Moldova’s Party System Blocks Reforms, Defeats the Reformers

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 12 Issue: 41

New Moldovan Prime Minister Chiril Gaburici (Source:

Moldova’s new government, the Alliance for a European Moldova (AEM), is a reformatted version of the Alliance for European Integration (AEI) that came to power in Moldova in 2009. Its revised title conveys an emphasis on internal transformation, instead of premature ambitions for membership in the European Union, which the former title had implied. The name change reflects a more realistic approach on the part of Moldova’s own reformers, following the stagnation and outright setbacks observed during the last two years. The name change also responds to growing disappointment in Brussels and other friendly capitals over the state of affairs in Moldova (see accompanying article).

The title Alliance for a European Moldova recalls the Communist Party’s motto, “We Build a European Moldova,” in the 2005 elections and thereafter. President Vladimir Voronin initiated Moldova’s European orientation as state policy, under one-party rule—de facto personal rule. But his government proved inadequate to the task of implementing the Moldova-EU Action Plan. That mission devolved to the Alliance for European Integration, a coalition of three parties, from 2009 to 2014.

Coalition politics, and Moldova’s party system as such, have proven inimical to reforms. The reformers themselves were concentrated in the Liberal-Democrat Party under Vlad Filat (prime minister, 2009–2013; party leader to date) and Iurie Leanca (foreign minister, 2009–2013; prime minister, 2013–February 2015). Their ministerial team of reformers became hostage to the coalition and the party system.

In a poorly institutionalized state like Moldova, government by coalition brought chaos. For almost three years (April 2009–March 2012) the parliament was unable to elect the head of state, despite serial attempts. Moldova held four parliamentary elections and one constitutional referendum, all with inconclusive results, between 2009 and November 2014.

The rule of law (always weak) incurred a strategic defeat as early as December 2010, with consequences that must yet be overcome in Moldova, and confound Brussels to this day. Under the coalition’s power-sharing agreement, key posts in the judiciary and law enforcement system were allocated to nominees of the Democratic Party’s de facto leader Vlad Plahotniuc, Moldova’s wealthiest businessman.

The Democratic Party and Mihai Ghimpu’s Liberal Party operated a coalition-within-the-coalition to undercut the larger Liberal-Democrat Party. The latter’s ministerial team was bearing the brunt of work toward association with the EU. The two smaller parties carried no governmental responsibilities for reforms. They did not run the key ministries in this regard and were mostly absent from, or uninterested in, public policy debates on such issues. The Democratic Party focused on narrow group interests while Ghimpu’s party focused on its implacable fight against the Liberal Democrats.

It was the Liberal-Democrat team that ultimately delivered the Moldova-EU association agreement, free-trade agreement, and visa-free travel agreement in 2014, capping their five-year effort. This was a success of external policies primarily. By that time, however, a second negative turning point had already occurred internally. The coalition’s two lesser parties had nominated a majority of the Constitutional Court’s justices (those posts are also filled by political parties’ nominees). They orchestrated a Court verdict that toppled then–prime minister Filat and other ministers from office in April 2013. Leanca became prime minister in May that year. A top-performer diplomat, but unfamiliar with economics and business, he lost control over the coalition and the events.

The ensuing period marked the culmination of corruption scandals and suspect privatizations that remain non-elucidated to this day. Chisinau’s International Airport was turned over non-transparently, without a proper tender, to a murky Russian company. Billions of dollars disappeared from Moldova’s state-controlled Banca de Economii and other state and private banks. Obscure Russian shareholders took over share packages at knock-down prices. In January–February 2015, poorly explained financial manipulations accelerated the Leu’s (Moldovan currency) collapse. Most of those events seemed to occur in sectors handled by nominees of the Democratic Party (Economy Ministry) and Liberal Party (National Bank).

Moldova did not have a full-time, fully-empowered government since the election campaign that preceded the November 30, 2014, parliamentary elections. The ministers focused on campaigning ahead of elections, and the government afterward had an interim status until February 18.

The pro-Europe coalition actually lost the November 2014 elections, dropping to 46 percent of the votes cast. This drop matches the drop in public support for the country’s European choice in opinion polls, before and after these elections. It is, in part, a consequence of conflating Moldova’s European agenda with its discredited political system. The coalition’s name conflates the two. This is ultimately a political problem, although it tends to be reduced to “corruption” in the oversimplified perception of most voters (see EDM, February 19, 20, 21, 2014).

Moldovan elections produce either hung parliaments, or Red majorities, or both outcomes combined, which is actually the case after the November 2014 elections. This problem may still be fixed through tactical arrangements between the newly installed minority government, Alliance for a European Moldova, and a more cooperative Communist Party. Strategically, however, it must be recognized that Moldova’s party system and government by coalition are inimical to effective reforms, and turning reform leaders into the system’s hostages.