Monthly Archives: October 2015

From Messiah to Pariah

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On the ides of October Moldova witnessed a public political execution like it has never seen before. The leader of a ruling coalition party and former Prime Minister Vlad Filat was stripped of his legislative immunity and arrested in the Parliament chamber in connection with the billion dollar bank scandal.  After the initial 72 hours detention, on Sunday evening a judge extended the arrest warrant for another 30 days. Ironically, the three coalition leaders had a friendly meeting the day before Filat got arrested, where they agreed to dismiss the prosecutor general. The next morning things turned very differently from what PLDM leader had hoped was going to be a personal victory for him.  Much like in April 2013, when Filat was getting ready to reclaim his seat as Prime Minister, Constitutional Court issued a surprise decision banning Filat from holding that office. In both cases he got masterfully played by his arch rival Plahotniuc.

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This was a complete shock for the society and the political establishment. Curiously, a few days before the event, as my wife and I were habitually discussing current events, she suggested that Filat may as well go to jail given the plea bargain that his brother-in-law had just taken, I disagreed. I contended that it would make Filat a martyr, akin to Iulia Timoshenko. It was not the first time I underestimated my wife’s intuition and overestimated the importance of a political leader. In my defense, too many people were all but praying to Filat’s image 5-7 years ago. I remember friends telling me how they ‘believe in Filat,’ trusting that he will take Moldova to the Promised Land of Europe. It is true, many people tend to follow their leaders religiously, ignoring their flaws and glorifying their virtues. In that sense, Filat was a Messiah and he unabashedly savored that status, becoming convinced that he had a special mission. No wonder that some of his followers tend to get overly dramatic: “What a sin that the one who thought about our children’s future, is now being crucified on a cross with 72 nails.” By the same token,does it make Plahotniuc God, since he allowed/arranged this to happen? I bet some zealous Democrats would say yes.

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PLDM could have maintained their high ground had they gone into opposition back in 2013 while continuing to fully support EU integration agenda in Parliament; however, as we may all have heard, power not only corrupts, but is also the ultimate aphrodisiac. Well, Filat had the misfortune of falling prey to his own flaws as described in excruciating detail by Ilan Shor in his self-denouncement leaked to the press. The document explicitly incriminates Filat of taking over $200 million in bribes, but it also puts Leanca on an even shorter leash. Leanca already confirmed the part of Shor’s testimony, which, you would be surprised, makes Plahotniuc look as a savior, having only the best interest of the people at heart.  In these conditions, there is no way Filat can now escape prison, despite his heartfelt and emotional self-defense speech in parliament, during which he all but begged his fellow party members not to betray him. But the question is – Has he betrayed his party, if at least part of those allegations are true? Unfortunately, this trial will inevitably be perceived as politically motivated, thus it will have little legitimacy even if Filat was guilty. One thing is sure, if killing people’s dreams would qualify as murder, he should get 3 million life sentences without parole.

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Politicians need to learn that public adoration is short-lived, especially when you constantly fail to practice what you preach.  Deceiving and threatening people into submission is not a good option either. You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time. The wisdom of Honest Abe should come as a sober reminder to all, including Plahotniuc.  Once thing is comforting, now that both Filat and Plahotniuc are out from politics for good, we shall never hear about them again. Is my intuition wrong?

PS: Albeit too little too late, politically, it is still in PLDM’s best long-term interest to quit the ruling alliance and go into an intransigent opposition, without waiting for Filat to get convicted. Besides, to restore some credibility PLDM desperately needs a fresh face at the helm and Strelet (Filat lite) simply doesn’t cut it. Maia Sandu or even Liliana Palihovici would be a much better alternative. As things stand now, presidential elections next spring are likely to cause early parliamentary elections. It would offer PLDM a chance at redemption. That is provided that PLDM has what it takes to let go of power and withstand in opposition, if not – it was nice knowing you PLDM.

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Dialog of the Deaf and the Blind

For several months now protesters have been rallying in the streets of Chisinau, pressuring the government to resign, but the ruling establishment has remained deaf to the plea of the people. This is largely because the two main decision makers in the country – Vlad Filat and Vlad Plahotniuc, not to be confused with the ceremonial leadership – Timofti, Strelet and Candu,  do not see eye to eye. It is no wonder, because the two opposing camps of protesters (PDA and UsaDon) are viewed by many as a proxy war between the two political archenemies – Filat and Plahotniuc. It has long been speculated that Dodon as well as Usatii are in Plahotniuc’s pocket. Similarly, Platform for Dignity and Truth is generally perceived as being, at least in part, Filat’s ploy. Ironically, the two have put themselves in a zero-sum game in which they are forced to cooperate, because no one can profit by unilaterally deviating from the strategy.  And the plan is to keep the country afloat, if not quite stable; otherwise they both risk their political survival.  Negotiating every little policy step is nerve wreaking due to the complete lack of trust, hence, no credible commitments. That is why it took the two Vlads more than half a year to agree on sacrificing the National Bank Governor Dorin Dragutanu. It also took them months to come up with an utterly meaningless call for a ‘Social Dialog’, meant primarily as a stalling tactic – the oldest trick in the book.

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Yet, civil society and the two protesting camps are blind to the fact that they too have put themselves in a pickle. There is simply no legal way to trigger early elections. There is even less chance that politicians will even consider early elections. And, even if snap elections were to occur, nothing would change in the way the country is governed. Thus, demanding early elections, although completely legitimate, is a bad strategy, since the broader public will win nothing, other than a brief feeling of gratification, at the cost of economic free fall.  Yet, most devastating for the protesters would be if they got invited to partake in the governing processes. Suppose the government resigns and encourages protesters to join the new government structure. It is almost guaranteed that they will refuse and for good reason. On the one hand, the two opposing camps of protestors would find it almost impossible to agree on how exactly to divide whatever portfolios are available. On the other hand, they would still have little to no influence on the overall governing process. The only “positive effect” of such a move would be the diffusion of tension in the society at the cost of discrediting the protest movement. So, why bother? Hence, the surreal dead-end.

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Instead, what protesters need to focus on is changing the decision-making process. Getting rid of incompetent and/or corrupt incumbents is a good start. Prosecutor General and the head of the Anti-Corruption Center are already the primary targets, but replacing them with upstaging professionals is easier said than done. Not only because protesters will disagree on the virtues of different candidates, but also because we may still end up with another set of straw-men. However, this should not be a discouragement, even if, it goes without saying, that the two Vlads would be happy to exploit any disagreement within the protestors’ movement. Unfortunately, due to asymmetry of power, civil society is not in a position to exploit the disagreements between the two Vlads.

PS1: Curiously, PDA representatives decided to walk out, for no apparent reason, just as Filat began speaking during the Social Dialog Meeting, as if trying to purposefully distance themselves from Filat. This is either another smokescreen or PDA is losing their trust in Filat, particularly after his brother-in-law was, apparently, forced to take a plea bargain deal this week, making Filat look powerless in front of Plahotniuc. The latter failed to show up at the ‘Social Dialog’ altogether, as if he was not a leading politician and the main target of protesters’ fury.

PS2: Out of desperation or ingrained habit, Speaker Candu tried to hijack the news cycle by invoking a possible referendum on the merger with Romania. Knowing that it will hardly be enough, Plahotniuc decides to go all in an have the Prosecutor General start a criminal investigation against Filat.