It took barely hours for angry protesters to take to the streets of Chisinau, the Moldovan capital, after the new government was sworn in around midnight on January 20.
Following a short discussion, Moldova’s parliament had endorsed, by 57 votes in the 101-seater parliament, the new prime minister, Pavel Filip, and his cabinet, seemingly bringing to an end months of political unrest.
The next day several thousand demonstrators gathered in front of the parliament building to chant anti-government slogans and demand snap elections. Smoke grenades had to be used to disperse the crowds, some of whom had broken into the parliament building. Fifteen people were reportedly injured, including nine policemen. Street protests are expected to gain momentum in the coming days.
Some might have thought that a new government would have been looked on with relief, as a chance to pause for breath, but instead it was met with anger. In fairness it did manage to unite parts of the country, just not in the way that was intended: thousands of protestors of various political orientations demonstrated, with pro-Russian and pro-EU protestors joining forces to show their unhappiness.
There were also divisions within parties behind the government. Mihai Ghimpu, the president of the Liberal Party, the junior ruling partner, was bitterly attacked by former supporters of his own party, disappointed by his alliance with the Democratic Party and the man many feel is behind it: controversial oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc.
Filip will be Moldova’s third prime minister in less than a year. The last prime minister, Valeriu Strelet, resigned in October after a no-confidence vote, having been in office for just four months. Attempts to replace him with Ion Sturza, a wealthy pro-Western businessman, failed in December, when parliament rejected his nomination.
That a majority coalition was formed to pass the nomination of Filip was in itself an achievement, with parliament bitterly divided, notably between pro-Russian and pro-EU parties, but also between different party factions.
Filip, who is pro-European, was nominated by a parliamentary majority formed by the Democratic Party, the Liberal Party, and former MPs of the Communist and Liberal Democrat opposition parties.
The Democratic Party had initially pushed for Plahotniuc as prime minister, but after President Nicolae Timofti refused to endorse him, due to concerns over his unsavoury image, the party came up with another nominee: Filip. Timofti had first tried to appoint Ion Paduraru, an independent candidate, as prime minister-designate on January 14, but Paduraru withdrew after seeing he didn’t have the support.
While the endorsement of Filip was welcomed by both the European Union and the US Embassy in Chisinau, the US is pushing the new authorities to open a dialogue with the protestors to avoid further unrest.
That is easier said than done. Most Moldovans are fed up with high-level corruption and feel that their country is stagnating, with politicians only caring about their own interests.
The parliamentary majority that formed the new government enjoys thin support among voters, and is expected to be subjected to extreme pressure from opposition parties and from demonstrators on the street. The civic platform DA (Dignity and Truth), which recently turned into a political party, as well as the Communist Party are actively campaigning for early elections.
In case of a snap election, a poll conducted by the Association for Sociology and Demography between January 8-16 showed that the Socialist Party and its ally Partidul Nostru would get nearly 60% of seats in parliament. Only three other parties would meet the 6% threshold, with the Democratic Party, currently the senior partner in the ruling coalition, barely passing the line. DA would get an estimated 17% of the vote, though it has only grown up in the last year from the grassroots protest movement.
Filip is widely seen as a compromise candidate – though there are fears that he is too close to Plahotniuc – and he should be able to rely on enough support in parliament to govern, at least for the near future. After the political unrest of the last few months it is unlikely that the current protests with bring down the new government, or make parliament panic and call snap elections. They are more than likely to calm down to a low simmer after a few days or weeks.
For those in Moldova, the next critical moment might take place in March, when lawmakers are expected to appoint a new president. At that time a super majority of 61 MPs is needed to choose a replacement for Timofti as head of the state, something increasingly unlikely in this politically divided country of 3.5mn.