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 focus of the PSRM-ACUM coalition must be on strengthening external legitimacy and extending it to public opinion in the country. That is why the new PSRM-ACUM government needs a strong active communication mechanism to win the informational warfare in the country and abroad, on which positions the Democrats might be forced to negotiate a possible retreat…
After almost three months from the validation of the results of the parliamentary elections (9 March 2019),
the political situation in Moldova is rapidly developing new outlines,
postponing the talks concerning the early elections however without
canceling them for good. The sudden warming of relations between the
Bloc ACUM and the Socialists is temporary and is due to the fear of
early elections in the circumstances of a mixed voting system and the
maintenance of the Democratic Party in power.
Even if Igor Dodon warned that he could dissolve the Parliament already on June 10 (Free Europe, 7 June 2019), he became the main figure in advancing Maia Sandu as prime minister. The geopolitical discrepancies have lost importance, at least for the moment, and the entire energy of Socialists and ACUM has been focused on adopting, at a rapid pace, a set of decisions aimed at changing the status quo, defined and controlled by the Democratic Party and his leader, the oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc.
The rapprochement between Socialists and ACUM has received the support of the EU, the US and Russia (IPN, 8 June 2019), for which the two forces are enough compatible to create a viable coalition. The favorable positioning of the external actors towards a PSRM-ACUM coalition crystallized shortly before the 3-month deadline, when the Commissioner for European Neighborhood Johannes Hahn, the Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Kozak and the US State Department representative Bradley A. Freden encouraged the two forces to find a common denominator. The major risks resulting from early elections, highlighted by Johannes Hahn, concerned the weakening of the country’s macro-financial stability as a result of the interruption of the International Monetary Fund and the EU (Free Europe, 3 June 2019). There is a multiple evidence that the Russian factor, with and without his will, played a substantial role in determining President Igor Dodon and the Socialists to accept almost all the conditions of ACUM, even if half of them were rejected and early elections seemed to be the most preferable scenario.
Finally, the temporary partnership of the PSRM-ACUM has started to operate particularly lightly, based on 61 votes, setting an ambitious agenda for decoupling, as soon as possible, state institutions from the influence of the Democrats. The first day of Parliament’s activity, after the first and last meeting of 21 March 2019, blocked at then at Socialists’ decision, took place in extreme conditions. From the technical point of view, the legislature’s secretariat was absent, and the session room was disconnected from the power source (Privesc.eu, 8 June 2019). On the political side, the legislature was the target of the allegations of unconstitutionality (Constitutional Court, 8 June 2019), launched by the Constitutional Court through a range of decisions issued between 7 and 8 June (110 b, 111a, 112a), upon the petitions from the Democratic Party. The pressure on the legitimacy of the new government is enormous. The PAS-PSRM MPs are planning to use the parliamentary majority (61 out of 101 votes) to force the change of the composition of the Constitutional Court. The latter was condemned for the “usurpation of power” in favor of the Democratic Party and called to resign immediately. The probability of Courts’ judges dismissing is rather low because three out of six positions (of six-years term) of judges have been renewed with deviations from the proceedings at the end of 2018, with people close to the Democratic Party (Constitutional Court, 14 December 2018). Located in a vague field of constitutionality, the new government must solve urgently four issues to survive: 1) strengthening legitimacy; 2) attracting the sympathies of the institutions; 3) build a solid image of integrity in the country and abroad; 4) accumulate external legitimacy.
The impact of the Russian factor on the political crisis in Moldova – “with and without good willingness”
The turning point in preventing the early elections intervened during Igor Dodon’s last visit to Russia (June 6), when he met with Dmitri Kozak at the Moldovan-Russian Economic Council, organized within the framework of the International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg (Presedinte.md, 6 June 2019). Earlier, on June 3, Kozak declared himself in favor of a viable coalition, albeit temporary, between PSRM and ACUM, in order “to organize fair and transparent elections” (Radio Chisinau, 3 June 2019) and the fight against Vladimir Plahotniuc.
According to sources of Russian propaganda (Sputnik, 6 June 2019), in St Petersburg, Dodon suggested that there was a likelihood of avoiding the snap elections, which otherwise had to be triggered on June 10 (Free Europe, 7 June 2019). At that time, there was no clarity about the future coalition partner of the Socialists, but the mandatory condition imposed on it was that foreign policy should be balanced or put in other words – multi-vector. Both Democrats and ACUM were open to negotiations with the Socialists already on May 31, but initially only the former openly offered the speaker position. The content of the offer from ACUM was not made public, but the proposed deadline was June 9 (AGORA, May 31, 2019). In order to prevent a PSRM-PDM coalition, the components NOW accept the candidacy of Zinaida Greceanii for the Speaker of Parliament (AGORA, 6 June 2019). Subsequently, the Socialists’ Republican Council was decisive in excluding Democrats from the equation and opting for cooperation with ACUM (PSRM, 7 June 2019). Thus, the anti-ACUM protests orchestrated by PDM to put pressure on the Socialists failed (Adevărul, 7 June 2019).
Against this backdrop, President Dodon announces the shortening of his visit to Russia and at his return to the country he communicates about renouncing the idea of dissolving Parliament. He informs the Russian Ambassador, Head of the EU Delegation and US Embassy representative about the decision to consult parliamentary factions on 10 June (President.md, June 8, 2019). Surprisingly, but once the PSRM (Socialists) has decided to enter into dialogue with the ACUM, the Constitutional Court publishes the decision on President Dodon’s appeal submitted 17 days ago (May 22, 2019) and states that the final day for activating the Parliament’s dissolution is when 3 months ends (Constitutional Court, 7 June 2019). Moreover, after PSRM and ACUM have convened meetings at the Parliament, on Saturday, June 8, the Court clarifies for the media that the deadline for the functioning of the Parliament is June 7 (Constitutional Court, 8 June 2019), using the term “90 days “, alongside the “three months” one, as provided by the Constitution.
In addition to the anti-ACUM protests initiated on June 7, the Democrats launched a media attack against President Igor Dodon and the Socialists, as they together with the ACUM were forming the Parliament’s structures and the Government. Thus, media sources controlled by the PDM (Democrats) have published compromising material of dubious quality according to which Igor Dodon would have tried to agree on the federalization of the country as part of an arrangement with Russia (Publika.md, 8 June 2019). Parallel to the accusation of country betrayal, the PDM has accused Igor Dodon and the Socialists of using Russian funding for the election campaign of February 24, 2019 (PDM, 8 June 2019). Both Socialists and Moscow through Dmitri Kozak’s voice contradicted the Democrats’ version, accusing the latter of accepting the idea of changing radically Moldova’s foreign policy in return for a coalition with the Socialists (RIA-Novosti, 9 June 2019).
Russia’s interest in a coalition against the PDM was a strong argument that favored the opening of the PSRM to the Bloc ACUM and the many concessions the party made to the bloc, especially regarding the composition of the Government. Thus, the PSRM only received the Ministry of Defense and the Reintegration Office, although it intended to strengthen the powers of President Dodon by taking control of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration and the Ministry of Domestic Affairs. At the same time, the allegations of country treason and the possible impeachment vote against President Dodon for promoting the Russian agenda (the federalization of the country) became another indirect and undesirable influence of the Russian factor on the Socialists’ decision to coordinate all the steps with ACUM. Perhaps, through prolific cooperation with ACUM and the concessions made to the Bloc, the Socialists are planning to disperse the criticism and political risks, respectively, of the alleged commitment toward Russia concerning the fulfilling of federalization of Moldova. It is clear that Democrats can contemplate an attack on Igor Dodon with a vote of non-confidence in the Parliament, and that the representatives ACUM may be tempted to dethrone the President Dodon, producing at least early presidential elections before 2020.
Even if it is a temporary political partnership (“temporary agreement”), it is considered vital by ACUM and, more recently, by the Socialists, not only to prevent early elections, but also to begin the de-oligarchization of the Moldovan political system. In the first phase, the PSRM-ACUM coalition agreed on the election of Zinaida Greceanii for the position of speaker of Parliament, although with the refraining of four deputies from ACUM (Deschide.md, 8 June 2019). In return, the Socialists unanimously supported a mixed government led by Maia Sandu (IPN, 8 June 2019), which has Andrei Năstase, the leader of the Platform of Dignity and Truth (“DA”), as Deputy Prime Minister, and Minister of Domestic Affairs. Two offices in the named Government are ceded to the Socialists – the Reintegration Office (Vasile Şova) and the Defense Ministry (Pavel Voicu) (TV8, 8 June 2019). Together, the 61 MPs from the PSRM (35 seats) and ACUM (26 seats) adopted the declaration by which Moldova is qualified as a “captured state”, and dismissed the leadership of the Intelligence and Security Service (SIS) and the Anti- Corruption Centre.
Externally, the Presidential Office will challenge the Constitutional Court’s rulings at the European Court of Human Rights and will send them to the Venice Commission for assessment (NewsMaker, 8 June 2019). However, the government’s external legitimacy requires urgent and broad approval, which, due to confusion over the constitutionality of political decisions in Parliament, may be delayed. For the time being, only the leadership of the European People’s Party has welcomed the formation of the government led by the bloc ACUM (press release sent on June 8, 2019) as a starting point for the “return from the state captured to democracy”. At the same time, the Socialists use the message of support published on social media by Constantin Kosaciov, President of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Russian Federation Council as an “international recognition” (PSRM, 8 June 2019). The only major international actor who officially pronounced its stand regarding the decisions adopted by 61 MPs of Socialists and ACUM is the EU, which for now denotes more caution than support for the new government headed by Maia Sandu. Instead, the European side urged all political parties to calm, restraint and political dialogue (EEAS, 8 June 2019).
The gestures of the Democrats show their concern, but not a panic, because for the first time since 2015 they do not completely control the situation. From this point of view, they appeal to instruments of intimidation of the public sector and manipulation of public opinion. Thus, the PDM is preparing for mass protests against ACUM and PSRM, projected in the controlled press as “organizers of a coup d’etat”. The strongest conspiracies are dedicated to the Socialists, who pay the price for benevolently merging with the Russian sphere of influence. Democrats tend to keep the state of affairs least affected by the temporary coalition between the components of ACUM and PSRM, which this time brings results, as opposed to the failed coagulation of the anti-PDM trans-party opposition in the period 2015-2016. The triggering of early elections remains the main objective of the PDM, and PSRM-PAS governance needs to gain poor external recognition to stop that. At present, even after the elections, the image of the Democrats abroad has remained wrinkled. And the new phase of the political crisis that Moldova enters due to the decisions of the Constitutional Court maximizes the criticism against the Democrats. The latter attempt to compensate offset the lacking external credibility through showing off domestic strength.
There are persistent major risks of confrontation between pro-PDM protesters actively mobilized around state institutions (Ministry of Domestic Affairs, Prosecutor Office, etc.), with those who support the PSRM-PAS government. Therefore, external mediation becomes a guarantee of stability for the next few days and even weeks. But the foreign partners will not be able to resolve the constitutionality of Maia Sandu’s Government and the one of the legislative body under the leadership of Zinaida Greceanii. The constitutional order is one of the most sensitive areas in which at least the European partners avoid a clear-cut interference. A political dialogue with external mediation can become a constructive and peaceful solution to avoid degradation of the situation and a peaceful transition of power. But even such mediation does not remove entirely the possibility of early elections from the calculations.
Instead of conclusions…
The political crisis in Moldova is on the brink of a constitutional crisis, because of the politicized activity of the Constitutional Court and the erosion of confidence in constitutional settlement in general. The formation of the new government led by Maia Sandu is disputed by PDM, which creates a new situation when the old executive may refuse to leave the institutions in favor of the newly elected.
If local political forces fail to establish a dialogue and bypass the degradation of the political environmet, then the salvation role will come to external mediators. Early elections could be a compromise solution proposed by the Democrats, but denied by ACUM and PSRM.
The focus of the PSRM-ACUM coalition must be on strengthening external legitimacy and extending it to public opinion in the country. That is why the new PSRM-ACUM government needs a strong active communication mechanism to win the informational warfare in the country and abroad, on which positions the Democrats might be forced to negotiate a possible retreat.