Protest Test for Igor Dodon

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Sergei Ceban specially for RTA Today, there is no longer any doubt that the June decision of the Appeals Chamber of Moldova on invalidation of the results of the Chisinau mayor elections was an unprecedented shock for the Moldovan democracy and officially declared by the authorities “European values”. It had the most direct impact on the prospects of the non-parliamentary opposition, aimed at strengthening ties with the European Union. Having won a competitive election, one of the brightest representatives of the opposition, the head of the Dignity and Truth Platform Andrei Nastase was already preparing to break victoriously into the highest echelons of the Moldovan authorities no longer as an extra-system leader of protests and a street speaker, but as a public politician and, most importantly, a statesman capable to cope with real problems. However, as elections showed, the mayor’s post was not really vacant. Apparently, in many respects the key post of the mayor was reserved – either for a man of Vladimir Plahotniuc, or for the party fellow of Igor Dodon, Ion Ceban. The opinion of the residents of Chisinau, different from the one required, was not taken into account by default, but it upset plans of the leader of the Democratic Party, who controls everything except the will of the people. Vladimir Plahotniuc could not allow a ‘representative’ of the non-systemic opposition to be ‘legalized’ in Moldovan politics for some six months before the fateful parliamentary elections, so what happened was what meant to happen. Naturally, the trampling on democracy and an attempt to prevent entry into the power of an unwanted opposition member in any way predictably turned into protests – a phenomenon that has become quite typical in Moldovan politics. However, despite the substantial attention of the Moldovan diaspora and certain public powers of Romania to it, the citizens’ strike has not yet become massive and convincing for the authorities. There are several explanations for this. Firstly, the summer period is absolutely inconvenient for protests for a simple – because of the hot weather and vacations. Secondly, the parliamentary elections were delayed as much as possible – right up to February 24, 2019. The very opposition, taught by the experience of 2016, understands the danger of a false start and the need for a clear management of protest moods, so that they could reach their culmination by the election day. Thirdly, there is disunity in the opposition, which is sometimes ‘divided’ not only in parties, but even in small ‘intraspecific’ groups and hobby clubs. Stalemates in the protests are to a large degree caused by the lack of truly independent media. Media space in Moldova has long and safely been divided between representatives of the main political groups dominated in power. Nevertheless, even such immature protest activity, sufficiently creative to win the sympathy of fellow citizens and, so far, the silent benevolence of the Western partners, causes fears among the Moldovan authorities. Therefore, the actual leader of the country Vlad Plahotniuc uses all available resources to suppress the protests, fencing off the ‘streets’ with record high fences. On the Independence Day of the Republic of Moldova, the protesters were rather unceremoniously ‘evacuated’ from places where sanctioned rallies were held. The campaign in the media, especially on television, has become ‘angrier’. Already pretty forgotten and very oddly sentenced to house arrest Ilan Shor, an oligarch, politician and allegedly the main witness in the criminal case about the ‘theft of the century’ and accusation against former Prime Minister Vladimir Filat, appeared on the arena. On the other hand, Igor Dodon, President of the Republic of Moldova, gave a clear signal to his numerous supporters. He unambiguously and publicly qualified the protests as “evil”, although Dodon himself less than two years ago actively protested against the oligarchic regime together with the pro-European opposition. However, at that time he was not yet capable as the President of the Republic of Moldova – in those years, the formal function of the head of state was performed by Nicolae Timofti, who, perhaps, became the most silent and inconspicuous head of state in Eastern Europe in the 21st century. Today, Igor Dodon unequivocally opposed the protests, that is opposed the thing that a year and a half ago (along with carte blanche from Russian partners) helped him to enter the big Moldovan politics and gain his position. On August 28, the Moldovan president expressed regret at the protests, calling them “a shame for democracy”. In his opinion, “no one has the moral right to use people as a mass for maneuvering for their political purposes”. The statement is at least strange: it turns out that the previous protests, in which the Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova and the pro-European opposition participated, are good, but the current indignation of the people towards total political influence of the oligarchs, legal nihilism and rampant corruption is a shame for democracy. However, inconsistency is a prominent feature of the political style of the Moldovan president. Such maneuvering of Igor Dodon is clearly conditioned by the mission of political survival, maintaining access to financial, media and party resources. In fact, are these obvious benefits, albeit in a reduced format of the ‘president without authority’, worth sacrificing his views and supporters? If not, how can you explain the whole series of the president’s ‘goal passes’ to the incumbent government: starting from strange ill-defined standing in the square a year and a half ago and voting for Nicolae Timofti’s appointment as President of Moldova and ending with support for the reform of the electoral system and tax legislation. Why did Igor Dodon today take this way to give another ‘pass’ to the current regime? What is more, for no reason at all. If he had once again spoken out against everything bad and for all the good things in the wake of mass discontent, then he would be guaranteed to earn additional political points. But no. With such statements Igor Dodon actually recommends his supporters to refrain from participating in the protests, thus keeping from the strike a significant, and perhaps even the largest, part of the Moldovan protest electorate. Could this be such a cunning plan? We’ll see. However, one cannot ignore the obvious fact that such a passive position of socialists, as the main competitors of democrats and unionists, at the current stage is quite comfortable for the ruling authorities. Less people mean more chances to blame the opposition for marginality and inability. This picture became especially unique against the backdrop of a counter-protest demonstration of lovers of buckwheat porridge from Ilan Shor. If we analyze the processes looking forward, then this scenario opens up very interesting prospects for the European Union and the US, as the main development partners of Moldova. Isolation of Igor Dodon from the protest activity in Chisinau in the context of the elections scheduled for February 24 means that if the scenario of the power transit from the Democratic Party to a more respectable pro-European political force is implemented, the socialists’ electorate will remain at home, because the protests are “evil” according to their leader. But then this very power is more likely to get to the representatives of the liberal pro-European opposition, who actively protested on the streets of Chisinau. Examples of the victories of the ‘Maidan’ power are easy to find, let’s recall the historical cases of Georgia, Ukraine, or the recent regime change in Armenia. What to do in this situation with the interests of hundreds of thousands of people, who have supported the incumbent president of Moldova, is an open question. The stakes in the Moldovan political game are rising, it becomes more difficult to balance in it, and politicians are increasingly forced to make a fateful choice for them – sometimes very bizarre. Definitely, such curves are possible only in a political system, the days of which have long been numbered.