L’Invité D&B: Post-electoral Moldova: between Russia’s warnings, absence of EU and snap elections

Moldova is heading for snap elections without the negotiations on the formation of the government having been started. Moscow has some suggestions. The EU is in silent mode.

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.

Moldova is heading for snap elections without the negotiations on the formation of the government having been started. The PDM is rejected by ACUM and disqualified by the Socialists at Russia’s request, while the Bloc accepts the Socialists only as useful votes…

In over a month from the parliamentary elections of February 24, the composition of the new Parliament pushed the country towards snap elections rather than towards negotiations on the formation of a government coalition. The fears of potential discrediting and the elementary distrust between the political forces constituted the major sources of the political stalemate that can result in snap legislative elections.

Intimidated by the controversial profile of the Democrats, the Socialists and the Bloc ACUM reject any combination of power with the Party of Socialists (PSRM). On the other hand, the rejection of any contact with the Democratic Party (DPM) of oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc was obvious in the case of the constituents of the Bloc ACUM – the Party “Dignity and Truth Platform” and the Party “Action and Solidarity” (PAS). They ignored the Democrats’ invitation to negotiations and avoided the collective consultations with their participation that were chaired by President Dodon on April 2. Moreover, the Bloc introduced a “package of de-oligarchization laws”. The removal of the DPM from the political-institutional system became an essential condition of the Bloc for possible interparty coexistence with the PSRM. On the other hand, the Socialists’ post-electoral trajectory varied. The rapprochement between them and the Democratic Party was perceived as a realistic scenario until Russia’s warnings intervened (Newsmaker.md, April 1, 2019). From this moment, both the Socialists and President Dodon changed the probabilistic tone about the formation of a coalition with the Democrats (period between March 25 and April 12) by fully excluding such a scenario (See Table below).

Table: Main actions taken by large parties in post-electoral period

PSRM 35 seats of MP (441,191 votes) DPM 30 seats of MP (334,539 votes) Bloc ACUM 26 seats of MP (380,181 votes)
February 24: The parliamentary elections are held under mixed electoral system, with a voter turnout of 50.57% or 1,457,220 voters (CEC.md)
March 1: The Democrats presented their political cooperation principles for the future parliamentary majority.
March 9: The Constitutional Court confirmed election outcome and distribution of seats of MP (Constitutional Court, March 9, 2019).
March 21: Socialist MP Eduard Smirnov, who is the eldest MP, chaired the first session of the new Parliament and suspended it for an indefinite period.
March 25: – President Igor Dodon invited the PSRM, DPM and ACUM to separate discussions on March 26 (Presedinte.md). – The DPM stated it is ready to open talks with any political party and with the independent candidates in the new legislature and later issued invitations to negotiations to the PSRM and ACUM (PDM.md, March 25, 2019)
March 26: President Dodon held separate meetings with the tree parties and announced a joint discussion for April 2 (Presedinte.md, March 26, 2019). – ACUM presented its action plan for government that includes the “de-oligarchization package” and the steps that would be taken to form a PAS – DA Platform minority government  (ACUM.md, March 26, 2019).
March 31: The leader of the Russian propaganda Dmitry Kiselyov warned President Dodon about the toxicity of a PSRM-DPM coalition (Newsmaker.md, April 1, 2019).
April 1: ACUM invited the MPs unaffiliated to the DPM to discussions in Parliament.
April 2: – The Socialists and the Democrats take part in joint consultations at the invitation of President Dodon, but with Bloc ACUM absented. – ACUM refused to discuss with three MPs of the Shor Party who came to the discussions initiated by the Bloc. (Free Europe, April 2, 2019)
April 3: The Socialists convened the meeting of the Executive Committee that decided to convoke the National Council of the party for April 12.
April 4: The informal leader of the PSRM, President Igor Dodon reiterated that among the post-electoral scenarios are the PSRM-DPM and the PSRM-ACUM coalitions and snap elections in September 2019 (TASS.ru, Tribuna.md)
April 8: – The Democrats published a commissioned poll according to which the PSRM would win 30.1% of the vote, ACUM – 23.4% and the DPM – 23.2% in snap elections. –  ACUM asked to immediately resume the Parliamentary session initiated on March 21 (Acum.md, April 10, 2019).
April 9: –  The Democrats launched the Package of social initiatives that is to form the basis of the negotiations on the formation of a majority (PDM.md, April 9, 2019). – The Socialists agreed the key principles for the negotiations on the formation of a parliamentary majority in the meeting of the PSRM’s Executive Committee, but didn’t exclude snap elections (Socialistii.md, April 9, 2019). – President Dodon reiterated the strategic importance of Russia in a meeting with Russia’s Ambassador Oleg Vasnetsov (Presedinte.md).
April 10: The Socialists invited the Bloc ACUM to consultations on the “creation of a parliamentary majority”.
April 11: – The Democrats express their openness to discuss with all the foreign partners, including Russia, in a meeting of the leader of the Democratic parliamentary group Pavel Filip, acting prime Minister, with Russia’s Ambassador Oleg Vasnetsov (PDM.md, April 11, 2019). – Representatives of the Socialists and the Bloc ACUM held the first bilateral discussions that, owing to the ACUM’s refusal, didn’t result in an agreement to initiate negotiations on the formation of a minority coalition. (Agora, April 11, 2019).
April 12: In the meeting of the PSRM’s National Council, the Socialists expressed their readiness to form a coalition with ACUM, reiterated the conditions for continuing the negotiations and rejected any coalition with the PDM (Tass, April 12, 2019). The Socialists pleaded for holding snap elections if the consultations with ACUM fail.

The Democrats attentively observe the way in which the discussions between the Socialists and ACUM develop, taking care of the political capital accumulated owing to the elections. At the same time, the DPM does not abandon the attempts to justify its compatibility with the PSRM. First of all, the DPM repeatedly showed its inclination for leftist policies, such as “the package of social initiatives” (PDM, April 9, 2019). This serves as a platform for penetrating the Socialists’ narrative. The favorable positioning for a “balanced foreign policy” is another proof of the hypothesis that the Democrats look for points of tangency with the leaders of the Socialists in their efforts to break the reluctance toward a joint governance. The Democrats’ signal about their readiness to discuss “with all the foreign partners, including the Russian Federation,” was transmitted to Moscow through the agency of Russia’s Ambassador in Chisinau (PDM, April 11, 2019). Anyway, both the attention focused on the social agenda and the plea for a multi-vector foreign policy can anytime become useful for the Democrats, especially if snap elections are induced, to attract votes from the PSRM.

Remodeling of post-electoral scenarios

The impossibility of forming a government with the Democrats results from the massive deficit of credibility for them in the county and abroad. President Dodon promised to block Democrats’ attempts to form a majority with “turncoats” from other parties (TASS.ru, April 4, 2019), referring to the Socialists. At the same time, the EU’s Ambassador in Chisinau Peter Michalko invoked risks for any government that will attract persons involved in the banking fraud (NOI.md, March 25, 2019). This way, even if it has the experience of splitting parties (2015-2016) and resources to attract a minimum of 11 Socialists, the Democrats will face insurmountable difficulties. Besides the impossibility of regenerating external legitimacy, there will be generated an interinstitutional confrontation as President Dodon will refuse to facilitate the formation of the government.

At the same time, the Democrats do not have any communication bridge with ACUM. The criminal cases against two activists of the DA Platform (Free Europe, March 20, 2019), who revealed illegal schemes at the customs service and the postal service, deepen the political animosities between these forces. The keeping on a dead point of any relations with ACUM brought the Democrats in front of a choice between either negotiating with the Socialists or going towards snap elections.

Neither the dialogue with the Socialists became safe after the latters centered strictly on the articulation of political coexistence with ACUM. The distinct geopolitical orientations between the Socialists and ACUM are among the obstacles that hamper a constructive dialogue. But there is a persistent suspicion about the complicity of the PSRM and President Dodon in Democrats’ actions, from the introduction of the mixed electoral voting in July 2017 to the cancellation of the results of local mayoral elections in Chisinau in June 2018. The method suggested by ACUM to the Socialists to reestablish their image consists of conceding the legislative and executive power and voting a “minority government” headed by the leaders of the Bloc ACUM.

In point of fact, we speak about the attempt of the former extraparliamentary opposition that now became a parliamentary political bloc to persuade its 380,181 voters that the situational voting together with the Socialists is temporarily necessary and only for de-oligarchizing the country. The moralistic approach adopted by ACUM runs counter to the political pragmatism of the Socialists, who gained 441,191 votes and seek the position of Parliament Speaker and 1/3 of the ministries under a well-defined majority coalition (Socialistii.md, April 12, 2019). Even if the PSRM is known for the monopolization of the social agenda at the level of political narrative, it targets strictly the nonsocial ministries, such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of the Interior. The party justifies the ignoring of the other ministries by saying they need to strengthen the office of President Igor Dodon. This way, the Socialists not only want to take the President out of partial external isolation, but to also prepare a new term in office for him when his mandate expires at the end of 2020.

Even if the arguments of ACUM concerning the concessions requested by the PSRM meet the integrity criteria, this type of argumentation reveals an acute lack of understanding of the essence of the political process as such, based on political competition and competition for power. The sacrifices that can become acceptable for a large party like the PSRM should be moderate so that they could be materialized. In the absence of proportionality in ACUM’s approach, the rejection by the Socialists of ACUM’s offer will be supported by their over 400,000 voters. Ultimately, in the absence of real negotiations and concessions on the part of both sides, the Moldovan political class moves towards snap elections. The results of these elections cannot radically change people’s electoral preferences. The most recent poll commissioned by the DPM shows that the PSRM would gain 30.1% of the vote, the components of ACUM – 23.4%, the DPM – 23.2% and the Shor Party – 5.3% (IMAS, April 2019). The keeping of the mixed electoral system and the existing electoral rules could ensure a result similar to that of February 2019 or could even weaken the current positions of the Socialists and the Bloc ACUM, which will inevitably be accused of causing snap elections.

When the EU refrains, Russia intervenes

The geopolitical factor is not absent from the Moldovan post-electoral developments. While the EU is attentively monitoring the interactions between the parliamentary parties, Russia uses its leverage to influence the direction of discussions on the formation of the government. The warning issued by Moscow through its key propagandist Dmitry Kiselyov led to the rejection of any coalition between the PSRM and DPM, which was among the probable scenarios of the Socialists (Newsmaker.md, April 1,  2019) promoted even by Igor Dodon. On the one hand, Kiselyov underlined the “toxicity” of a coalition with oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc. On the other hand, he supported a coalition between the Socialists and ACUM. Even if the President Dodon denied any interference by Russia (Newsmaker.md, April 2, 2019), he travelled to Moscow on April 4 already, after the rounds of consultations with the DPM and the PSRM ended. Of the agenda of his working visit to Moscow, the Socialist leader informed only about his meeting with the Patriarch of Russia Kirill, who was invited to pay a visit to Moldova by the end of 2019 (Presedinte.md, April 5, 2019).

Behind the screen of a final decision taken by its National Council on April 12, the PSRM fully rejected a DPM-PSRM coalition (TASS.ru, April 12, 2019) under the attack of Russian propaganda. Also, all Socialists’ efforts were aimed at the discussions with ACUM, which is accepted by Russia as a coalition partner, at least more than the DPM is. ACUM’s refusal to form a majority with the PSRM creates preconditions for the appearance of a political conflict that can ultimately benefit the Democrats. Out of the need to distract the public from the penetration of the Russian factor in its own decisions, the Socialists interpret ACUM’s refusal to form a coalition by invoking the existence of “attacks from the Western structures” (Socialistii.md, April 12, 2019).

At the same time, the leaders of ACUM tie the swift resumption of the foreign assistance intended for Moldova to the creation of a “minority government”, implementation of the de-oligarchization package and return to the proportional voting system (IPN, April 6, 2019). In reality, the EU didn’t say its financial assistance would be unfrozen depending on the format of the future parliamentary majority or on Socialists’ non-participation in governance. Ensuring free elections was the EU’s main request when it suspended its assistance (IPN, September 18, 2019). Even if the election results weren’t assessed as excellent, Brussels didn’t contest them. On the contrary, the European side expressed its readiness to further promote reforms based on the provisions of the Association Agreement (EEAS, February 25, 2019), while the areas that, according to the EU, necessitate reforms, include the electoral legislation, fight against corruption and de-politicization of institutions. The same actions are reflected in the de-oligarchization package of ACUM. Even if the EU avoided making reference to the resumption of the financial assistance, the Bloc makes use of this subject in order to promote the idea of a “minority government”.

Instead of conclusions…

Moldova is heading for snap elections without the negotiations on the formation of the government having been started. The PDM is rejected by ACUM and disqualified by the Socialists at Russia’s request, while the Bloc accepts the Socialists only as useful votes.

Russia’s temptation to suggest how the government in Chisinau should be formed and by whom is due to the fact that President Dodon and the Socialists can be influenced. Democrats’ signals to Moscow about the feasibility of a multi-vector foreign policy in Moldova are insufficient.

From the post-electoral reaction by which it accentuated the necessity of reforms, the EU entered a silent regime. Instead, the Bloc ACUM started to use the European agenda to strengthen its argument in favor of the formation of a “minority government” with the help of the votes from PSRM.

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