Moldova’s president Nicolae Timofti nominated reformist politician and businessman Ioan Sturza to form a new government on December 21.
Sturza has promised to form a cabinet of politically neutral experts, but it is unclear whether the parliament will support him. His nomination appears to have been accelerated to forestall the expected announcement of a coalition organised by controversial businessman Vlad Plahotniuc.
A Plahotniuc-backed coalition became more likely on December 21 after 14 MPs defected from the Communist party (PCRM) to form a new political bloc. The MPs are rumoured to have been persuaded by Plahotniuc to split from the PCRM.
Sturza’s nomination was made after Timofti held talks with political parties represented in the parliament, which have so far failed to form a parliamentary majority since prime minister Valeriu Strelet’s government resigned in October.
A politician and businessman, Sturza served briefly as prime minister in 1999. Although he was in power for less than eight months, significant privatisation deals and economic reforms were initiated during this time, and he has robust credibility among European officials.
Later, he was involved in the development of the Moldovan branch of Romanian oil group Rompetrol and played a key role in the sale of Rompetrol Group to KMG International. He owns a private equity fund in Romania.
“Mr Sturza has previously served as prime minister, he is experienced and is a public personality. He is in a good position to represent the interests of the country. We share very similar views about the European orientation of the country. He is very knowledgeable in regard to the economic issues and knows the financial situation of the country,” Timofti said, Timpul daily reported on December 21.
Sturza was previously proposed for prime minister by the Liberal Democrat Party (PLDM) led by Strelet. However, with no coalition deal, his appointment did not seem to be imminent.
This changed, however, as expectations of a Plahotniuc-backed coalition grew. Timofti has reportedly been subject to pressure from the Democratic Party (PD), which is backed by Plahotniuc, to nominate Plahotniuc himself as prime minister designate.
However, this would have blocked Moldova’s talks with its foreign development partners since European officials have more or less openly asked the Moldovan authorities to restrict the role of Plahotniuc in the political life of the country.
Although Plahotniuc is Sturza’s chief rival for the prime minister seat, neither has a real chance of forming a new government. The indications are that even if Plahotniuc puts together a parliamentary majority, Timofti will take all possible measures to avoid nominating him as prime minister should Sturza fail to get his cabinet backed by parliament.
Local media including agora.md, noi.md and jurnal.md allege that Plahotniuc has attempted to blackmail Timofti, and Sturza claimed in an interview with jurnal.md on December 15 that Plahotniuc has used criminal files with information on Timofti’s family members to exert pressure on the president.
The formation of a government before the end of January therefore remains highly unlikely, meaning that Moldova could be heading for early elections. President Timofti can dissolve the parliament and call early elections if lawmakers fail to appoint a government by the end of January, or if the parliament rejects three nominations for prime minister.
The next hurdle will be the appointment of a new president by the parliament in March, when Timofti’s term expires, for which a two-thirds majority is required. Even if a new government is formed before March, elections would be called if it fails to appoint a president.
The bloc of former PCRM MPs, who announced the formation of the Social-Democratic Parliamentary Platform for Moldova on December 21, could play a critical role in the formation of a majority coalition.
Agora.md has identified four possible scenarios for a new coalition, all of which include Plahotniuc’s PD. However, only one of the four possible majority coalitions would be large enough to appoint a new president next March without the support of other parties.
Under the most likely scenario, the PD would get the support of the Liberal Party (PL), the 14 former Communist MPs and the three members of the European People’s Party of Moldova (PPEM) headed by former prime minister Iurie Leanca. With the help of independent Petru Stirbate, the coalition would hold a very fragile majority with 51 of the 101 parliament seats.
Alternatively, the PD could band together with the pro-Russian Socialist Party, the largest party represented in the parliament, and the 14 former Communist MPs, giving it a more comfortable majority with 58 seats.
The pro-EU parties represented in parliament plus Stirbate would also add up to 56 seats. If the pro-EU parties could persuade the 14 former Communist MPs to join them, they would hold a large enough majority to appoint a new president in March when Timofti’s term expires.