Moldovan PM Sandu loses confidence vote

Moldovan PM Sandu loses confidence vote
By Iulian Ernst in Bucharest November 13, 2019

The Moldovan parliament passed the no-confidence motion filed by the Socialist Party (PSRM) against the cabinet of Prime Minister Maia Sandu on November 12.

The motion was filed by pro-Russian President Igor Dodon’s Socialists just five months after Russia and the European Union brokered the unstable ruling coalition in Chisinau between the Socialists and Sandu’s pro-EU ACUM bloc with the main purpose of ousting the increasingly autocratic Vlad Plahotniuc.

In total, 63 of Moldova’s 101 MPs voted against Sandu. They included the Democratic Party (PDM), which lost power in June and was headed by Plahotniuc until he fled the country after the new government was formed. The Democrats are now striving to improve their credibility. 

Western partners express concerns

The no-confidence vote was sparked by a dispute over the procedure to appoint Moldova’s prosecutor general, as Sandu’s attempt to change the rules gave an opportunity to the Socialists to seek her removal. 

By dismissing Sandu, Dodon gains even more power and the country’s foreign development partners, including the European Union and Romania, have expressed concerns. Their support programmes are conditioned on the continuation of reforms and the rule of law, the European Commission and Romania’s presidency warned.

“The vote of no-confidence in the government in the Republic of Moldova over questions concerning the recruitment process of the prosecutor general sends worrying signals for the reform process in the country,” a press release from the EU External Action’s spokesperson reads.

The EU says that it is committed to “working with those in the Republic of Moldova who support the reform process that is at the core of the Association Agreement, in particular as regards fighting corruption and vested interests irrespective of the political affiliations, ensuring the independence of the judiciary and de-politicising the state institutions”. The EU will continue to base its relationship with the Republic of Moldova on the principle of conditionality and respect for the rule of law and democratic standards, the statement reads.

On a less neutral note, a statement from Romania’s presidency praised the reforms pursued by Sandu’s government and said that the Socialists’ move to dismiss Sandu goes against the interests of Moldova and the Moldovan people.

“Under the present circumstances, Romania's support, including its financial support, will continue to focus on the interests of the citizens of the Republic of Moldova, the implementation of strategic bilateral projects and will be strictly conditioned by the continuation of the essential reforms for the democratic development of the Republic of Moldova and its progress toward European values,” Romania’s presidency stated.

Seeking a weaker candidate

Following the confidence vote, the president has the right to call early elections if the parliament fails to endorse a new prime minister within three months. For now, Dodon has assured Moldovan citizens that a new government will be in place by early December, and will probably do his best to avoid unpredictable early elections in the spring.  

Dodon appears to be hoping to form another cabinet that he can control better than Sandu’s. Speaking on behalf of the Socialists, Dodon has already invited ACUM, headed by Sandu and Andrei Nastase (who just lost the elections for Chisinau city hall to his Socialist rival), to nominate another prime minister. But he also said that he is ready to appoint an independent candidate, “a technocrat”, for the position of prime minister.

If MPs from ACUM bloc don’t agree on the nomination of a prime minister candidate who is to Dodon’s liking, the president might instead turn to Democratic Party MPs. The Democratic Party, formerly headed by Plahotniuc, is now under the control of former PM Pavel Filip, who enjoys a certain credibility among Moldova’s western partners for the reforms he introduced while in office.

"I wish a new government to take office as soon as possible. I invite PSRM-ACUM coalition to nominate a candidate for the position of prime minister. It should be a different candidate than the prime minister who resigned today. If ACUM will not accept the dialogue, then I will assume the responsibility to propose a non-political prime minister, and the government will be made up of technocrats. I will do exactly what people expect from us — I will appoint a government that will pursue a real judicial reform and among others implement the Association Agreement with the EU, holding strategic relations with Russia and its neighbours at the same time,” the head of state said.

Should Dodon fail to secure the appointment of a loyal prime minister with at least some credibility among the country’s western development partners, he may yet go ahead and call early elections.