During June 8-14, Moldova went through its most severe political crisis yet. Without exaggeration, the country was on the brink of civil conflict between an incumbent oligarchic regime and a surprise coalition of rival political factions united against the wannabe autocrat – Vladimir Plahotniuc. Violence was only averted thanks to the strategic patience of ACUM-PSRM leaders. Despite a weeklong standoff between two parallel governments, to the surprise of many, Plahotniuc’s mafia-style regime folded like a house of cards under enormous public pressure and unanimous international condemnation. Nonetheless, Plahotniuc was able to escape and is believed to be hiding in the United States. On July 30th, he broke his own previous record by resigning from Parliament for the third time. His now vacant seat will be filled during October 20th snap elections in his constituency. The much bigger issue though is the void he has left in Moldovan politics, which may be all too tempting for others to fill. This is the most dangerous predicament facing Moldova going forward.
On the one hand, Moldova has a pro-reform and pro-EU Prime Minister Maia Sandu, flanked by Deputy PM, Minister of Interior Andrei Nastase. The two have a longstanding partnership going back to the 2016 presidential election. On the other hand, there is the pro-Russian President Igor Dodon, backed by Parliament Speaker Zinaida Grecianii. The two have an even longer political partnership, dating to the mid-2000s when Dodon became Economy Minister in Grecianii’s cabinet. The two sets of leaders have proven their trustworthiness within each team, but can they project sufficient trust across the political divide to sustain a pro-reform government is yet to be seen, particularly as some reforms in the judiciary may rattle the heterogeneous coalition to its limit. The appointments to the Constitutional Court, but also the future contest for appointing a Prosecutor General will serve as a litmus test for the ruling ACUM-PSRM coalition. The local elections in October will also be a major stress test, checking the will and maturity of all three parties.
Now, almost fifty days after the ‘Silent Revolution’, the real challenges already become manifest. Dismantling Plahotniuc’s power structure, that has captured the state, takes time. While citizens, enthused by the revolutionary transformation, are demanding immediate results. Reforming the judiciary, most crippled by politicization, building resilience and boosting capacity in states institutions, takes even longer. However, the public – having been disillusioned so many times before – is quickly losing its patience. Voters demand a radical departure from the corrupt practices of the ancien regime. Given bureaucratic inertia, but also outright sabotage by the old guard, the change is slow, despite the new government’s best efforts. Admittedly, the new majority is not doing itself any favors, suffering many self-inflicted PR flops, resulting from poor communication on key appointments and major policy decisions.
On the bright side, the new government has managed to regain the trust of international partners. Financial assistance is being resumed. Though, initially, most of the money will have to cover the budget deficit left by the previous government. Yet, in a few months, the multiplier effect of public and private investments should start producing first tangible results. Still, only a reformed, professional and independent judiciary can serve as the fertile ground for attracting much needed foreign investment to boost economic growth and improve living standards in what is still known as the poorest country in Europe. Perhaps what this government brings that is of most value is hope. Following a long period of despair, Maia Sandu and Igor Dodon are faced with a window of opportunity. Can their teams rise up to the occasion is yet to be seen, but the sheer fact that they have managed to topple the ‘all-powerful’ oligarch and, in the process, unite the Moldovan society, all too often divided along political, ethnic and linguistic fault lines, is an achievement even of itself. The fact that the European Union, the United States, and the Russian Federation have all spoken with one voice in support of a peaceful transition of power, backing the only legitimate government in Moldova, is also no small feat. This geopolitical window of opportunity also leads to cautious optimist with regards to the Transnistrian conflict settlement.
The echo of Moldova’s ‘Silent Revolution’ indeed rings of cautious optimism. Yet, any meaningful change requires Moldovan citizens to hold the new ruling parties accountable, so that no one political figure or party can ever recapture the Moldovan state. Countries rarely get second chances, particularly in such a short historical timespan. A decade ago, Moldova missed the opportunity to make a leap towards irreversible democratic consolidation, a genuine social market economy, and Europeanization of society. Having come so close to the brink, Moldova’s current leaders have no right to fail. As nothing is more expensive than a missed opportunity.