L’Invité D&B: Formation of post-electoral coalition in Moldova and Moscow’s benefits

Some post-election news from Moldova: An unlikely coalition between Plahotniuc’s Democrats and Dodon’s Socialists may be underway… By Dionis Cenusa

By Dionis Cenuşa° – initially published on IPN

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° 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.

No one excludes snap elections if the negotiations on the formation of a coalition do not produce results. But the rationality for inducing snap elections is minimal for all the major political players – the PSRM, the DPM and ACUM as the ratio of forces cannot be changed when the circumstances remain the same…

The results of the parliamentary elections held in Moldova kept intact the necessity of forming a coalition between the intra-parliamentary parties so that the country could be governed. The impossibility of obtaining a majority by the Socialists, preservation of the political weight of the Democrats and eruption of the unified extraparliamentary opposition generated a difficult, but predictable situation.

First of all, a sort of proportionality in the balance of power in the new legislature was created. In such conditions, the formation of a majority in a conventional way, which is without corruption and intimidation, means a coalition consisting of at least two parties, with the participation of the Democratic Party (DPM), the Party of Socialists (PSRM) and/or the Bloc ACUM (“NOW”). Secondly, appropriate synergy is created to force the Democrats and the Socialists to formalize and stabilize the cooperation relations that existed, but mainly in ad-hoc and hidden forms, in 2016-2018. The bloc ACUM’s refusal to negotiate generates additional constraints for the Democrats and the Socialists in reaching a compromise. At the same time, the two parties illustrate the rapprochement between them as a consequence of the intransigency of the bloc ACUM, which is made responsible for an eventual DPM-PSRM coalition. Last but not least, the absence of the bloc ACUM from the government coalition exposes the pro-European course of the country to the risk of being diluted by favoring a multi-vector foreign policy on which the Socialists have insisted since Igor Dodon took over the office of President. Consequently, the restoration of relations with Russia could become a priority.

Even if the PSRM criticized the Association Agreement with the EU, the liberalization of visas and other European integration aspects in the election campaign (IPN, February 23, 2019), it didn’t demand the suspension of the agreement. The discrepancy between the Socialists and the content of the European integration in which Moldova takes part is based not on insurmountable incompatibilities, but on the materialization of a bi-dimensional selectivity. On the one hand, in economic and political terms, the PSRM and its informal leader, President Igor Dodon, want asymmetric benefits in Moldova’s favor. On the other hand, the Socialists seek a more symmetric dialogue with the EU where the protection of the territorial integrity, including of the neutrality status, would matter against the risk of excessive increase of the unionist aspirations in society. The formation of a government coalition with the Democrats would enable them to strengthen their own selectivity towards the dialogue with the EU. This way, the delay in particular reforms could be justified by the resistance of the Socialists who, on the other hand, will be allowed to repair and simultaneously to monopolize the external policy in the direction of Russia.

Rapprochement with DPM: “political trap” or “useful coexistence” for Socialists?

After a series of temporary suspensions (five for now) from office, President Igor Dodon intends to use the formation of a government coalition as a moment for rehabilitating his image. Ridiculed in the course of 2018 for allowing to be easily circumvented by the Democrats, after these elections President Dodon is in the position to decide the future coalition from procedural viewpoint and also from political viewpoint. On the procedural dimension, the activity of the new legislature, nomination of the potential Prime Minister and, respectively, dissolution of Parliament depend namely on Igor Dodon. From political standpoint, President Dodon formulated several suggestions that can be interpreted as the approval of a coalition between the Socialists and any major party of the new legislature. The preferable variant for the Socialists is to govern together with the bloc ACUM because, regardless of the geopolitical incongruences between them, most of the members of ACUM have a clear inclination towards the establishment of the rule of law and clear rules of the game. However, even if it is a risky affair, the political cooperation with the Democrats offers a “coexistence” area that can become useful. Moreover, the constitution of the government coalition eliminates the pressure of snap elections that could be held simultaneously with the local elections.

In his post-electoral speech, President Dodon specified two major reference points based on which he and his party, the PSRM, will judge upon forming a government coalition. Firstly, the future governance will take place only with the participation of political parties (Presedinte.md, February 26, 2019). This way, President Dodon openly excludes the backing of any hybrid coalition formed by the dismemberment of parliamentary groups. Such a message represents a warning against any attempt by the Democrats to corrupt or intimidate the Socialists by the model used in 2015-2016 against the Party of Communists (PCRM) and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDPM). The second significant principle suggested by Igor Dodon for the future governance is to develop a balanced foreign policy (Presedinte.md, February 26, 2019). This objective implies the restoration of the relations with Russia, which was promised by President Dodon when taking up office in 2016. The speech about the re-balancing of the foreign policy includes special emphasis on the struggle to promote “the pro-Moldovan” interests (Izvestia, March 14, 2019), which also necessitates a friendly relationship with Russia. The “pro-Moldova” foreign policy expresses specifically the selectivity principle applied by the Socialists and the Democrats in the relations with foreign partners, in particular the Western ones.

Governance together with the Democrats contains many unknowns as regards the multiple weaknesses of the Socialists that are used as pressure instruments, and also the political survival strategy of Vladimir Plahotniuc and his circles. It’s true that the PSRM can anytime withdraw in case of a coalition with the Democrats, leaving the government vulnerable in front of a no-confidence motion. There is also a high probability that the future Parliament will try to launch initiatives to remove President Dodon from office, given the presence of the bloc ACUM.

In practical terms, to cooperate with the Democrats and to avoid “traps”, the Socialists need guarantees in the form of the redistribution of particular state institutions and, mandatorily, the liquidation of the criminal cases, if these were initiated against members of the PSRM. It is highly improbable that a regime of exhaustive and mutual transparency will be established between the two parties, but the setting of coexistence “red lines” is essential. Most probably, the PSRM will specialize in the relationship with Russia, while the Democrats will look for solutions to reanimate the dialogue with the EU. Domestic policy will become a more sensitive and more powerfully challenged area than foreign policy.

What is Russia’s interest?

The parliamentary elections in Moldova didn’t produce exactly the results expected by Russia, as the Socialists didn’t take over. However, the elections weren’t complete failure for the Russian interests. So, the future government coalition depends on the PSRM and the constitutional powers of the pro-Russian President Igor Dodon. The latter insists on a government that would restore the dialogue with Russia and can do everything to promote a pro-Russian agenda in Moldova, even at the cost of his personal image.

At the same time, the parties that are fully devoted to the pro-European course hold a twice-lower number of seats of MP – from 55 (LDPM, DPM and LP) in 2014 to 26 that belong to the bloc ACUM in the new legislature. This way, 75 MPs of the 101 have a very pragmatic or even opportunist view on the country development model and the relationship with the EU. Even if the Democrats do not renounce the European course, they cannot fully become involved in the fight against nonselective political corruption and the dismantling of the “captured state” as this is the essence of their party.

Moreover, Russia could see how disruptive the involvement of only about 30,000 citizens from the Transnistrian region in the elections in Moldova can be. This example also revealed the fragility of Moldovan democracy that worsened in time despite the European integration efforts. In fact, the results of the elections held in Moldova correspond to Russia’s interests as most of the parties that entered Parliament are extremely populist and are centered on personal objectives, in particular on political revenge taking, immunity and, respectively, impunity, rather than on coherent and unconditional reforms.

Instead of conclusions…

The process of forming a government coalition brings closer mostly the DPM and PSRM, also owing to the bloc ACUM’s refusal to ally with them. A PDM-PSRM coalition seems to be difficult, but has a potential to be created as both of the parties favor a selective approach towards the Western partners.

Such a coalition depends yet on the set of guarantees that the DPM is ready to offer to the Socialists. Anyway, the latter should anticipate all the possible risks. Among these is the subsequent removal of President Dodon in a situation in which both the DPM and ACUM could act concertedly to trigger new presidential elections before 2020.

No one excludes snap elections if the negotiations on the formation of a coalition do not produce results. But the rationality for inducing snap elections is minimal for all the major political players – the PSRM, the DPM and ACUM as the ratio of forces cannot be changed when the circumstances remain the same.

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