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Anti-Oligarchic Rebellion in Moldova: Coalitions of Politicians and Street Protests
11 June, 2019
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The building of the Moldovan government, surrounded by special units of the police, June 9, 2019
Photo: Newsmaker

Moldova is experiencing, perhaps, the most serious political crisis in its history. The pro-Russian and pro-European forces in parliament unexpectedly united with each other and with the president to remove the country's main oligarch from power. But the latter decided not to surrender and, with the help of the Constitutional Court, “dismissed” the rioters. Now both sides claim legitimate authority.

READ MORE: Moldovan President Dodon Relieved of His Duties, Interim President Calls for Snap Election

Street protests began in support of both sides of the conflict. So what actually happened in Chisinau?

Moldovan revolt: key facts

Starting Point: Parliamentary Elections and Coalition Disputes

According to the results of the elections on February 24, seats in the new parliament turned out to be almost equally divided between the three main political forces – the pro-Russian Socialist Party, the pro-European ACUM bloc and the Democratic Party of Moldova under the leadership of the country's richest man, Vlad Plahotniuc. Moldova is a parliamentary republic, so the winners were to form a coalition and determine the composition of the new government. Negotiations went on for more than three months, but a failure to find a resolution was the outcome.

READ MORE: Socialist Party Wins Elections in Moldova

Plahotniuc proposed the ACUM bloc to unite, but each time, was refused: “The ACUM bloc will not participate in any consultations with the current leadership of the PDM, since this clan is responsible for seizing the state, for isolating the country from the outside and undermining the economy due to the questionable seizure of the most important of economic assets, for poverty and for the expulsion of people from the country,” one of the leaders of ACUM, Andrei Năstase, justifies his position.

Catalyst: Constitutional Court and Dissolution of Parliament

According to the law, the newly elected Moldovan Parliament is given a certain amount of time to approve the new government. If it fails to, the president can dissolve it and call for new elections. The deadline for the formation of the government caused controversy in the country. However, on June 7, the Constitutional Court suddenly ruled that the new government must be formed on June 8, stressing that the president should dissolve the “failed” parliament.

Conflict: new government approved contrary to Constitutional Court decision

Under the threat of the dissolution of parliament, opposition forces in the Socialist Party and the pro-European bloc ACUM, signed a temporary coalition agreement on the morning of June 8. They were supported by President Igor Dodon. Indignant MPs gathered for an emergency meeting in a darkened session hall. The lights did not work and the service personnel neither came to work nor answered calls. Shortly after, the parliament officially proclaimed Moldova, "a captured state," where, according to the MPs, all key state structures, including the Constitutional Court, are now under the control of Vlad Plahotniuc, the country's biggest oligarch and leader of the ruling Democratic Party.

Socialist representative, Zinaida Greceanii, was then elected Speaker of Parliament. After which, President Dodon, who stayed with the MPs, nominated ACUM leader Maia Sandu as Prime Minister, and the Parliament approved her appointment together with the new government. For the first time in the history of the country, both the speaker and the prime minister as well as half of the Cabinet, are women.

The retaliatory strike: the Constitutional Court itself dissolves the parliament and abolishes the president

But on the night of June 9, at the request of MPs from the Democratic Party of the oligarch, Plahotniuc, the Constitutional Court issues a new verdict: the decisions taken by the MPs on June 8 would not be valid, because the deadline for forming functional parliamentary bodies expired on the evening of June 7. The Constitutional Court temporarily removed President Dodon (something that has already happened more than once before, although it was previously the parliament that opposed Dodon) and appointed Pavel Filip, Sandu's predecessor and the closest ally of Plahotniuc, acting president.

READ MORE: Why Moldova Keeps Suspending Its President’s Authority

Photo: ZDG

He immediately dissolved the “rebellious” parliament and called for early elections on September 6, 2019. The “anti-oligarchic” parliament and the prime minister ignored the decision and continued to work through the evening of June 9. Meanwhile, on the streets, rallies began in support of both the parliament and the Democratic Party.

What power is "more legitimate"?

“Attempts to seize power and a coup,” – the head of the Democratic Party and oligarch Plahotniuc, described the events of the weekend:

The PDM does not recognize the plenary session and everything the MPs voted for today. We will take all legal and democratic actions so that the plan to seize state institutions is not implemented.

But many MPs and lawyers believe that the Constitutional Court made a mistake in the dates: the Constitution assigns three calendar months to the creation of the government, not 90 days – that is, by June 8 – the Parliament had one more day. Moreover, according to Dodon himself, the basic law states that only the president can dissolve the parliament. Besides, he is able to, but he is not obliged to do so. Finally, even in the case of the dissolution of parliament, the current one legally works until the convocation of a new one, the former Economy Minister, Alexandr Muravschi points out on Facebook.

LEARN MORE: Analyst Vladislav Kulminski on Moldova’s Political Turmoil

However, a former member of the Constitutional Court, Victor Popa, defends the decision of the Constitutional Court: “Various interpretations are now being made, but they do not take into account that there are 31 days in May. Judges did not consider it in simplified form (number of months), but in terms of the number of days”. Thus, according to him, midnight June 7 was the deadline for the MPs to convene.

Vlad Plahotniuc, leader of the Democratic Party and the richest man in Moldova, heads the rally in his support in Chisinau on June 9, 2019
Photo: Newsmaker

What's next?

Both Moldovan authorities consider themselves legitimate. Therefore the positions of the security forces and the international community can be key in determining legitimacy. The United States Embassy in Moldova, the Russian Embassy, the European Commission, and the largest faction of the European Parliament expressed their support for the “anti-oligarchic” forces.

“I hope an unexpected coalition will help bring the countries out of the dominant influence of one oligarch. The Constitutional Court showed an example of an unprecedented lack of independence,” said Rebecca Harms, head of the European Parliament’s parliamentary cooperation group with Eastern Partnership countries.

READ MORE: “Nobody’s an Angel”: Moldova’s Anti-Corruption Purge, Explained

Against the background of growing foreign support, parliamentarians appealed to the European Court of Human Rights against the decisions of the Constitutional Court and the UN Security Council with a request to assess the situation in Moldova. More than 80 non-governmental organizations also defended the parliament and the new government. Now both the head of the Democratic Party Plahotniuc, and the newly appointed prime minister Sandu are calling on the country's security forces to obey the orders of the legitimate authority.

Note to Moldova's neighbors

Since independence was declared in 1991, Moldova experienced two major political crises, resulting in the change of power – the Twitter Revolution of 2009 against electoral fraud, which led to the fall of the Communist Party government, and the protests of 2015-2016 following the “disappearance” of $1 billion from three Moldovan banks. No matter how the current confrontation in Moldova ends, it is obvious that this is the first attempt in the history of the region to remove oligarchs from power with the help of a constitutional mechanism. “Captured State” is an academic term that has recently been expanded to politically characterize democracies (especially in Eastern Europe), where, despite free elections, all key decisions, institutions of government and the media are controlled by one or several oligarchs. Moldovan MPs for the first time turned this term into legislative reality and tried to implement a legal "deoligarchization" of the country.

Events in Moldova: Citations

Today we have no East or West, no red, yellow or white. We have one people, one goal and one Moldova – for all ... We all must become, even for an indefinite period, a driving force that will end poverty, put an end to the seizure of power in the country by those who want to subjugate everything that surrounds them. We must become a shield for our citizens, and not forget that their voices are at the same time a saber of justice, which they entrusted to us

Newly elected speaker of the Moldovan parliament Zinaida Greceanii, June 8, 2019

My dear Moldovans, PDM tried very hard to create a coalition to repair roads, increase pensions and salaries. But at the last 100 meters, Dodon came and offered to give the country to those who have long wanted to take it. I did not accept his conditions, did not agree to betray the people ... Early elections! Let's see how many votes these mankurts get

The leader of the Democratic Party, Vladimir Plahotniuc, June 9, 2019

The Parliament states that usurpation of power has taken place in the state by the former "anti-people" government. The one that has lost the trust of citizens and the international community, and, instead of democratically giving up power, has decided to take the path of destabilization and escalation of violence. Parliament, elected as a result of the elections of February 24, 2019, outlaws Filip’s government and demands that the Democratic Party remove mercenaries from state institutions

Newly elected Moldova Prime Minister Maya Sandu, June 9, 2019

I urge him (Plahotniuc) to peacefully transfer power, in a civilized way and not to try to set the house on fire, because Moldova does not belong to him

Newly appointed Interior Minister Andrei Nastase, June 9, 2019

I know that some people are getting carried away, and I do not rule out the possibility that they are ready to go to any lengths, but believe me, we are ready for this. Despite all the dirt that is now being thrown at the MPs and the president – the process has begun

President of Moldova Igor Dodon, June 9, 2019

/By Maxim Eristavi and Svetlana Kozlova. Russian Language News Exchange using the materials by Ziarul de Garda and Newsmaker