In a stream of statements from Brussels and Strasbourg, European Union leaders sound shocked by the demise of Moldova’s tripartite Alliance for European Integration (AEI), and more generally by the collapse of Moldova’s parliamentary system of government. The EU has portrayed Moldova as the Eastern Partnership’s “success story” for the last two years. Moldova is still the only country eligible to conclude an association agreement at the EU’s upcoming Vilnius summit and to be offered the perspective of eventual EU accession. After the Moldovan AEI’s collapse and the systemic flaws it revealed on top of those already known, the EU’s “success-story” rhetoric will almost certainly subside (Moldovans themselves already treat that rhetoric skeptically across the social spectrum).
Nevertheless the technical, diplomatic and, partly, the legislative work is sufficiently advanced to enable Moldova to initial (not yet sign) the agreements on association, deep and comprehensive free trade, and visa liberalization at the EU’s Eastern Partnership summit, some six months from now.
The ministerial team of Liberal-Democrat leader Vlad Filat (prime minister until toppled on April 22 by rivals within AEI) is largely responsible for Moldova’s advances. This team controlled the ministries most relevant to that work, and it remains in charge of the same ministries in the interim government. Filat’s closest associate, Foreign Affairs Minister Iurie Leanca, has been designated interim prime minister by President Nicolae Timofti. The interim government’s composition is still based on the tripartite AEI, at least for the time being. The political AEI coalition, however, has long decomposed into mutually hostile camps.
Although removed from the post of prime minister, Filat retains a firm grip on his Liberal-Democrat Party. Their April 24 decision to resist billionaire Vlad Plahotniuc’s state-capture efforts, instead of going along with it as they briefly did, has reconsolidated Filat’s leadership of the party (see EDM, April 25).
The Liberal-Democrats and Communists have joined forces in Parliament at least temporarily, in order to: 1) stop and reverse Plahotniuc’s bid for hegemony in the political system; and 2) tide the country over to the next parliamentary elections, possibly in autumn 2013, one year ahead of schedule (the Communists insist on pre-term elections while the Liberal-Democrats are considering this possibility). These two parties can form a numerical majority for specific decisions in the 101-seat parliament. Some small parliamentary groups and independent deputies are adding to this majority, as seen with the adoption of the May 3 legislative package. This majority is “situational” and arithmetical, as distinct from programmatic.
However, the May 3 package of seven laws is a major gain for Moldova’s political system, except the aborted law on the Constitutional Court. The May 3 legislation, most of which has been promulgated by President Timofti on May 9, amounts to first steps toward emancipating state law enforcement from party-political control, and stopping the commercialization of elections (see EDM, May 10).
The leaders of the Democratic Party and the Liberal Party had spent most of their energies within the AEI to expand their share of power, generally at the Liberal-Democrats’ expense, specifically to gain control over law enforcement institutions. While Democratic leaders Vlad Plahotniuc and Marian Lupu were intermittently negotiating and re-negotiating under duress with Filat’s party, no such negotiation seemed to interest the Liberal leader Mihai Ghimpu from late 2012 onward. Instead, Ghimpu pressed for removing Filat and the Liberal-Democrats from the government and ultimately from the political system.
Ghimpu’s confrontational tactics have split his party. On April 12, a Reform-Liberal wing, including seven of the party’s 12 parliamentary deputies, and two of the party’s four ministers, withdrew their recognition of Ghimpu as party leader; and on April 21 they sealed an agreement to join a coalition government with Filat’s Liberal Democrats. The Reform-Liberals prioritize stability, EU integration, and participation in government. In Moldova’s highly fragmented parliament, these seven Reform-Liberal deputies could make a crucial difference to the survival of a Western-oriented coalition. They worry that Ghimpu’s boycott of the Liberal-Democrats (along with the Plahotniuc-Lupu obstructions) might force the government into deals with leftist splinter groups (mostly defectors from the Communist Party) in order to maintain a parliamentary majority (Unimedia, April 12–15, 21–22).
To help stabilize Moldova and prepare the country for the Vilnius summit as well as the next parliamentary elections, the EU has at its disposal some valuable building blocks for stability and reforms. Such building blocks would include: 1) the statesmanship demonstrated in the recent crisis by a hitherto underestimated President Timofti; 2) the Leanca-Filat tandem, leading the interim government and a cohesive Liberal-Democrat Party, respectively; 3) the continuity of experienced, reform-driving ministers from that team in their posts; 4) the April 26 and May 3 legislative enactments, enabling the interim government and interim parliamentary chair to function normally, and marking initial steps toward de-politicization of state institutions; 5) the Reform-Liberals’ possible contributions to a governing coalition; 6) the capacity of Liberal-Democrats and Communists to cooperate on decisions in the national interest at crucial moments, e.g., barring Plahotniuc’s power bid and passing the May 3 laws, which the Plahotniuc-Lupu and Ghimpu’s parties actively resisted or did not support. It is not pre-ordained that the AEI should (as Ghimpu would) always fight against the Communist Party, in a country in which this party represents at least one third of the electorate.