A coalition of mutually antagonistic parties, “leftist pro-Russia” and “rightist pro-Western”—an unprecedented case in post-Soviet countries or indeed in Europe writ large—took over power in Moldova two months ago (June 8), replacing Vladimir Plahotniuc’s personal rule that bequeathed a country in distress. In this situation, the ACUM (“NOW”) bloc and the Socialist Party have embarked on a unique experiment of a “hybrid” governing alliance: in fact, an alliance encompassing the broadest possible range of views that exist in Moldova’s splintered society. In that sense, it is an alliance for societal consensus on a basic common denominator. This coalition can best be understood the way its component parties themselves understand it, namely as a government for post-disaster recovery.
The configuration of this coalition reflects, on the whole, the country’s expectations for a unifying agenda and a consensus-based government in an unprecedented time of both deep crisis and rising hope. This coalition could not have taken shape without President Igor Dodon persuading his Socialist Party to renounce its earlier, excessive demands for government posts and set aside key ideological postulates in order to accommodate the NOW bloc in the coalition (see EDM, June 21, 26, 27, July 10, 11, 18).
The distribution of power looks roughly evenly balanced within the governing coalition. It holds 61 parliamentary seats, including 35 Socialists and 26 NOW bloc members (NOW is comprised of two parties). Those 61 seats amount exactly to the three-fifths majority necessary for adopting organic laws. The Socialists hold the parliament’s chair with Zinaida Greceanii (the party’s formal leader), while NOW holds 5 out of 11 parliamentary commission chairs. Plahotniuc’s Democratic Party and its allies hold 40 seats (this parliament was elected in February, under rules and circumstances heavily favoring this party). Several Democratic and allied seats are vacant as their holders have fled and/or resigned. The Socialists and the NOW bloc have pledged to not accept defectors from the Democratic Party and its satellites into the coalition’s ranks. (IPN, Ziarul National, August 1–7).
The Cabinet of Ministers consists almost entirely of NOW bloc’s nominees, under Maia Sandu and Andrei Nastase (leaders of NOW’s two component parties) as prime minister and deputy prime minister, respectively. The Ministry of Internal Affairs, now under Nastase, is the country’s largest and best-endowed uniformed service by far, but its hierarchy was heretofore beholden to Plahotniuc.
Most of the ministers in the new government are Western-educated technocrats, with a slight majority of women. At least four ministers (as well as Prime Minister Sandu) are graduates of elite universities in the West, who left high-paying jobs in private business or international organizations in order to join the Moldovan government at Moldovan salaries. They are not members of the NOW bloc officially but are closely aligned with it. Such a composition is unprecedented for a Moldovan government, and it marks a cultural breakthrough. The only exceptions in this constellation, in that sense, are the deputy prime minister in charge of policy toward Transnistria and the defense minister, both nominated by President Dodon from among his advisors.
Thanks to the coalition, Dodon has regained a few prerogatives that the former parliament had taken away from him as state president. The new parliamentary majority has restored the head of state’s right to appoint the intelligence service chief (in this case, a non-politicized professional from within the service), and has allowed Dodon to designate one of the presidential advisors as deputy chief of intelligence. The coalition also gave the National Security Council, an advisory and consultative body chaired by the head of state, the right to subpoena secret documents (NOI.Md, NewsMaker, August 1–7).
The differences in terms of ideology and medium- to long-term objectives between the Socialists and the NOW bloc are clearly acknowledged by both sides—and with heavier emphasis on the part of NOW than the Socialists. Yet, perhaps the deeper divide within the coalition—as in Moldova’s society at large—is the cultural differentiation between these two components. The Socialist politicians and parliamentarians (including those ethnically Moldovan) are still mired in the Russian cultural, informational and professional space; and in this, they reflect their electorate (which is about evenly divided between Moldovans and other ethnicities). Opening the Western world to these Socialist politicians is a process that has already started as an unanticipated benefit from this coalition.
This pluralist coalition also marks a return to genuine party politics and the parliamentary system in Moldova, following the destruction of that system and of constitutionalism as such during the last six years. However, the formation of such a broad-based, cross-party coalition shows that its components have chosen to postpone a resumption of fully competitive party politics. Instead of unbridled partisan-electoral competition, as could have ensued between the NOW bloc and the Socialist Party, both have opted for a carefully regulated competition within the coalition’s framework for the time being.
This coalition, then, enables consensus-based policy decisions and personnel appointments at the executive level, joint legislative action in Parliament, and dispute-resolution at the level of the component parties. It has worked as intended, thus far.
The coalition’s most urgent priority is to clean up the judiciary system and law enforcement agencies, market regulatory authorities, and state-owned enterprises. Those are pervaded by Plahotniuc’s appointees, enablers of “business schemes” at the expense of the state from 2010 until he fled two months ago. The coalition’s effort is described as “freeing the state from captivity,” which now refers to Plahotniuc’s resilient network. Those “schemes” include smuggling operations, import and export monopolies, market cartels, asset-stripping of state-owned enterprises or their unlawful alienation to certain accomplices (the case of Chisinau’s International Airport), as well as covert financial operations with obscure offshore entities. Moldova’s market-regulatory authorities, the courts, and law enforcement agencies authorized or protected such “schemes,” with parts of the profits redistributed downward to Plahotniuc’s clientele and other parts recycled to finance his well-developed political apparatus (Jurnal.md, August 1–7).
The new government does not yet have the means in terms of loyal personnel and actionable information to crack down on those “schemes.” Recruiting the personnel and collecting the actionable information is an uphill struggle for the new government.