Pro-Moldova party linked to oligarch Plahotnuic strengthens position in parliament

Pro-Moldova party linked to oligarch Plahotnuic strengthens position in parliament
By Iulian Ernst in Bucharest March 2, 2020

Pro-Moldova, a faction that split in February from the Moldovan Democratic Party (PDM), has been joined by a seventh MP, Gheorghe Brasovschi.

The PDM was headed by oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc, for years Moldova’s most powerful politician, until it lost power in July 2019. Plahotnuic fled Moldova immediately after the PDM was ousted from power by a short-lived alliance between the pro-Russian Socialists and pro-EU ACUM bloc. 

The recent formation of Pro-Moldova, headed by one of Plahotniuc’s closest allies, former parliament speaker Andrian Candu, has led to speculation that the businessman and politician could ultimately be planning a return to Moldova. 

The faction split from the PDM, which it accused of having allegedly carried out secret negotiations with the Socialist Party (PSRM). Pro-Moldova positions itself as a pro-EU party, a strategy that recalls the Plahotniuc era, thus raising legitimate questions about whether it would compete with former prime minister Maia Sandu and her Action and Solidarity Party (PAS) for the position of President Igor Dodon’s and the Socialists’ main challenger. 

Separately, Candu’s personal ties with Plahotniuc, his marriage godfather, makes the party prone to becoming a political vehicle in principle available for the former leader to return to the country under more favourable circumstances. Plahotnuic, now the subject of an international arrest warrant, is supposed to have self-exiled in Miami. 

The political rhetoric of Pro-Moldova is similar to the pro-EU narrative previously used by the PDM and Plahotniuc to build their pro-Western image, while maintaining firm control over the country’s centralised economy and corrupt justice. As this control deepened, observers including the European Commission warned of the growing decree of state capture in Moldova. 

Now that the political project backed by Moldova’s western development partners last June — the coalition between ACUM and the Socialists —has collapsed, Pro-Moldova might expect to become the leading pro-EU force in Moldova and the main recipient of political support from its western partners. 

Separate, unrelated developments support this scenario. Firstly, Andrei Nastase, the leader of Dignity and Truth political party (PPDA), has announced his presidential candidacy. In the previous presidential elections, the PPDA collaborated with Sandu’s PAS and Sandu came close to winning the election, only losing out to Dodon in the second round. Polls indicate Sandu is again the main challenger to Dodon in the presidential elections scheduled for this autumn while Nastase would be surpassed by even former prime minister and current PDM leader Pavel Filip. 

The lack of cooperation between the PPDA and PAS leaves the door open for Pro-Moldova to become the main ally of Moldova’s western development partners.

The return of Plahotniuc to Moldova could then follow. Opinions that Moldova’s western partners should support Plahotniuc as “the only check on Dodon” are already being put forward in foreign media. A column published by US News on February 24 suggests that the US proved “counterproductive” when its secretary of state barred Plahotniuc from entering the US for “significant corruption”. In essence, the column argues Plahotniuc would make a reasonable ally of western (US included) partners in Moldova. “Dodon has been able to blacken Plahotniuc's reputation with charges that absolutely lack basis,” wrote Christina Petru, Ph.D, a retired economist, and Olga Kousi, an academic with specific provenance in the CIS/CEE.

The argument is debatable at least because it overlooks the role played by Plahotniuc in the past and his proven lack of capacity to drive changes towards rule of law and market economy in Moldova. 

Separately, there are other pro-EU forces in Moldova that are better positioned in terms of electoral support to fight against Dodon. Sandu’s past cooperation with Dodon’s Socialists does not necessarily invalidate her as Dodon’s main challenger. The ACUM-PSRM coalition not only was blessed by the US and EU, but it was open and public, as opposed to Plahotniuc’s hidden cooperation with Dodon for several years before June 2019. 

In fact, supporting Plahotniuc as “the only check on Dodon” would mean a return to the pre-June 2019 situation, which means limited technical reforms (like better banking regulations) but no progress in the fight against corruption, rule of law or market economy. In other words, Dodon’s obscure relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin's inner circle do not necessarily qualify Plahotniuc as Moldova’s leading pro-western player.