Moldovan protesters demand reforms and direct presidential poll

By bne IntelliNews September 7, 2015

bne IntelliNews -


Protesters in Moldova’s capital Chisinau, estimated at 35,000-40,000 by police, demonstrated on September 6 against government and judicial corruption, and the lack of political and economic reforms. A handful of protesters occupied the city's main square after midnight, where they pitched tents and asked for negotiations with President Nicolae Timofti and Parliamentary Speaker Andrian Candu.

The protesters’ demand for immediate and direct presidential elections might be acceptable to the ruling coalition as a way of resolving Moldova’s ongoing political crisis without holding another round of parliamentary elections. Finding a charismatic, pro-reform presidential candidate is a relatively realistic short-term expectation. The launch of a presidential campaign could also accelerate the political reform process at a critical moment for the country.

The government says it will start discussions with the protest organisers, Dignity and Truth (Demnitate si Adevar), within the next few days.

Rather than asking for the immediate resignation of the pro-European ruling parties that make up Moldova’s ruling coalition, the demonstrators asked them to pursue reforms.

Protestors also asked for those responsible for large-scale bank frauds, which resulted in losses of around $1bn, to be dismissed from their positions and brought to justice. In particular, they singled out central bank governor Dorin Dragutanu and head prosecutor Corneliu Gurin for failing to carry out an effective investigation.

Sunday’s demonstration was the largest of four demonstrations organised by the Dignity and Truth political platform that was set up this spring, as popular pressure on the government grows.

Polina Panainte, programme manager at Chisinau-based Association for Participatory Democracy ADEPT, who was present at the protest, told bne IntelliNews, “People were calm, but you could see the anger on their faces. They are sick of official corruption and were prepared to stay on the square for as long as it took.” She also pointed out changes in the protest demographic. Unlike in previous protests where many participants were elderly, young people are now mobilising.

The talks between protest leaders and government officials due to start today will be critical, Panainte said, but warned of scepticsm about whether reforms would be carried out. “From previous experience we have seen that a lot is said but very little is done.”

After the peaceful protests in Chisinau on September 6, Dignity and Truth announced the establishment of a “Dignity and Truth City” in Chisinau’s Great National Assembly Square. Some 30 protesters responded and set up tents on the square. The Dignity and Truth City will serve as the headquarters of the political platform, where negotiations with the authorities will take place, the organisers said.

The decision to occupy Chisinau’s central square has echoes of the early Euromaiden days in Ukraine in 2013. Protesters occupied Kyiv’s central square for several months before it was stormed by police. More recently in Armenia, thousands protested in Yerevan and other cities against electricity price hikes.

However, according to Michael Cecire, associate scholar at the Foreign Policy Research Institute's project on democratic transitions, events in Moldova are not expected to replicate those in Ukraine. "Unlike in Ukraine, for one, there is less of a clear geopolitical binary being manifest in Moldovan politics. The current government, the multiparty coalition Alliance for European Integration, is pro-West and was formed partially in reaction to revelations of the banking scandal broke in May 2015," Cecire told bne IntelliNews. "While protesters are calling for the government's dissolution for not doing enough to resolve the scandal, the ruling coalition seems more a target of convenience than the main object of public ire."

However, he adds that support for Euro-Atlantic integration is relatively low in Moldova compared to Ukraine or Georgia. "There is no question that public anger over corruption could be seen by pro-Russia forces as a kind of opportunity to weaken the country's pro-West leanings," he said. "But comparing the demonstrations to the Euromaidan, or even its inverse, would seem to skate over the many complexities of Moldovan public opinion."

Panainte also considers that comparisons with Ukraine’s Euromaiden ignore the specifics of the situation in Moldova, where the extremist groups that stirred tensions in neighbouring Ukraine are not present. “Maiden erupted because of antagonism between east and west, but this is a domestic rather than a foreign policy issue. We are not pro-EU or pro-Russia; we are pro-Moldova,” she said.

As they seek to resolve the ongoing political crisis, direct presidential elections are an option that has already been considered by Moldova’s ruling coalition. However, meeting protesters’ demands for a directly elected president would require changes to the constitution. Under current constitutional provisions, the president is elected indirectly by the parliament, with votes from 62 of the 101 MPs required to appoint a new president.

So far, internal tensions within the coalition and the lack of a common candidate resulted in procedures to amend the constitution being postponed. Holding a fragile majority of only 51 of the 101 MPs, the three pro-European parties cannot, under the current constitution, appoint their own candidate without the support of some of the opposition parties.

The three parties only reached a coalition agreement in June, seven months after the November parliamentary elections and following the failure of an earlier minority cabinet. They can therefore expect to face problems in identifying a common presidential candidate.

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