Moldova’s parliamentary elections, held on February 24 (three months after the quadrennial term’s expiry), have produced a “hung” parliament divided among four parties, greatly complicating the formation of a new coalition government. The Constitutional Court took its time until March 10 to validate the elections’ results (Infotag, March 11). Various coalition formulas are under discussion, none easily attainable.
These elections have changed Moldova’s politics in ways that take the country in wrong directions (unprecedented election-rigging, alienation from Europe, Transnistrian penetration of Moldova’s domestic politics), while also revealing negative continuities (further plutocratization of politics, one-party media dominance, political subordination of justice, ethnic-linguistic fragmentation reinforcing political fragmentation).
One important silver lining, however, is the entry of a credible pro-Western, morally uncorrupt, and well-educated force into Moldova’s parliament, for the first time in this post-Soviet country. The “NOW” Bloc, launched as recently as last December (see EDM, December 14, 2018) by two extra-parliamentary parties and several civic groups, has obtained 26 seats in the 101-seat legislative chamber in these elections, despite being dwarfed in terms of campaign finance and mass media by the party of power under the country’s de facto ruler Vladimir Plahotniuc. The latter’s mass media continue hitting the NOW Bloc as the priority target (rather than the russophile Socialist Party) in the post-election period.
NOW heralds a beginning of positive system change, confronted, however, by far more powerful forces of system continuity. That system had beaten NOW’s co-chairs, Maia Sandu and Andrei Nastase, in previous elections. Sandu had narrowly lost the 2016 presidential election (48 percent to 52 percent) to the Kremlin-friendly Socialist leader Igor Dodon, thanks to Moldova’s informal ruler, billionaire Vladimir Plahotniuc, whose media conglomerate campaigned against Sandu. In June–July 2018, Nastase won the election for mayor of Chisinau against a Socialist candidate supported again by Plahotniuc’s media, but Plahotniuc-controlled courts invalidated Nastase’s victory. That move sealed Plahotniuc’s isolation from those who had hoped to enlist him, with his power system, into a European and Euro-Atlantic agenda. The same power system has now managed to limit the pro-Western NOW’s gains to 26 parliamentary seats by rigging the February 24 elections. Nevertheless, the net effect of NOW’s surge into parliament is to bring a new quality to Moldova’s politics (Acum.md, accessed March 11).
At the same time, the plutocratization of Moldova’s politics has advanced to a new level in these elections. “Oligarchy” is a popular misnomer applied to the billionaire Plahotniuc’s one-man rule, notwithstanding that oligarchy is by definition a group phenomenon (this popular misnomer is a Russian semantic infiltration of a Moldova hooked into Russia’s information space). Yet another business tycoon, Ilan Shor, surged into this electoral campaign with his own party and a territorial bailiwick (mayor of Orhei in central Moldova). Shor is a closely controlled Plahotniuc ally, his main role being to divert “Russian-speaking” left-leaning voters from the Socialist Party into his “Shor Party.” This mission was accomplished, with eight deputies elected to the new parliament (seven from the Shor Party plus one “independent” who is Shor’s management consultant). They are set to coalesce with the Plahotniuc-led Democratic Party’s 30 deputies in the new parliament.
The actual size of Shor’s assets is not known, but is generally deemed to be in a lower league than Plahotniuc’s. The Shor companies’ financial turnover has been reported at $2.9 billion in 2012–2014, according to Kroll’s 2017 report on Moldovan bank frauds and money-laundering (as cited by Bloomberg and Politico Europe, February 22, 2019). To be sure, the Kroll report is not deemed conclusive. Closely acquainted with Plahotniuc for a long time, Shor incriminated himself in those financial frauds, was sentenced by the Plahotniuc-controlled justice system in 2017 to seven years in prison, but was promptly reprieved by the same justice system and allowed to run for parliament, gaining thereby immunity from justice.
Plutocratic influence distorted this electoral campaign and its outcome as never before in Moldova. The sums expended must look modest by any European standards, but this election campaign took place in Europe’s poorest country.
According to the parties’ financial reports to the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) after the elections, the Democratic Party declared expenses of 30.3 million lei, the Shor Party 19.9 million lei ($4.72 million), the Socialist Party 5.5 million lei ($1.3 million), and the NOW Bloc 1.9 million lei ($0.45 million). Dividing those sums by the number of votes received (according to the CEC) by each party, local observers have calculated that the Shor Party spent 169 lei ($40) for each vote received, the Democratic Party 90.5 lei, the Socialist Party 12.5 lei ($21.44), and NOW 4.9 lei ($1.16) for each vote received. Correspondingly, the Shor Party spent 34 times more than NOW per vote received, and the Democratic Party spent 16 times more than NOW per vote received (Ziarul National, February 27; Adevarul, March 3).
Above and beyond legally authorized campaign expenses, however, the Democratic Party and Shor Party engaged de facto in vote-buying through the charity foundations they operate: Plahotniuc’s Edelweiss Foundation (“Founder Vladimir Plahotniuc”) and Shor’s eponymous foundation, which is coupled with his Social Shops network (lower-priced foodstuffs). These foundations have taken off in the last few years with a variety of projects, and are labelled as non-political, but they do play a growing role also in electoral campaigns. They influence voters’ choices indirectly by associating charitable activities with specific parties and their leaders, as well as directly through the handout of goods (food packages, clothing items) by local party representatives to pauper voters at election time. The campaign just concluded has illustrated this growing trend.