support enjoyed by PAS in society lessened. Owing to the mimicking of the reform through different unsuccessful contests to replace people in posts, without changing the method of functioning of the corrupt system, the political image of the politicians with reform pretentions was spoiled. As it was expected, in such conditions the justice sector reform, which is the key to all the other reforms, started to linger and the dramatic worsening of the economic and geopolitical conjuncture in the world made the prospect of the justice sector reform more problematic.

The lack of a view on the implementation of the statement on state capture, which is an extremely important political document, led to the impossibility of taking extraordinary measures for doing the reform in accordance with Article 15 of the European Convention, which enables to suspend the validity of particular legal rules on the territory of the state that meets the conditions of an extraordinary situation for a particular period of time. This would have enabled the reformers to act and would have contributed to fast results in the restoration of law and order in Moldova. Following the absence of extraordinary measures, PAS had to abandon one of its electoral commitments, concerning the formation of an Extraordinary Anticorruption Tribunal that was to deal with cases of grand corruption and cases of violation of the law by judges and prosecutors. If such an extraordinary jurisdiction body had been created, the scandalous Stoianoglo case, the delay in the cases of Șor, Bahamas, Dodon and many others wouldn’t have been possible.

Opening second circle?

The current paradigm of the justice sector reform in the Republic of Moldova seems to have been copied from the similar reform model of Albania, which has been implemented for many years and is far from having an ending. If the multiple crises that struck our state and society will not be overcome in a miraculous way in the near future, the current PAS team will definitely not be able to continue its reformation work after the next parliamentary elections. Currently, all the sociological surveys show that the anti-reformation and anti-European parties of the left would win the next parliamentary elections.

There is a rule saying that the lack of palpable reform results creates an atmosphere of complacency among many reformers, stimulates the temptation to use the political power for private interests. In society, they more often talk about the borrowing of the old oligarchic corruption schemes by the new rulers, including heavyweights of PAS. These rumors seem more reasonable when there is no exhaustive information about the annihilation of the resonant mafia scheme applied during the time Plahotniuc, not to mention data about court judgments in multiple cases.

It is evident that the failure of reforms in justice means the appearance of new oligarchy on the political arena of the Republic of Moldova and the avaricious wishes of this will not differ at all from those of the oligarchy that ruled under Voronin and Plahotniuc. In such conditions, the only solution for PAS is to create a broad political front to support the European reforms by coopting to the government political representatives from outside the own party, who yet have expertise and reformatory political will. The insisting on political party selfishness will have fatal consequences for PAS and also for the European destiny of the Republic of Moldova

Anatol Țăranu
doctor of history, political commentator

IPN publishes in the Op-Ed rubric opinion pieces submitted by authors not affiliated with our editorial board. The opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily coincide with the opinions of our editorial board.

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