Moldova is again experiencing a vacancy of government. The tripartite Alliance for European Integration (AEI), under the Liberal-Democrat Prime Minister Vlad Filat, collapsed on March 5, abandoned by its other two parties. The Democratic Party, led by Parliament Chairman Marian Lupu officially and by business tycoon Vlad Plahotniuc de facto, joined with the opposition Communist Party in a no-confidence motion against the government. The AEI’s third component, the Liberal Party under Mihai Ghimpu, has all along regarded Filat’s Liberal-Democrat Party as its main political rival, and operates in an informal anti-Filat alliance with the Lupu-Plahotniuc party inside the AEI (see accompanying article).
The no-confidence motion cited anti-corruption investigations, which had just been launched against Filat and several of his appointees in the government. Those investigations, however, were targeting Filat’s loyalists selectively, on dossiers handled by prosecutors appointed on the Democratic Party’s quota of law-enforcement posts. This was reported in the Moldovan press throughout the crisis, but was left unsaid in the parliament’s no-confidence motion.
The government under Filat continued temporarily in a caretaker’s role, under concentric attacks from the two nominally allied parties, and while Filat’s own party held only 31 seats in the 101-seat parliament. On April 10, President Timofti designated the acting Prime Minister Filat to reconstitute the government, on a clear if implicit understanding that the AEI would be preserved despite its dysfunctionalities. European Union officials and all of AEI’s politicians shared the view that the AEI must be revived in order to avoid pre-term elections and to isolate the Communist opposition. In designating Filat as prime minister again, Timofti termed him Moldova’s most capable politician. Under the constitution, Filat had 15 days (until April 25) at his disposal to present the government’s nominal composition and program for approval in parliament (Moldpres, April 10).
That deadline, along with the perceived imperative to preserve the AEI at all costs, maximized the pressure on Filat, correspondingly strengthening his nominal AEI allies’ bargaining leverage against him.
Filat and Plahotniuc had negotiated during the first half of April, each being assisted by a few close aides. On April 17, however, the two protagonists held a one-on-one meeting and finalized the details of their agreement. From that meeting, Filat went directly to his party’s parliamentary group and gave marching orders for immediate implementation. After some initial grumbling, the parliamentary group voted unanimously in favor of all aspects of the Filat-Plahotniuc agreement during the ensuing days (Moldpres, Unimedia, April 18–22).
On April 18, the two parties jointly voted to appoint Corneliu Gurin as Prosecutor-General, mustering just 51 votes in the 101-seat parliament. The appointee was, until very recently, deputy chairman of a small party deemed obedient to Plahotniuc. The previous Prosecutor-General, Valeriu Zubco, had been forced to resign in February after covering up an accidental death that occurred during an illegal hunting party of senior law enforcement officials. After that, Gurin chaired the commission to select a new Prosecutor-General. As recently as early April, Filat assailed Gurin as lacking the legal and moral rights to chair the selection commission; but now he found reasons to praise him.
On April 19, Filat’s party gave its final acceptance to Viorel Chetraru’s appointment as Director of the National Anti-Corruption Center (NACC), an investigative and prosecuting body. With 64 votes in favor, including those of Filat’s party, the parliament adopted a legislative amendment that bars the Prosecutor-General’s dismissal for any “subjective reasons.” The NACC had spearheaded the selective targeting of government officials close to Filat in recent months.
Under the AEI’s coalition agreement, signed in December 2010, the Prosecutor General’s Office and the NACC fall within the Lupu-Plahotniuc party’s quota of state institutions. In February-March 2013, Filat tried very hard to de-politicize those institutions; and he managed to oust Plahotniuc from the post of first-vice-chairman of parliament, citing conflicts of interest. The NACC responded by targeting Filat’s team, forcing the prime minister to retreat and ultimately to compromise with Plahotniuc.
On April 18 and 19, the parliament thoroughly changed the Electoral Code and passed the new version with lightning speed. The AEI’s three parties outvoted the Communist opposition on this issue. Under these changes, 51 parliamentary deputies shall be elected on party lists, and another 50 in single-mandate electoral districts (winner-take-all races), instead of having all the 101 deputies elected as heretofore (since 1994) on party lists. In 2012, Plahotniuc had personally submitted the draft of a new electoral code, which envisaged electing all the 101 deputies from single-mandate districts. Filat’s party avoided acting on this as long as it could. In the post-Soviet experience generally, elections in single-mandate districts (usually for one half of the parliament’s composition) facilitate the commercialization of elections, favoring wealthy candidates and the wealthiest party leaders. The AEI held no public debates and did not consult the usual international organizations before adopting this momentous change in a stampede.
On April 22, Filat issued a personal apology to the AEI partners, particularly to Plahotniuc’s and Lupu’s Democratic Party. In an interview with the government’s news agency, the acting prime minister expressed regrets for what he described as his failures to communicate within the AEI, and for having “personalized” the conflict with Plahotniuc during the preceding weeks. Filat promised that he would not repeat such “mistakes,” if the AEI government is reconstituted under his premiership (Moldpres, April 22).
That apology earned only growls from Lupu: his party would only support Filat if he demonstrates that he has changed; “time will show.” Lupu clearly indicated that the AEI’s 2010 coalition agreement must yet be re-negotiated, namely to the detriment of Filat’s party interests (Moldpres, April 22). In sum, implementation of the April 17 bargain remained conditional on the Lupu-Plahotniuc side, after Filat had already completed the delivery of his side of that bargain. The Constitutional Court’s verdict, released in the evening of April 22, meant that the prime minister was hounded from office, in an environment of selective and politicized law enforcement.