Moldova crisis: Ousted government refuses to leave office as new coalition forms

Country currently has two claimants to every ministry, while judiciary-backed former prime minister calls snap election

Patrick Kingsley
Tuesday 11 June 2019 13:01
Moldova's Democratic Party refuses to leave parliament after Consitutional Courts rules in its favour against new coalition
Moldova's Democratic Party refuses to leave parliament after Consitutional Courts rules in its favour against new coalition

On Friday, Natalia Gavrilita was a director at an aid group in London.

On Saturday, she was unexpectedly named minister of finance in her native Moldova. On Monday, she flew home to start her new job.

There’s just one hitch: her predecessor won’t leave, and the police won’t let her enter her office.

Such are the competing realities in Moldova, a small former Soviet state in southeast Europe, where two of the country’s three largest parties formed a new coalition government on Saturday in order to oust the third from power.

But the latter, the Democratic Party of Moldova, has refused to leave office — leaving the country with two claimants to every ministry.

“We have two parallel stories,” said Dumitru Alaiba, a lawmaker from one of the two parties forming the would-be new government.

“We have a former prime minister who is refusing to leave.”

The chaos has been compounded by the Constitutional Court, staffed in part by longtime associates of the Democratic Party leader, oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc.

The court suddenly ruled last weekend that the new government was unconstitutional, on the basis that it was formed more than 90 days after parliamentary elections in February.

The court also suspended the Moldovan president and replaced him with the former prime minister, Pavel Filip, who dissolved parliament and called for new elections in September.

The impasse appeared set to continue into Tuesday, with lawmakers from the two parties trying to form a new government — Now Platform, a pro-European alliance, and the Socialists, a centre-left party that leans towards Russia — promising to gather in Parliament in defiance of Mr Filip and the Constitutional Court.

Since regaining independence from the Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War, Moldova has been no stranger to political stasis and turmoil.

It has had eight prime ministers in the past six years.

And nearly three decades after the eastern sliver of the country — Transnistria — declared independence, its status has yet to be resolved.

No country recognises the breakaway region, not even Russia, which has nevertheless stationed 1,500 troops on Transnistrian territory.

In an area racked by tensions between Russia and the West, Moldova’s most recent disagreement could emerge as a rare point of unity between Moscow, Washington and Brussels.

Russia publicly backs the Socialists.

The European Union and the United States have issued statements that stop short of backing either side but have been interpreted as suggestions that the results of the February elections, which gave the Now Platform and the Socialists a majority, should be respected.

“It’s totally counter-intuitive,” said Dimitar Bechev, a research fellow at the Centre of Slavic, Eurasian and East European Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“It doesn’t quite fit in the Russia versus the US paradigm.”

Though Mr Plahotniuc is nominally pro-European, he has exasperated Western allies with his party’s affronts to the rule of law.

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Mr Plahotniuc has no formal position in government, but his critics believe he has captured much of the media and the judiciary, in particular the Constitutional Court, which often rules in his favour.

Before this week’s crisis, the court had regularly suspended the Socialist president, Igor Dodon, when he proved obstreperous.

A lower court also annulled last year’s mayoral election in Chisinau, the capital, which had been won by one of Mr Plahotniuc’s opponents.

Whoever emerges as the winner of Moldova’s crisis, it represents the gravest challenge to Mr Plahotniuc’s hegemony in more than half a decade, and highlights the limits to his power.

Mr Plahotniuc has become so divisive a figure that he has managed to unite parties as different as the Socialists and the Now Platform, which have radically opposing attitudes to European integration.

The Socialists want to retain Moldova’s historic ties to Russia, while the Now Platform believes the country, once part of Romania, has a future within the European Union.

“He’s managed to annoy everyone,” said Mr Alaiba, the lawmaker.

Since the elections in February, the two parties had struggled to find common ground on which to form a coalition government, but managed at the eleventh hour to join forces mainly out of a shared aversion to Mr Plahotniuc.

“This just shows how detrimental an effect an oligarch can have on a state if pro-Russian and pro-EU forces are willing to come together to answer that threat,” said Mr Gavrilita, the newly named finance minister.

“We can’t co-habitate for long. But our intention is to free some institutions from his control.”

For the would-be new government, the two parties formed a coalition just in time.

The constitution gives parties three months to form a coalition before new elections must be called; if interpreted as three calendar months, that deadline passed on Sunday, a day after the government was formed.

But the Constitutional Court interpreted it as 90 days — meaning that the deadline passed on Friday.

Western officials have called on the two sides to resolve the dispute through talks, but analysts said that unless foreign officials themselves made stronger interventions, the impasse might continue until autumn.

“So far in their communications, they’ve been rather vague,” said Eugen Ghiletchi, an analyst at Expert-Grup, a research organisation in Chisinau.

“Unless we have a clear statement from the EU or the US saying we support Government A or Government B, I think the likeliest outcome is early elections.”

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