Moldovan politics are traditionally shaped by geopolitics, but in 2017, domestic developments will likely shape the immediate future of the country. Both the European Union and Russia have had negative experiences in seeking to influence local political elites.
The political climate, as it now stands, presents a worrisome picture. The ruling coalition—controlled by oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc—will continue to promote a pro-European agenda, even if in name only, while newly elected President Igor Dodon will try to boost his party’s chances in the 2018 parliamentary elections by peddling a pro-Russian message. This dichotomy will test the limits of the delicate balance struck between Dodon and Plahotniuc, the de facto ruler of Moldova who helped to elect Dodon.
Plahotniuc will try to secure his own political and business interests by taking a more public role to ensure his continued grip on power after 2018. He has already assumed the leadership of the Democratic Party (PD) and is poised to become prime minister as soon as the politically damaging reforms demanded by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are implemented by his protégé, current Prime Minister Pavel Filip.
To remain in power, Plahotniuc will need to introduce a mixed electoral system and launch several spoiler parties. These parties will mainly be on the right wing of the political spectrum, taking votes from the now defunct Liberal Party (PL), the only major party supporting union with Romania. Establishing these extreme-right parties will put even more pressure on the center-right opposition, namely the Dignity and Truth Platform Party (PPDA) as well as the Action and Solidarity Party (PAS).
These factors will challenge the ability of the still inexperienced, cash-strapped, and easily divided center-right parties to serve as a legitimate opposition to Plahotniuc. The PPDA and PAS will find it increasingly difficult to oppose Plahotniuc without resorting to mass protests. Plahotniuc’s control of the media will prove instrumental in exploiting public frustration, thus diminishing the opposition’s only chance of pressuring the regime.
Given uncertainty over U.S.-Russia relations, Moldovan politicians will try to hedge by aligning with both the West and Russia, and domestically, it means further consolidation of Plahotniuc’s power to secure the survival of the regime and of Plahotniuc’s own fortune.
Note: This is a contribution for Moldova Monthly – a new series by the Foreign Policy Research Institute.