Toppling Moldova’s Government: Popular Movement or Political Operation?

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 12 Issue: 161

(Source: Reuters)

Since September 6, protesters have set up a tent city—it has grown to at least 150 tents to date—in Chisinau’s main square, outside the Moldovan government’s building. Leading the protest movement is a small group of journalists and civic activists: The Platform for Dignity and Truth, mostly comprised of political idealists (see below). Under anti-oligarchic and pro-Europe slogans, the protesters demand the resignation of Moldova’s president and government, the dissolution of the parliament, and new presidential and parliamentary elections. All these demands are irreconcilable with Moldova’s Constitution.

Tens of thousands of people from Chisinau and the countryside had rallied on September 6 to launch this protest. That crowd, and the tent dwellers, represent a staunchly pro-Western section of Moldova’s electorate. That section has lost confidence in the nominally pro-Europe governing coalition. The coalition has become associated with state corruption, a failure of Moldova’s parliamentary system of government, and the recent theft of an estimated $1 billion from Moldova’s banking system. That unexplained theft has triggered a chain reaction of currency depreciation and price hikes across the board.

The three-party coalition government (in power since 2009) currently holds a narrow, ineffective majority in parliament. Prime Minister Valeriu Strelet (in office since July 31) and his ministers from the Liberal-Democrat Party are trying to stabilize the internal situation and restore Moldova’s broken relations with Western creditors and donors. This ministerial team of reformers has all along been obstructed by the other two parties, the Democratic and the Liberal, in the nominal coalition. But the populace is barely aware of such nuances. From the outside, the entire government looks discredited and hard to defend.

The Platform has launched a movement to sweep the incumbent authorities from power. As a civic, non-political group, The Platform offers no political alternative or solution of any kind; indeed it disclaims any role in this regard. Instead, it leaves up to “society” to develop a political alternative in due course. The Platform’s goal is a short-term one: regime-change, come what may (, September 6–9).

This pro-Europe, anti-oligarchic protest movement demands pre-term elections, unwittingly, for the benefit of pro-Russia and “oligarchic” parties. It is these parties that, ironically, would then accomplish regime-change on their own terms.

As the protest movement unfolds, the pro-Russia opposition parties—Socialist Party and Our Party—look poised to exploit a power vacuum and hijack the regime-change movement. Led by Igor Dodon and Renato Usatyi, respectively, these parties are set on an upward electoral trajectory. Capitalizing on their Russia connections, they achieved major gains in the November 2014 parliamentary elections and June 2015 country-wide local elections. The Socialists are absorbing the still-large Communist Party’s electorate; while Our Party attracts young voters in Moldova’s north, where this party is establishing something of a territorial base. Both parties promote a Russian and Eurasian orientation as opposed to a European orientation for Moldova.

“Oligarch” Vlad Plahotniuc’s Democratic Party, a duplicitous component of the governing coalition, also gained significantly in those recent parliamentary and local elections. It should do even better in new elections, thanks to Plahotniuc’s financial power and mass-media supremacy in the country. On the third day of the tent-camp protest, Plahotniuc undercut the coalition government from within, announcing that new elections should be considered as a good idea (Unimedia, September 8).

The Socialist Party and Our Party have both endorsed the pro-Western demonstrators’ calls to remove the government and hold new elections. Dodon, in particular, has echoed almost point by point The Platform’s list of specific officials to be removed from the government ahead of elections. Dodon and Usatyi have both offered to join the ongoing protests in Chisinau with their own parties’ supporters. But they are also preparing to stage their own public protests, separate from but parallel with those led by The Platform. They also share The Platform’s view that the head of state should be elected by popular vote, instead of being elected by the Parliament as is currently the case (Infotag, September 7–9).

Those demands are difficult to refute. The government officials targeted for removal are unpopular and widely suspected of involvement in corruption. Opinion polls show strong support for electing the state president by popular vote and enlarging his powers accordingly; in effect, turning the dysfunctional parliamentary republic into a presidential republic.

The tent camp in Chisinau’s central square is peaceful thus far, the police presence discrete, and the atmosphere relaxed despite occasional incendiary statements by some of The Platform’s leaders. President Nicolae Timofti, the Strelet government, and parliamentary leaders decline to negotiate with The Platform’s leaders on account of their anti-constitutional demands.

The Platform and its followers lack the means to compel the government to resign and call new elections. But this situation could soon change if pro-Russia parties’ supporters enter the scene and Plahotniuc’s party splits off from the coalition government. In that situation, they would be finishing the process that The Platform has started. Eager to topple the incumbent authorities, The Platform’s leaders seem oblivious to the likely consequences of their actions, and have apparently maneuvered the tent-camp protesters into a losing situation.