Amid Protests, Moldova Finally Appoints a Government

3 MINS READJan 20, 2016 | 22:30 GMT
Amid Protests, Moldova Finally Appoints a Government
Riot police stand between protesters and a government building in Chisinau, Moldova, on Jan. 20 after the appointment of Pavel Filip as the country's new prime minister.

Just a week before Moldova would have had to hold early elections, the country's Parliament approved a new government led by former IT and Communications Minister Pavel Filip. The vote allows the Moldovan Parliament to remain intact under a pro-European coalition. However, immediately after the legislature approved the new government, several hundred protesters — many of them supporters of pro-Russia parties such as the Socialist Party and Our Party — stormed the parliamentary building. Actions like this show that pro-Russia elements within the country will pose a challenge for the new government, perpetuating the divisions within Moldova's political system that undermine the small but strategic country's efforts to integrate with the West.

Moldova's Jan. 20 parliamentary vote to approve the new government ended nearly three months of political deadlock in a country that plays an important role in the competition between Russia and the West in the former Soviet periphery. The previous government, led by former Prime Minister Valeriu Strelet, collapsed Oct. 29, 2015 after Strelet lost a no-confidence vote over allegations of corruption. Moldovan President Nicolae Timofti then put forth Ion Sturza as a prime ministerial candidate on Dec. 21, 2015, but Sturza was unable to get the required majority of votes. Moldova's pro-Europe coalition then proposed oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc as a candidate in early January, but Timofti blocked Plahotniuc's nomination for "moral reasons." Following that, Filip was floated as a compromise candidate and garnered 57 votes in the 101-seat parliament — enough to become the new prime minister.

This back-and-forth in the process of forming a new government shows how divided Moldova's political system is. Moldova is split almost evenly between EU-oriented parties, such as the Democratic Party, Liberal Party and Liberal Democratic Party, and Russia-oriented parties like the Socialists, Communists and Our Party. This split has led to several government collapses and early elections in recent years. However, amid the country's latest political crisis, several Communist lawmakers broke away and joined the Democratic Party in a new bloc called the Social-Democrat Platform. This bloc, along with defectors from the Liberal Party and Liberal Democratic Party, gave Filip the majority he needed to form a government.

Despite the avoidance of new elections, which almost certainly would have given the edge to pro-Russia parties, the new Moldovan government's pro-Europe orientation and perhaps even its sustainability will encounter challenges. The pro-Russia Socialists and Our Party have led numerous demonstrations calling for new elections, including the protest outside Parliament as the vote occurred Jan. 20. These protesters set fire to the fence outside the parliamentary building, and hundreds of them broke through police lines and fought with riot police. Protesters are still on the premises at the time of this writing, albeit in lesser numbers. Representatives of some smaller pro-West factions, such as the Civil Platform for Dignity and Truth and the party recently formed around former Education Minister Maia Sandu, have also gathered to protest the new government, accusing it of weakness and corruption given its ties to Plahotniuc (who has connections with almost all of Moldova's major parties).

Such protests will probably continue — and could grow in size and intensity — while the new government is in power. Protesters might also try to maintain a presence in the parliamentary building and potentially other government buildings, similar to Ukraine's Euromaidan protests in late 2013 and early 2014 that eventually toppled then-President Viktor Yanukovich. Another, broader challenge will be Moldova's precarious economic situation. The country is still reeling from currency depreciation and a banking corruption scandal that cost Moldova more than $1 billion, equal to roughly 12.5 percent of the country's gross domestic product.

Conditions like these, along with the increasingly fractious nature of Moldova's Parliament, will give Filip's government very little leeway. In the case of yet another government collapse, early elections probably would be unavoidable and would give Moldova's pro-Russia elements the chance to stall, if not reverse, Moldova's efforts to integrate with the European Union.

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