Top Political Events of 2021 in Moldova

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We traditionally recall the most “trendy” political events of the departing year in our country
In Moldova, 2021 again turned out to be extremely eventful year, launching radical changes in the social and political life of the republic. The RTA editors traditionally decided to recall the most important political events of this year. Confrontation between Parliament and President After winning the presidential elections, Maia Sandu fell into a state similar to her predecessor: available position against lacking real power. At that time, the presidential party was in opposition, and the parliament had an unspoken alliance of the Socialist Party with a group of Ilan Shor's deputies. This strange alliance and the head of state fell into an energetic confrontation: as usual, full of intrigue, sudden moves of opponents and even X-factors. Sandu's plan was simple and straightforward: to promptly provoke early elections aimed at changing the parliamentary landscape in her favor. Accordingly, her opponents did their best to prevent this scenario, postponing the date of the legislative body dissolution as much as possible. The pendulum within this plot alternately swung one side or the other. At first, the president suffered one failure after another. She never managed to find alternative ways to dissolve the parliament, and all the “creative” ideas with voluntary dissolution or even the signing of a declaration by all factions turned out to be unviable. She had to follow the only lawful path for nominating a potential prime minister. This scenario had obvious risks: the parliamentary majority, which did not want early elections, could simply vote for the president's person. Nevertheless, the socialists with the Shor’s deputies had their own plan, and, as a result, they seem to have played themselves. Without giving a trust vote to the Gavrilita government, they immediately presented their candidate – Mariana Durlesteanu. The President, as if having missed it, raised the stakes and nominated Gavrilita for the second time. But the Constitutional Court ruled the Sandu's decree illegal. The situation was increasingly tipping over into a dead end, but has met a sudden turn. At the most crucial moment, Durlesteanu mysteriously recused herself (as they said, not without the influence of Western partners), and Sandu nominated Igor Grosu to the Prime Minister. The vote on confidence in his government failed, then, it became clear to everyone that an early election was only a matter of time. The parliamentary majority unsuccessfully kept trying to delay them, since moves like imposing emergency rule did not give much time, but spoiled the image of the PSRM. Restoring Contacts with Neighbors One of the quick consequences of Maia Sandu's ascent to the presidency was a renaissance in relations with Ukraine and Romania, which were clearly going through hard times during the socialist rule. Sandu hosted President Klaus Iohannis in Chisinau in December, and paid an official visit to Kiev in January, meeting with Ukrainian leader Vladimir Zelensky. But, despite the restoration of contacts at the highest level, the real reset of Moldovan-Ukrainian relations is progressing extremely slowly. The reason is the difference in strategic goals. Chisinau is committed to pragmatic cooperation, while Kiev is more interested in cooperation aimed at confronting Russia. So, on the one hand, the countries actively and jointly participate in the Euro-Atlantic integration, and on the other hand, they cannot solve many practical issues like the Dniester ecology. Do not forget about the flagrant kidnapping by the Ukrainian special services of ex-judge Nikolai Chaus from Moldova, which, apparently, did not have the best effect on the personal perception of the Ukrainian leadership by our president. In addition, Kiev's anti-Russian policy sometimes poses difficult dilemmas for Chisinau, like the Crimean Platform summit. As for the relations with Romania, they are fine, on the contrary. They are so optimistic that require a separate mention here. Distinct affinity with Romania Bucharest has never forgotten about increasing its influence in Moldova - whether through the mass distribution of passports, the elimination of the Moldovan language or the strengthening of relevant government structures. And after the parliamentary elections, relations between our countries began to grow stronger by leaps and bounds. Almost immediately after the early elections, Romanian Foreign Minister Bogdan Aurescu brought an aid package to Chisinau, which became Bucharest's bid for the role of the main operator of New Moldova and its guide on the path to European integration. Now Chisinau and Bucharest are preparing to bring bilateral relations to the highest level for the entire period of the Moldovan independence and even outlined a roadmap for rapprochement in priority areas, including energy integration, provision of technical and financial assistance, cooperation in cyber security, regional and territorial cooperation, etc. Development of the Associative Trio On May 17, the Moldovan, Ukrainian and Georgian Ministers of Foreign Affairs signed in Kiev a joint memorandum on the foundation of the Association Trio. The new format was supposed to facilitate dialogue with institutions and members of the European Union, as well as coordination of positions within the Eastern Partnership. Later in July, the first summit of the “Trio” national leaders was held in Georgia, followed by signing the Batumi Declaration. However, the ability of the Associative Trio to support specifically Moldova is a question. Moreover, the three countries are moving along the European integration trajectory at obviously different speed and having diverse challenges, which in our case do not seem to be as serious as challenges met by the other participants. Probably, the “Trio” is still not senseless as to solving small tactical tasks, but over the past six months, something significant has not been achieved within its framework - Brussels has not offered Chisinau, Kiev and Tbilisi anything new, leaving them far beyond the threshold of the true perspective of the EU membership. Early Elections Early parliamentary elections were held in July, having radically changed its composition. As expected, the electoral race became a tough competition employing dirty tricks. The two largest left forces, the PSRM and the PCRM, fearing a right revenge, united into a single bloc and switched to their usual vote rhetoric about the danger from the West, traditional values, relations with Russia, etc. Further left consolidation looked logically, but it did not happen. The presidential party, on the other hand, relied on mottos aimed at fighting corruption, cleaning up the authorities and reforming justice, etc. Of course, geopolitics ruled the ball in these elections as well. One way or another, Brussels, Bucharest, and Moscow got involved in the process, but the most active player was the United States, whose ambassador regularly paid visits to key bodies, including the Central Election Commission. One of the most heated battles before the vote unfolded around the number of foreign polling stations. The authorities in effect tried to reduce their number, while the right-wing opposition tried to increase it. In general, the role of the diaspora, which determined the fate of 15 mandates at once in these elections, turned out to be greater than ever. And it will only continue to grow. Times of Good People The early elections ended in a convincing victory for the PAS. For the first time in thirty years, a right-wing pro-Western party won an absolute majority in parliament and the ability to independently govern the country, at least in the next few years. Thus, within six months, the people gave PAS the keys to the main institutions of governing the country: the presidency, parliament and government. However, it was clear that it would be difficult for the party to implement the given opportunities. In the future, this idea constantly found more and more confirmations. In just a few months, the new authorities were found surrounded by several severe crises and not all of them were tackled appropriately. This was superimposed on the obvious aspirations of the ruling party to select key bodies for themselves, consolidating the regime of sole state control. It is not surprising that the euphoria was quickly replaced by the public disappointment, and the society increasingly began to draw analogies with the reign of Vlad Plahotniuc. As a result, the ratings of both PAS itself and the president plummeted. And the expression “good people” has already become memetic, and it usually carries the opposite meaning in the words of the speaker. Arrest of the Procurator General The right-wing parties smacked their lips at the Prosecutor General's Office back in 2019, being at that time still in an alliance with the PSRM. They did not like the appointment of Alexandru Stoianoglo as the head of the agency, and when Sandu became president, the pressure on him increased. It was so high that Stoianoglo announced in early January unprecedented pressure on the prosecutor's office by pro-European politicians. It was clear that after the triumph of the yellow team, Stoianoglo's days in the Prosecutor General's Office were numbered. Amendments were quickly made to the law on the prosecutor's office, creating grounds for his resignation. Subsequently, by the way, the Venice Commission recognized these amendments as inconsistent with international legal standards. It's funny that as a result, Alexandru Stoianoglo was dismissed not even in such a dubious way, but by a banal arrest under trumped-up charges and exactly before his briefing, where accusations against the country's leadership were supposed to be announced. Since then, the Prosecutor General has failed to “trump up” anything convincing, which only convinced the public of the political motivation behind Stoianoglo's detention. Gas Crisis The unwillingness of the president and her team to deal with a new gas supply contract on their own has put the republic on the brink of a large-scale energy crisis. The unfavorable situation on the international markets led to a surge in prices for blue fuel, significantly complicating negotiations with Gazprom. The government acted chaotically: trying to come to an agreement with the Russian company, it simultaneously spent millions of dollars on imaginary diversification, in fact, buying Russian gas at inflated spot prices. They also looked for support abroad, but did not find it. Brussels only agreed to throw in some money, but expectedly refused to fully compensate for the losses from the “gas war” with Russia. This, coupled with the compromise position of Moscow, helped to avoid the escalation of the crisis, and a long-term contract was nevertheless signed, while Chisinau retained its energy dependence on Russia standing tall. But the incompetent actions of the republic's leadership did not go without consequences: the gas price increased significantly under the new contract. It provoked more than a twofold increase in tariffs for the population. Left Flank Changes The early election defeat caused a temporary center-left crisis. The disoriented opposition was looking for reasons for their own failures and ways for revenge. And apparently found it. The symbol of the initiated changes was the sudden resignation of Igor Dodon from the chairman of the Socialist Party. Thus, the position of the left ideological leader, who must deal with its gradual consolidation and mobilization either for elections or for protests, was vacant. Judging by recent events, several candidates can apply for this role. For example, Vladimir Voronin, recently re-elected chairman of the PCRM, or the mayor of Chisinau, Ion Ceban, who successfully manages urban economy and opposes the central authorities. By the way, Ceban recently announced the launch of the National Alternative Movement, which can be considered the official starting point in a new round of the political career of the Chisinau mayor. Elections in Balti Municipal elections in the second largest city became a cascade of political mistakes by the ruling party, which led to gross electoral violations, completely discredited it with the public. The travesty of justice began with the removal of Marina Tauber before the second round of elections, where she was considered the undisputed favorite. The ruling party thus avenged the defeat of its own candidate and at the same time prevented the transfer of Balti to the control of Ilan Shor. The second round was postponed literally an hour and a half before the start of voting under a far-fetched pretext. To carry out this shameful action, they did not even hesitate to put administrative pressure on the Central Election Commission and local courts. The residents of Balti “appreciated” the actions of the authorities and responded with a total ignore of the second round of voting. The turnout dropped more than three times, not even reaching ten percent. As a result, Nicolai Grigorisin became the mayor of the 150,000 residents, having been elected by only a little more than seven thousand citizens. Transnistrian Aggravation The Transnistrian settlement has long been frozen in some kind of limb, and its prospects are vague as never before. RTA experts initially did not expect breakthroughs to this end, believing that the situation could change significantly only under the external influence. Some hopes for changes appeared only after the early elections, since the accumulation of all power in the hands of one party gave it ample opportunities, including finally working out a formula for the pending conflict settlement. As a result, the changes happened, but they turned out to be rather negative. On September 1, Tiraspol announced a “transport blockade”, when Ukraine began to let into its territory vehicles from the left bank only with neutral number plates. Chisinau was blamed for it. Then, Vladislav Kulminsky unexpectedly resigned from the position of Deputy Prime Minister for Reintegration, and no replacement has yet been found, so the negotiation process went into hibernation. At the same time, there is an increasing aggressiveness in mutual rhetoric against the background of calls from abroad to “unfreeze the conflict”. Towards the end of the year, weird games began around the settlement, and Tiraspol seemed to be going for a rise. Moscow is probably standing behind it, but what are the springs of its latest actions remains to be seen.