BALKAN BLOG: Moldova’s opposition to exploit ruling PAS’ justice reform failures in presidential race

BALKAN BLOG: Moldova’s opposition to exploit ruling PAS’ justice reform failures in presidential race
Moldova's opposition hope to unseat President Maia Sandu and her ruling PAS in the upcoming general and presidential elections.
By Iulian Ernst in Bucharest May 20, 2024

Moldova’s former president, Socialist Party (PSRM) leader Igor Dodon, has announced his party would back former head prosecutor Alexandr Stoianaglo in the coming presidential elections if the opposition agrees to appoint a single candidate.

Stoianoglo was suspended in 2021 on various allegations that are not yet proven in court (some have already been rejected by judges) and later dismissed by President Maia Sandu based on an evaluation carried out under procedures later ruled by the Constitutional Court as irregular.

Dodon said Stoianoglo is an option for a non-political candidate to be backed by all opposition parties.

However, Stoianogolo’s presidential candidacy is still a remote scenario. In his weekly statement on May 17, Dodon said he hadn’t consulted Stoianaglo. He also implied that the negotiations among the opposition parties hadn’t begun.

An acceptable alternative to the single opposition candidate is having multiple candidates in the first round but a firm support agreement for the second round where Sandu is expected to be one of the contenders, Dodon said.

Strong candidate

Former head prosecutor Stoianoglo has the potential to be a strong opposition candidate.

He was acquitted of abuse of power in February 2024, won a European Court for Human Rights (ECHR) case against Moldova on his illegal dismissal in 2021, the Constitutional Court invalidated the evaluation procedures that allowed Sandu to dismiss him, and furthermore, he is an ethnic Gagauz — the autonomous Gagauzia region being Russia’s main stronghold in Moldova.

Furthermore, as a member of the Democrat Party (PDM) and of Moldova’s first Alliance for European Integration (AEI), he can hardly be tagged as pro-Russian.

Stoianoglo was appointed as head prosecutor by Dodon in 2019, at the time when Sandu was serving as prime minister backed by a majority formed by her Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS) and Dodon’s Socialists. During his term, the Prosecution Office indicted fugitive Democrat Party leader Vlad Plahotniuc in the billion-dollar bank fraud case.

It remains unclear whether Stoianoglo would accept direct support from the second major opposition entity — fugitive oligarch Ilan Shor’s Victoria/Pobeda bloc. This would totally ruin his credibility as a magistrate. Dodon himself, previously seen as Russia’s proxy in Moldova, has avoided public association with Shor’s political bloc so far.

Problematic judicial reforms 

Although the idea of the former head prosecutor running for president needs endorsement from Stoianoglo himself and later from other opposition parties, it illustrates how Moldova’s stagnant judicial reforms are endangering the country’s fragile European orientation.

The head anti-corruption prosecutor Veronica Dragalin, with a US background and strong support from the pro-EU authorities, was expected to boost the reforms when appointed in 2022. But she has been involved in multiple scandals, the last of which surfaced last week, Newsmaker reported. 

Radical but not substantiated accusations voiced by top representatives of the PAS including Sandu, Dragalin and Prime Minister Dorin Recean against allegedly corrupt magistrates are not boosting public confidence in the promised judicial reform process. 

Transparency International’s perceived corruption index has improved over the past years, but a recent poll revealed that only 52% of lawyers believe judges are independent and 33% of them believe prosecutors are independent. Another poll carried out last September revealed that 59% of the population believe the judicial reforms carried out by the PAS have failed.

Head anti-corruption prosecutor Dragalin, while unveiling her office's 2023 Activity Report in May praised the activity of the prosecutors and the court’s rulings, without mentioning any obstacles they would encounter in fighting the high-level corruption.

One month later, anti-corruption prosecutor Victoria Furtuna was declared by the intelligence services “a threat to national security”, based on classified documents, and later dismissed for having allegedly disclosed classified information. Furtuna later explained in an interview that she spotted forged compromising documents introduced in the file of a judge sent by the Anticorruption Centre (CAN) to the pre-vetting committee. She was supposed to check and endorse the compromising documents, but instead initiated investigations on the source of the forged documents that she claims led to the presidency.