Moldova is experiencing a phenomenon that deserves to be termed Plahotniucism without Plahotniuc; at least not up front. From distant safe havens, the fugitive former ruler Vladimir Plahotniuc and his fellow-billionaire Ilan Shor are widely believed, with a high degree of plausibility, to be financing the surge of plutocratic opposition in Moldova. Plahotniuc’s godson, Andrian Candu, has merged and acquired a large part of Plahotniuc’s old Democratic Party, along with Shor’s “Shor Party,” into a strong and still growing political bloc that turns Candu into Moldova‘s potential kingmaker (see EDM, May 20, 21).
On June 21, the Socialist-led government lost its parliamentary majority when Candu’s new party, Pro Moldova, “acquired” yet another deputy. The government still controls 50 seats in the 101-seat chamber. The governing coalition now consists of the Socialist Party with 37 seats (constant number) and a rump of Plahotniuc’s old Democratic Party reduced to 13 seats (down from 29). Pro Moldova has grown to 14 seats (up from zero), and the Shor Party to 9 seats (up from 7). Meanwhile the pro-Western ACUM (“NOW”) bloc continues to exist on paper but is deeply divided by the rivalry between its components, led by Maia Sandu and Andrei Nastase, with 15 seats and 11 seats, respectively, in a parliament of 101 seats. Two free-floating deputies complete the picture (Noi.md, June 22).
All of Candu’s “acquisitions” have come without exception from the ranks of Plahotniuc’s old Democratic Party, both in the parliament and in terms of territorial organizations. The party’s rump that remains in the government had tried to emancipate the party from Plahotniuc’s influence and is suffering the punishment for this. Such acquisitions were a practice that Plahotniuc had generalized in his time. During several weeks in the winter of 2015/2016, his Democratic Party increased its parliamentary strength from 19 seats to 57 seats through acquisitions from other parties. Many of those 2015/2016 defectors re-entered the current parliament in 2019 as Democratic deputies. And these old defectors have now re-defected to Candu’s Pro-Moldova and to Shor’s Party. Meanwhile, Candu has allocated 14 to pro-Moldova, two to the Shor Party, and he openly promises more defections).
On June 23, Moldova’s authorities officially registered Pro Moldova as a new party. Candu declared, accurately, “Nothing may be decided in Moldova’s politics from now on without the Pro Moldova Party.” Indeed, the deeply splintered parliament means that Pro Moldova with its Shor appendage has become a political arbiter, even if it does not keep growing, although it may still grow.
The undeclared agenda behind this operation may generically be termed plutocratic revanche (“oligarchic” is the local misnomer for it). At the current stage, however, the revanche campaign is solely directed against the russophile President Igor Dodon and his Socialist-led government. Removing them from power is undoubtedly an interim goal, en route to the ultimate goals of regaining some assets, a share of power, and impunity for Candu’s patrons.
Their interim goal, however, is also their pretext for partnering with the democratic, pro-Western opposition in pursuit of regime change. The authorities are weak, but the democratic opposition is even weaker now, clearly unable on its own to achieve regime change either in this parliament or through new elections.
What Candu proposes is a joint effort by the two oppositions, the democratic and the plutocratic, to remove Dodon and the government from power, preferably in advance of the next presidential and parliamentary elections. Dodon and the Socialists run far ahead in the opinion polls. The regular quadrennial presidential election is scheduled for November 1; and pre-term parliamentary elections might be held either on that same date (hypothetically) or next spring (more realistically) (Ziarul National, Unimedia, June 21–25).
While the democratic opposition enjoys a certain measure of voter support, Candu’s “oligarchic” patrons remain deeply unpopular, and his party (or bloc) might fail to pass on its own the threshold into the next parliament. But this party (or bloc) could be certain to enter the next parliament on the basis of pre-election tradeoffs with the democratic opposition. Such tradeoffs would be based on cooperation against their common designated adversary: Dodon and his Socialists. In the course of that campaign, Pro Moldova and its appendage might well obtain a measure of respectability and some legitimacy through association with the ACUM Bloc’s impeccably honest and unquestionably pro-Western parties.
Candu, moreover, would end up with significant IOUs in his hands. His 23 parliamentary deputies (a number that might well grow further) can provide the critical mass for a no confidence vote against the Socialist-led government and a new majority to support the next government, one led by one or both of the ACUM bloc’s parties. Candu assures these parties that he would not seek ministerial portfolios for Pro Moldova in such a government (although he would undoubtedly bring ostensibly non-party ministerial nominees). That new government could then administer the presidential and parliamentary elections in circumstances far more reassuring to the ACUM bloc’s parties than would be the case under a Socialist-led government. Moreover, Candu’s group still controls parts of Plahotniuc’s media holding, and Candu has lost no time promising media support for Maia Sandu’s presidential candidacy. Such support (if forthcoming) would definitely help Sandu to offset, at least in part, Dodon’s superior media resources.