By Dionis Cenuşa° – initially published on IPN
° Dionis Cenuşa is a political scientist from Moldova who works as Program Director on Energy Security at the Independent Economic Think-tank “Expert-Group”, based in Chisinau.
The actions to thwart the protests, including by the eventual revision of the Constitution, could be useful to the government in neutralizing the opposition and offsetting the negative impact left by the postponement of the provision of the EU macro-financial assistance…
While the antigovernment opposition is pleading for amplifying the protests, the central authorities disproportionately apply the legislation on public assemblies (PAS, August 29, 2018) and exploit the potential of the anti-opposition counterdemonstrations (Free Europe, August 27, 2018), which significantly narrows the coverage of the anti-PDM protests. The opposition’s capacity to anticipate seems to be distorted by the limited transparency of the government whose unpredictability affects the quality of governance per se and the relationship with the foreign partners. The swift adoption of the legislation on voluntary declaration, unexpected annulment of the results of the Chisinau mayoral elections (IPN, June 25, 2018) or setting of the parliamentary elections for February 2019 showed that besides the controlling of institutions, the ability to synchronize and order the public agenda according to the own interests is another major political trump card of the Democratic Party.
The authorities’ preoccupation with the protests mounted by the extraparliamentary opposition or the unionist movement (Moldova’s reunion with Romania) confirms the hypothesis that any large-scale protest staged by uncontrolled players inconveniences the central power. Evidently, this could generate unwanted deviations from the scenarios tailored by the PDM beforehand. Therefore, the only viable political instrument of the extraparliamentary opposition, which is the protests, is constantly sabotaged and isolated. Concomitantly, effort is made to stop the importation of protesting spirit from Romania. Thus, the forces that maintain public order, under the shield of the legal provisions, contributed to the disorganization of the events staged by the unionist forces, which were later associated with actions to destabilize public order by the press affiliated to the PDM.
Amid the recent actions to undermine the protests, there is silence as to the future of the EU macro-financial assistance intended for Moldova. In its last messages, the EU requested to solve the problem of the invalidation of the Chisinau elections. But the government refused to intervene, arguing it does not want to interfere in the independence of the judiciary sector. According to the expectations of the start of 2018, the first installment of the macro-financial assistance was to be allocated by autumn. After the Chisinau elections were invalidated, the assistance could be moved to the post-electoral period, which is to March 2019.
Protests mounted by opposition disturb government: Why?
As the opposition’s approaches are ignored by the state institutions (Prosecutor’s Office, Police, Central Election Commission, etc.), this has no other way out than to protest in a bid to spread its messages, mobilize the voters and state its positon in relation to the ruling party. Consequently, the real politics and confrontations are forced to take place on the street given that the PSRM is not a real opposition force in Parliament, while the parliamentary opposition (PLDM, PCRM etc.) is insufficiently powerful and popular.
Usually, the protests reveal the society’s level of satisfaction with the performance of the government and later materialize into specific electoral preferences. Facing a reduced objective popularity, the country’s administration tends to discredit the protests so as to stimulate a negative subjective attitude to the opposition. The key idea transmitted by the players that gravitate around the PDM is that the opposition’s protests are electoral in character and do not have resonance among the people. The projection of such an image disadvantages the extraparliamentary opposition and distances the yet undetermined voters.
Even after the mixed-member electoral system was introduced in 2017, which evidently decreases the opposition’s chances and increases the chances of the PDM and PSRM, the antigovernment protests are regarded as a danger to the political stability of the current administration. Consequently, these are incompletely or even tendentiously interpreted by the pro-PDM press.
Risks of undermined protests
Any form of restricting and defaming the protests limits the opposition’s communication impact inside and outside the country. As the social basis of the protests is narrow or is narrowing, the impossibility for these to be read as a signal of alarm by the European institutions and other foreign partners grows.
The small scale of protests risks leading to the stagnation of the credibility of the opposition as the rhetoric of this does not find sufficient reflection among the people. This can have a negative effect on the image of the European institutions that support the position of the opposition leaders (Maia Sandu and Andrei Năstase) and, respectively, react to the backsliding witnessed under the government of the PDM. The European Parliament is the main institution against which the leaders of the PDM staged an offensive attack after this adopted a resolution on July 5, 2018 and demanded by this to stop any European assistance to Moldova for the non-fulfilment of the political preconditions (IPN, July 9, 2018).
In parallel with the discrediting of the protests and, respectively, the trivialization of the opposition’s approaches, the PDM continues to implement, in its own manner, the technical conditions for receiving the macro-financial assistance. The enshrining of the European course in the Constitution, expectedly this autumn, will be the next step of the government that will distract domestic and foreign public attention and the attention of the European institutions from the essence of the antigovernment protests. This will also reanimate the geopolitical confrontation ensured by President Igor Dodon, who will inevitably disseminate Euro-skeptical messages in the context of the World Congress of Families (September 14-16, 2018). By such overlapping of events, the government will try to strengthen its image and to also generate a competition for public attention with a number of provoked artificial cases that would make the protesting opposition tired.
Instead of conclusion…
The large-scale protests can oust by democratic ways those governments that make insignificant progress and especially those that are associated with serious crimes. The protests in Moldova seem to be at an intermediary stage, judging by the proportion of the attracted human capital. That’s why the government is making effort to reduce these to insignificant dimensions.
By making the protests stagnant, the government wants to affect the opposition’s credibility outside and to neutralize the power of conviction of this in its dialogue with the EU. The actions to thwart the protests, including by the eventual revision of the Constitution, could be useful to the government in neutralizing the opposition and offsetting the negative impact left by the postponement of the provision of the EU macro-financial assistance.