The Socialist Party Tries to Derail Justice Reform in Moldova, Topples the Government

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 16 Issue: 158

Moldovan Prime Minister Maia Sandu (Source: Reuters)

Today, on November 12, the pro-Russian Socialists’ Party of Moldova (PSRM) dismissed the reformist government in Chisinau led by Maia Sandu (Deutsche Welle—Romanian edition, November 12), following a no-confidence vote they initiated on Friday, November 8 (, November 8). In this effort, the PSRM was assisted by the Democratic Party of Moldova (PDM), a political faction affiliated with the fugitive oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc. Ironically, earlier in June, the PSRM joined efforts with the electoral bloc ACUM, of which Sandu is a leader, to end the plutocratic and corrupt rule of the PDM government (see EDM, June 10).

The ACUM-PSRM governing coalition was widely labeled “situational” and “unorthodox,” as observers understood it could not last for long. Too different are the goals of these two political parties. Sandu is well known among political colleagues and foreign diplomats in Chisinau as an idealistic, perhaps slightly naïve, politician and a frequently intransigent interlocutor. Her intransigence would usually relate to her stubborn unwillingness to give up her values and ethical principles for political reasons—a former Moldovan prime minister chastised her for this, saying that politics is not about values and principles (, November 8). Having started her political career by fighting against Plahotniuc’s oligarchic regime, she reportedly refused earlier this year to follow the geopolitically influenced advice of top Western diplomats from the United States and the European Union to make a deal with the PDM against the pro-Russian Socialists. Consequently, the US and the EU changed their views and supported the ACUM-PSRM coalition, which collapsed today.

The Socialist Party, informally led by President Igor Dodon, had long been close with the Moldovan Democratic Party, which, under the leadership of Plahotniuc, ruled through intimidation and bribery. According to observers in Chisinau, president Dodon, operating under the guidance of his Russian advisors, had planned to oust Sandu’s government later this year, in December. The invoked reason was supposed to be the “catastrophic performance of the government in the social-economic area” (Author’s interviews, November 8–10). President Dodon and his PSRM planned to make a scapegoat out of the Sandu government, expecting possible problems with heating in winter time. The reality is that Moldova was able to unfreeze much-needed foreign assistance only thanks to the credibility of Sandu’s government.

However, Dodon’s plans failed to materialize at the time of his choosing. And the current crisis was triggered by Dodon’s overt manipulation of the selection of the country’s prosecutor general. The selection committee member proposed by the PSRM had artificially lowered the scores of two candidates uncomfortable for the Socialists, while giving high scores to their preferred candidate (, November 6). The PSRM’s scores were significantly different from the average scores given by other committee members.

As soon as this conspicuous discrepancy was identified, Minister of Justice Olesea Stamate declared that the selection results, producing a short-list of four candidates for the next prosecutor general, would be canceled. The Socialists immediately reacted by demanding Stamate’s dismissal. Prime Minister Sandu, after convening a governmental council, refused the Socialists’ demand. She declared that her government would make a political commitment and take responsibility to nominate a new short-list of candidates to avoid manipulation. Sandu declared that she was responsible for justice reform and that the prosecutor general position was too important for that reform to fall under the control of interested parties. In fact, that reform process was Sandu’s biggest commitment to her electorate. In response, the PSRM handed Sandu an ultimatum—either she withdraw her political commitment and fire Stamate, or the Socialists would move ahead with a no-confidence vote in the parliament (, November 6).

Both Sandu and Dodon had discussions with top US and EU diplomats in Chisinau over the weekend, trying to look for a solution to the crisis. Initially, the Western envoys tried to convince Prime Minister Sandu to withdraw her initiative in order to avoid the ousting of her cabinet; but reportedly, they adjusted their perspectives after hearing Sandu’s explanation of the situation. Justice reform in Moldova would be totally compromised should she go along with President Dodon’s plans, Sandu told them. In support of her words, political observers in Chisinau pointed to the multiple pending criminal cases against President Dodon and PSRM members, involving corruption and illicit funding of the Socialist Party (, October 29). A general prosecutor not controlled by the Socialists would have definitely looked into these cases. This is also why the Socialists were ready to risk the fate of the ACUM-PSRM governing coalition.

President Dodon’s gamble was motivated by several factors. First, he assumes that the funding the Western partners promised to Moldova will nevertheless still be delivered to his puppet government. The US embassy in Chisinau issued a statement, sending a message that could be interpreted as supporting these expectations (, November 12): “Despite the unfortunate dismissal of the Government [in Chisinau]… the priorities of the United States in our bilateral relationship with Moldova have not changed” (, November 12). In contrast, the messages sent by EU and Romanian officials raised concerns about the development and pointed out that continuing assistance would be dependent on genuine justice reform (, November 12)—a much clearer signal for Moldovan politicians.

Second, Dodon called on ACUM-PSRM to identify and propose a new candidate for the prime minister’s post to replace Sandu. He declared his intention to nominate his own candidates if no proposal comes from ACUM. Dodon is not sincere, as he knows ACUM is unlikely to rebuild the coalition with him—in fact, political insiders have noted a new cabinet list, led by one of Dodon’s advisors, being circulated around. Following the ousting of her government, Sandu stated that her party will move the fight for justice in Moldova into the streets (, November 12).

While many may criticize Sandu’s principled approach to the selection of the general prosecutor, she is the first politician in the history of Moldova that has fought for genuine reform at the expense of clinging to her ministerial chair. Next year’s presidential elections, and likely early parliamentary elections, will reveal if there is a demand for such politicians among the Moldovan electorate.