Moldova, population 3.5mn, seems to be racking up scandals faster than a country 10 times its size should – and that’s just in the last few months. Barely a day goes by without a new twist in the convoluted investigation into who was responsible for the $1bn missing from three of the country’s banks since last November, or a new coalition crisis that casts doubt over the survival of the current government.
A no-confidence motion, scheduled for October 29, could bring the government down, and after the events of the last few months few would likely miss it. But what happens next could further divide the country and set it back on its path towards Europe, which the pro-EU governments in place since 2009 have been leading the country towards.
At the end of October, Moldova’s fragile pro-European ruling coalition failed to reach an agreement on setting up a joint committee to coordinate actions at legislative and executive level. The infighting between the ruling parties could bring to power the pro-Russian parties, led by the Socialist Party and the new political party of Renato Usatii, the pro-Russian mayor of Balti. Or it could bring about a different coalition - it is anyone's guess at this stage.
The three-party coalition has already been weakened by the recent arrest of Vlad Filat, leader of its largest party the Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova (PLDM), for his alleged involvement in the bank fraud. Filat’s arrest, and the resignation of another MP, has resulted in a temporary fall in the coalition’s MPs to 49, less than half of the parliament’s 101 seats.
Filat, who prosecutors say could face up to 10 years in prison on current evidence, had his parliamentary immunity stripped from him on October 15 and was then arrested by masked security officers. He is being held for 30 days while investigations are underway, and prosecutors have already said that they found evidence at his home and his party’s offices.
Another part of the evidence against him is based on testimony from Ilan Shor, the supposed mastermind of the bank fraud, which has so angered the population that tens of thousands have been demonstrating on the streets. A protest camp outside the main government building in the centre of Chisinau has been in place since September 6. A tape supposedly of Filat soliciting a bribe from Shor was released on October 23 by Usatii, who was then arrested for leaking the tape – on charges of illegally intercepting a telephone conversation – but was then subsequently released.
Always simmering tension between Filat and Vlad Plahotniuc, a billionaire businessman who controls the Democratic Party of Moldova (PD), the second largest party in the coalition, has exploded, with both Filat and Plahotnuic pointing the finger at each other for ultimate responsibility for the missing money.
With the animosity between the two party kingpins as bad it is, it is hard to see the coalition remaining in place. Rumours that the PD plans to join the opposition and vote against PLDM premier Valeriu Strelet in the upcoming non-confidence vote are circulating. However, it is unclear what new allies the party would find.
A first step in the formation of a new ruling coalition might have taken place on October 22, when MPs from the two opposition parties, the Socialist Party and Communist Party, received the support of the PD on moving the Centre for Anticorruption (CNA) from under the supervision of the government to that of the parliament. The move happened at a critical moment when CNA had just started investigations into Filat.
Whether prosecutors eventually move forward with the case against Filat or not, the next few days are likely to see a new stage in the political theatre that has taken place in Moldova, with the ultimate victims being average Moldovans just trying to get by.
Pro-European protestors on the streets could soon regret their actions, if – or even when – the current government falls, and a new coalition, potentially led by parties that appear to have pro-Russian leanings, comes to power. The protestors have been demanding that the current government be held accountable, but the ultimate lesson could be ‘be careful what you wish for’.
The repercussions of the next few days and the non-confidence vote could be long-term, and could cause increased uncertainty and division in Moldova, a tiny country that until recently was considered a success story of the EU’s eastern partnership push.