The unexpected comfort of the Moldovan political mess

I gotta tell you, I despise Donald Trump. I think he’s a terrible person with minimal to no moral conscience. But even worse, I think he values himself far above he values his country and his position as leader of that country.

It’s been very interesting to live abroad during his presidency. Although I’ll be honest – I do a lot more explaining of American politics in countries outside of Moldova rather than in Moldova itself. Perhaps the people of Moldova have enough experience with egotistical dictators not to question America’s choice of leader.

Perhaps another reason is that Moldovans are weighed down by their own political struggles. It seems to me that this country can not catch a break. Following decades of strict communist rule, Moldova emerged in 1991 and stepped straight into the beginnings of a civil war. Though the civil war was contained before too long, Moldova was off to a bad start and soon found itself bogged down by corruption.

In some dark, twisted way, learning about Moldova’s political system has actually restored some of my faith in American government. As bad as it might feel in America, it’s pretty rough here.

So consider this blog post a gift to my politically like-minded friends. It’s a reminder that things could possibly be worse. 🙂

Background on recent Moldovan Politics

Disclaimer: This is my understanding of Moldovan politics, so I might be a little light on the official terminology.

As long as we have been in Moldova, there have been three major parties: a pro-Russia party, a pro-EU party, and a pro-western party. There are other smaller parties, but these are the big players. I think that most recently the pro-Russia party gained the most votes of the three, but just barely. Each of the parties won between 27 and 35% of votes.

Because no party holds an absolute majority, two of the parties must partner to form a coalition government. As the party with the most votes, it was up to the pro-Russia party to decide with whom they would collaborate. For a while, it looked like that would be with the pro-western party and its leader Vladimir Plahotniuc.

Plahotniuc’s Questionable Behavior

Before I go any farther, I should give you some information on Plahotniuc.

Several media sources have called him oligarch.[229][230][231][232] The former Prime Minister, Vlad Filat, has called him “The puppeteer” (RomanianPăpușarul)[127][233][234][235] being accused for traffic of influence over all Moldovan political class.[236][237] He constantly draws criticism from Moldovan analysts,[238] NGOs,[239] and columnists, such as journalist Natalia Morari, who called out Plahotniuc for being “pro-Plahotniuc and pro-corruption”.[240]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vladimir_Plahotniuc

From what I understand, Plahotniuc is super rich and super shady. Not only does he own a bank, a media company, and many businesses, he also has some unsavory history in Moldovan politics. For example, there are rumors he was involved in the nearly 1 billion dollar theft from three Moldovan banks in 2014. (https://www.forbes.com/sites/kenrapoza/2016/08/01/billion-dollar-theft-in-moldova-one-rich-bankers-crime-has-a-nation-doing-time/#3197d0c94f7e.)

More recently, he had a hand in keeping freely-elected Andrei Nastase from his position as mayor of Chișinău. Chișinău held impromptu elections because the previous mayor had to step down due to corruption charges (not even kidding.) Although Nastase earned a majority of the votes, a Chișinău court nulled the victory claiming that he had broken a law by campaigning on election day. What I have been told by Moldovans is that his “campaigning” consisted merely of encouraging people to get out and vote; he did not advocate for himself over any other candidate.

Word on the street is that the pro-Russia and pro-western (ie Plahotniuc) parties were not happy that Nastase – a member of the pro-EU party – had been elected. In a country where it is generally accepted that Plahotniuc controls much of the political arena, it is not surprising that people felt like the Chișinău court’s decision was dictated by Plahotniuc.

Pro-European politicians have been quick to condemn the court’s ruling as political.
“The justice system controlled by Plahotniuc has today taken the most criminal decision possible: it has trampled all over the free will of Moldovan citizens,” said Maia Sandu, the leader of PAS. “They have spat on the votes of ordinary people.”

https://emerging-europe.com/news/moldovan-court-prevents-pro-european-election-winner-from-becoming-chisinau-mayor/

The result of the court decision was that the interim mayor (who just so happens to be backed by Plahotniuc) will remain in power until the next mayoral elections.

The Fallout of the Constitution Debate

It seems like politics in Moldova are an enormous weight on the backs of the people. The people stoop ever lower and more hopeless as injustices and corruption are stacked ever higher. But finally – there may have been a straw that broke the camel’s back. It was not the Chișinău election or the nearly 1 billion dollars stolen from banks. No – it was the most recent formation of a coalition government.

Remember how I told you that each of the three major parties received less than 35% of the vote and therefore needed a coalition government? Well, the pro-Russia had the majority, and as such it was up to them and their president (Igor Dodon) to form a partnership. According to the Constitution of Moldova, they have three months to form the coalition; if no coalition is formed, then there will need to be new elections.

For the majority of the allotted three months (March, April, May 2019), all the talks seemed to point to a Dodon/Plahotniuc (ie Russia/Plahotniuc) partnership. But then – in the final hour – word came that the true partnership would be between the pro-Russia and pro-EU parties.

That is, until Plahotniuc decided he had something to say about it. The Constitutional Court of Moldova (generally believed to be in Plahotniuc’s pocket), declared the partnership to be invalid because it occurred after 90 days.

So get this – the pro-Russia party was counting the time in terms of three calendar months (92 days in the case) and the Constitutional Court was counting the three months as a strict 90 days. The result of this whole semantic debacle was that for a couple of days there were two different governments both attempting to rule in Chișinău. Politicians tried to refrain from anything too incendiary while still maintaining their own lawful right to rule, and in the meantime, citizens planned protests for Sunday.

I must say, it was really interesting to be in Chișinău during this time, and I now have a greater appreciation for international diplomacy. It seemed like the U.S., Russia, and all of Europe posted extremely diplomatic statements that “supported the true government of Moldova” without clearly stating who that might be.

In an area racked by tensions between Russia and the West, Moldova’s most recent disagreement could emerge as a rare point of unity among Moscow, Washington and Brussels.

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/10/world/europe/moldova-parliament-vladimir-plahotniuc.html

Where are we at now?

Thank goodness Moldovans are a very peaceful people…And that none of the global players in Moscow, Washington, or Brussels acted rashly. Following a tense couple of days, Plahotniuc’s government stepped aside and allowed the coalition government to step fully into power.

Want to know the interesting twist? A couple of politicians fled the country following the transition to a new government. One of them was Plahotniuc himself. As he has properties in multiple countries, most people are now guessing where he is. It should be noted, though, that no country (aside from Russia) has pressed charges on him.

Another man to leave following the government transition? That would be Ilan Shor – one of the few people formally linked to the nearly 1 billion dollar bank theft. Interestingly enough, though he was found guilty of bank fraud and sentenced to prison, he managed to be elected – while free on appeals – as mayor of a town outside of Chișinău. It is thought that he fled the country using a private jet and runway at the Chișinău Airport and thereby avoided customs. Should I mention that he owns the company that owns the Chișinău Airport?? Moldova now has a warrant out for his arrest. https://balkaninsight.com/2019/07/26/moldova-seeks-arrest-of-convicted-oligarch-ilan-shor/

Do you feel any better yet, my American friends? Every time I get enraged over the latest idiocy of our President, I try to remember that I still have the energy to get worked up. Here in Moldova, though, I see so much despair when it comes to politics. I keep telling young people that it has to get better….and I really hope it does.