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Moldova – the Country Ruled by One Oligarch
14 June, 2019
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Police go past a government building, the entrance to which supporters of the Democratic Party of Moldova are trying to block. Chisinau, Moldova, June 13, 2019 EPA-EFE / DUMITRU DORU

There were two governments in Moldova – a struggling eastern European country considered the poorest in the region. One of them was formed after elections.

However, the nation’s Constitutional Court declared the election results illegal and returned power to the old government – which is controlled by Vladimir Plahotniuc – the country's richest man.

READ MORE: Crisis in Moldova: Oligarch Plahotniuc's Democratic Party Gives Up Power

On June 14, the Democratic Party, led by Plahotniuc, called for the government of Prime Minister Pavel Philip to resign and floated the idea of ​​early elections.

***

“I was so afraid that you would not be allowed to go,” a woman says to her partner.

"Why? This is not Russian mess,” the golden-toothed man answers vividly. “These are your people’s struggles for power.”

The road from Chisinau Airport to the hotel was long and very hot – about 30 degrees Celsius. Meteorologists have even declared a “yellow warning level”  – but some are not afraid of the heat.


Selling out Moldova for 500 Leis?

The taxi driver asks us which street to turn at – we tell him we are not locals and have come from Ukraine to understand what is happening here.

“Well, [the protesters] work for 500 Lei (25 Euro),” he says. “For some, a bottle of vodka will do.”

In the first quarter of 2019, the average salary in Moldova was about 7,000 lei (233 euros). Therefore, 500 lei is quite a significant amount.

We pass by the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Moldova, a large ivory-colored building with a massive staircase. People are sitting on the steps - Moldovan journalists don’t call them "protesters". These are "hired hands" who a few days ago blocked the buildings of certain state institutions - the Ministry of the Interior, Finance, Agriculture, Government House, the Constitutional Court and others.

Young people who call themselves supporters of the Democratic Party of Moldova play cards in front of the Government House. Chisinau, Moldova, June 9, 2019
Photo: EPA-EFE / DUMITRU DORU

These people appeared on June 8 – an especially hot day in Moldova. Then, after three months of stagnation, the newly elected parliament finally formed a coalition, which included the pro-Russian Socialist Party and the pro-European bloc ACUM. They held an emergency meeting, which approved the composition of the government - it was headed by the ACUM leader Maia Sandu.

At the same time, the Democratic Party (PDM) – controlled by oligarch Plahotniuc – who was outside the coalition, appealed to the Constitutional Court. The court declared the new parliament (and later the government, and even the president) illegal. It also appointed Pavel Filip, vice president of the Democratic Party as acting president.

Photo: Hromadske

“Not all the hired protesters are poor.” says one journalist. “There are very poor people who really need those 500 lei. But equally there are just lazy people who want to do nothing, just sleep, and get paid for it.”

We tried to ask people what they were doing here with little success. After several unsuccessful attempts to talk to a couple of pensioners hiding their faces, a guy comes up to us.

“I rally against the party of Maia Sandu. She is not in the right place,” says the young man, who introduced himself to us as Vlad. “I want her kicked out of parliament because she is not worthy of it.”

Vlad says that we are not the first journalists to whom he gives interviews, and then even offers to give us an autograph. When we ask him about money, he says that he knows nothing about it, but he isn’t paid.

“I myself campaigned for him [Dodon] three years ago! And now? He is a thug! What does he do? He gets money from outside! I want our country to be run by our people, not by external forces,” said a man named Dmitry. Then he accuses us of asking provocative questions, instead of helping him block state institutions.

Photo: Hromadske

Opposites attract

Only representatives of the government of Filip are allowed into the government building, surrounded by “vacationers.” At each entrance there is a line of police dressed in dense dark uniforms. Whilst people can take shelter inside the tents, the officers have to roast in the sun.

Before I can talk to a person from management, I am asked a number of questions, like “where is my accreditation? And, for which TV channel do we work?” Questioning me is the deputy head of the General Inspectorate of the Police, Gheorghe Cavcaliuc, a strong man with a gloomy face and wireless headphones in his ears.

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

“The police are guarding public order in the city and country,” he finally says. But when I ask about the threat, Cavcaliuc cuts me off - “More questions?”

No answers are offered and our conversation is cut short.

Since the new government of Sandu cannot enter the building, they go to parliament. There, in the usual way - as far as it can be called that - the work goes on. This time only representatives of the coalition come to the meeting, that is, the Socialists and ACUM. No one hides that this coalition is shaky and, most likely, short-lived. They managed to unite, despite the fact that it seemed impossible. They signed an agreement on temporary cooperation, and its main goal is to clean the country from the influence of the main oligarch of Moldova - Plahotniuc.

“This person [Plahotniuc] has already got everyone to the point that even parties that are so opposite in ideology and geopolitical visions [united],” said Gaik Vartanean, a Socialist MP. “It has reached the point that no one believes that there is a law. There are merely desires and orders of Plahotniuc.”

Vartanean assures that now the parliament is focused only on solving the most important problem - the fight against corruption.

The leader of the Democratic Party of Moldova oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc (C in white shirt) does not recognize the new coalition and the government. Photo shows him and his supporters in Chisinau, Moldova, June 10, 2019
Photo: EPA-EFE / DUMITRU DORU

This is also indicated by the MPs from the pro-European bloc ACUM. According to Dumitru Alaiba, when both parties finally realized that they had to fight against Plahotniuc, they quickly agreed.

“Today Moldova is not a free country. Democracy was simply strangled by systemic interventions. We do not have a free press, freedom of speech, every institution of power has until recently been under the control of one person - and this is very dangerous,” says Alaiba.

Therefore, the parliamentarians are unanimous that first it is necessary to remove power from the hands of a single oligarch. If they manage to work in a coalition in the future, which is unlikely, there will be no early elections in the country. However, the MPs agree on this point - they say that when they achieve freedom for people, they (the people) will decide for themselves who should be in parliament. Even if it is Plahotniuc’s Democrats.

What everyone wants

It’s actually the Democrats who are demanding early elections. Acting President Filip even signed a decree on them taking place on September 6. Another President, Dodon, however, later canceled it.

“Tell your relatives in the countryside that the only peaceful way out of this situation, avoiding the “Ukrainian scenario”, is [to hold] peaceful early elections,” Cornel Dudnic, ex-MP of the PDM, bawls in front of the crowd. We have already met him before - he says that he supports “rallies” and regularly appears near the tents.

“The current government (Filip’s - ed.) is guided by the ruling of the Constitutional Court. The other side, the opposition, considers this decision illegitimate. They are looking for some arguments, but it remains their subjective opinion,” - Dudnic says. “We must give people the opportunity to speak out, we must transfer this power to the people.”

At the same time, the coalition believes that there are no grounds for early elections. Moreover, experts say that if they are held, the PDM could even win - if they can get the administrative resources to work for them. Therefore, parliamentarians are in no hurry to stop work.

READ MORE: Anti-Oligarchic Rebellion in Moldova: Coalitions of Politicians and Street Protests

“They [the PDM and the Sor Party] should, firstly, vacate all state bodies, and secondly, just come to the parliament,” says pro-European MP Dimitru Alaiba. "The solution to this conflict lies in the hands of the Democratic Party. They must realize that they have lost power.”

Experts explain that the Constitutional Court of Moldova is another instrument of influence for Plahotniuc. His relative, former PDM MPs and people who were accused of close ties with the party all work there.

At the same time, the legality of the decision of the Constitutional Court is being considered by the Venice Commission, an advisory body of the Council of Europe on constitutional law (although its decisions only have deliberative power).

What next?

Pedestrians we meet have little hope. “And what will change? For the past 15 years, the state has taken care of itself more than people,” remarks a person at a bus stop.

However, there was no hope for the creation of a coalition between the socialists and ACUM. But now, the Sandu government has already been recognized by several countries - in particular, Poland, Germany, France, Sweden, Russia and others.

The new government, headed by Prime Minister Maia Sandu (C), is convening in the parliament building. The entrance to the government building is blocked. Chisinau, Moldova, June 10, 2019
Photo: EPA-EFE / DUMITRU DORU

Both the EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, and the European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighborhood Policy, Johannes Hahn, have expressed their support in a joint statement.

Viktor Kryzhanivsky, special representative for the Transnistrian settlement process, came to Moldova from Ukraine and met with both the government of Filip and the government of Sandu. In a press release following the meeting, he called both Filip and Sandu prime ministers.

At a briefing on June 14, the representative of the Democratic Party said that the government of Prime Minister Filip was retreating. At the same time, PDM does not reject the idea of ​​early parliamentary elections. “This is necessary in order for the new government to be legitimate,” said the representative of the party.

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

According to the director of the Institute for Strategic Studies of Moldova, Vlad Kulminski, Plahotniuc is still interested in getting favorable conditions for himself. Although he has nowhere to run, the United States, the European Union, and Russia are against him.

“We have to rejoice,” says the same taxi driver you read about in the beginning. “Finally, new forces have emerged, and we must support them, and not those that only make things worse.”

/Produced with the support of Russian Language News Exchange.