Tens of thousands demonstrate against Moldova's new government

Tens of thousands demonstrate against Moldova's new government
By Iulian Ernst in Bucharest January 25, 2016

Moldova’s united opposition organised a mass demonstration in Chisinau on January 24, where tens of thousands of protestors called on the government and the parliament to resign by January 28.

The large-scale protests were prompted by the appointment of a new government on January 20 which is broadly seen to be controlled by Moldovan oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc, the backer of the Democratic Party (PD). According to the latest polls, the protestors have the support of the vast majority of voters.

Estimates of the number of protesters range from 15,000 to 40,000, in a country with a population of just 3.5mn. Some stayed on the streets for seven hours despite sub-zero temperatues in the Moldovan capital, according to newswire reports.

The organisers of the protests included both the pro-EU Dignity and Truth (DA) civic platform and the pro-Russian Socialist Party (PSRM) and Partidul Nostru. Despite their vastly different political orientations, the three parties have signed a common resolution calling for the appointment of an interim legislative body that would nominate an independent and credible government, replace the leadership of key judicial, economic and electoral bodies and organise early elections by April this year.

The cooperation of the DA and the two pro-Russian parties, and their support from demonstrators, illustrates the political diversity of the movement against the new Moldovan government. However, the lack of other common ground between them weakens the coherence of their demands, and will make further actions unpredictable and open the door to conflicts within the bloc in future.

In addition to demanding that the government step down, protestors also asked for the DA to be allowed to register as a political party after this was rejected on a technicality, and for members of the extremist pro-Russian movement Antifa, arrested in 2015, to be released.

Protests have been organised almost every day since prime minister Pavel Filip’s government was appointed at an ad hoc parliament session on January 20. Filip’s government is supported by a parliamentary majority formed by the PD, which is formally headed by Marian Lupu while Plahotniuc is the party’s vice president. It has the support of 56 MPs, a narrow majority that includes 21 MPs who defected from various opposition parties.

The encouragement given to the new government by the country's development partners has irritated demonstrators, who see the formation of the government as a step by Plahotniuc towards control of the Moldovan state.

The European Union, the US and Romania have described the formation of the new government as a positive step towards normalisation after a lengthy period of political uncertainty following the November 2014 parliamentary elections. All the country's foreign partners have encouraged the new government to negotiate with the opposition, but such a dialogue is highly unlikely at this moment.

There was a strong incentive for the PD and its coalition partners to form a new government, since polls indicate they would lose many of their seats should early elections take place.

The PSRM and its ally Partidul Nostru would get nearly 60% of seats in parliament if elections were called now, according to a poll carried out by the Association for Sociology and Demography on January 8-16. A political party formed by the DA would get 17% of seats, while the European Popular Party led by former prime minister Iurie Leanca would get 12.1%. 65% of respondents wanted early elections while 23% were against.