The Democratic Party of billionaire Vlad Plahotniuc is the second-largest in the tripartite Pro-Europe Coalition (PEC). The November 30 elections saw the Democratic Party advance to 16 percent of the votes cast, and 23 parliamentary seats (up from 12.5 percent and 19 parliamentary seats in the 2010 elections) (see Part One, EDM, December 5; Unimedia, December 6). Local observers attribute this success mainly to four television channels with country-wide coverage under Plahotniuc’s ownership control.
Unlike the coalition-leading Liberal-Democrats (under Prime Minister Iurie Leanca and party leader Vlad Filat), the rival Democratic Party has focused on promoting business interests associated with Plahotniuc and controlling top posts in the court system, law enforcement institutions and regulatory agencies. The introduction of European Union–style transparency and rule of law in Moldova would make it impossible for the Democratic Party and its de facto leader to continue operating the way it has.
Plahotniuc rarely speaks in public and hardly ever addresses policy issues. In a pre-election programmatic statement, he envisions Moldova’s future as a half-way house between Russia and Europe, in civilizational and geopolitical terms. On one hand, Moldova “has real chances to join the EU.” On the other hand, he argues, Moldova “is capable efficiently to adapt the values of two different worlds: the Slavic world, with its predominantly post-Soviet characteristics, and the Western world rooted in participatory democracy. Moldova will be capable to connect and support the common interests of Russia and of the European Union.” Furthermore, “Moldova can become a significant contact point between these two very different worlds” (Timpul, November 21).
This programmatic statement uses the terms Russian and Slavic interchangeably, ignoring Ukraine altogether. While the Liberal-Democrat team (see above) is committed to Moldova’s Europeanization, the Democratic Party’s leadership seems to choose a grey zone as a comfort zone for its interests. The same party’s Andrian Candu, Economy Minister and a relative of Plahotniuc (godson by marriage), proposes to invite Russian financial capital for privatization of Moldova’s remaining state-owned assets.
Concluding a visit to Moscow ahead of the November 30 elections, Candu announced that Russian companies would be welcome to take over the MoldTelecom monopoly of land-line telecommunications and Internet services, the two remaining state-owned electricity distribution networks, Moldovan Railways (because of “technical compatibility” with Russian Railways), and some other assets. Furthermore, when Moldova adopts EU-mandated legislation allowing foreigners to purchase agricultural land, Russian investors are welcome to buy land and set up agro-firms in Moldova, Candu announced (RIA Novosti, November 20).
Within the Democratic Party’s leadership, Igor Corman holds the most senior state post as chairman of the parliament. Corman is a politician committed to Moldova’s European agenda. But he is mainly a decorative figure, not a key decision maker. Ranking officially below Corman are the party’s informal leader Plahotniuc and its formal chairman Marian Lupu (both are parliamentary deputies). They and Candu carry all the weight in the party’s leadership and influence the government’s decisions. This has paved the way for the Russian takeovers of the Chisinau International Airport and the Moldovan Economy Bank in 2013–2014.
Officially, the Democratic Party shares the PEC’s common European agenda. According to chairman Lupu in post-election statements, the party will support the implementation of the EU-Moldova Association Agreement. At the same time the party wants to consolidate Moldova’s neutrality status—i.e., keep its distance from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) (Jurnal de Chisinau, Infotag, December 1, 3).
The Liberal Party, the smallest in the tripartite Pro-Europe Coalition, received 10 percent of the votes cast and 13 parliamentary seats in the November 30 parliamentary elections (practically identical with this party’s 10 percent and 12 parliamentary seats in the 2010 elections) (Unimedia, December 6, 2014). The Liberal Party maintains its traditional lock on the committed pro-Romanian electorate. Veteran party chairman Mihai Ghimpu has long been expected to hand over the chairmanship to his nephew, Chisinau mayor Dorin Chirtoaca, whose personal popularity rating is higher, and who is up for re-election as mayor in 2015. Ghimpu’s and Plahotniuc’s parties have operated in an informal alliance against Filat’s and Leanca’s Liberal-Democrat Party in recent years.
Arithmetically, the Liberal Party is indispensable to reconstituting the tripartite coalition government. Judging from the track record, Ghimpu’s party can be expected to insist on a disproportionate share of government posts in the new government. The track record also shows Plahotniuc’s party capturing key law enforcement and regulatory agency posts in the coalition negotiations. Either of these parties can (as they did in recent years) slow down the formation and operation of the coalition government after the latest elections.