Protests in Chisinau: Simulated Outrage?

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The large-scale anti-government rally in the capital’s central square, organized by the New Life movement close to the SOR Party, was not a big concern for the ruling PAS. Why?
Christian RUSSU, RTA: Last Sunday, in addition to the procession of the column of LGBT activists, brought us the first truly large-scale protest. Naturally, the Great National Assembly Square was the theatre of far less than 40,000 people declared by the organizers, but from certain angles the event did look quite impressive. It was all the more remarkable because, until that day, the PAS opposition camp had failed to bring any significant numbers of people to the streets. All the opponents of the ruling party seem to have a big problem with anti-government protests. So far, no one has been able to effectively take advantage of both the degree of public frustration with domestic affairs and the country leadership’s major missteps. Even the arrest of Igor Dodon, despite all the scandals, one of the country’s most popular politicians, has only triggered nominal protest activity, which was more than safe for the current authorities. The reasons for this are many and well known. These are frustration at the total fiasco in the early parliamentary elections, old grievances and conflicts, even within single electoral blocs that preclude the possibility of broad inter-party cooperation, and the obvious fear of the ruling party and its punishing legal bludgeon. It all greatly limits the opposition and prevents it from deploying its full potential, no matter how much the pro-presidential PAS loses its shine. So, it is no surprise it was the SOR party, and not, say, the BoCS, that was able to generate the first large anti-government protest. Financial resources, along with populist rhetoric convenient in the current difficult times and the inaccessibility of Moldovan justice to the leader and sponsor, Ilan Shor, are in its favor. On the surface, the Orhei ex-mayor’s party had a trial balloon of protest that floated well. It displayed a strong mobilization potential and resources for its implementation; anti-government slogans resounded, a new movement brand called New Life was born, and a resolution was adopted. The resolution states that there is an “unprecedented” rise in the price of oil products, expensive gas, high inflation, a repressive state management model, and threats to national security. It ends with the call for removing PAS from power and launching early elections. Objectively, for the reasons I have mentioned, SOR is now capable of the most vivid and noticeable opposition. At the same time, there are many things about Sunday’s rally that make us doubt that we were faced with a serious claim to counter the authorities, and not a convenient “bargain”. The very organization of the rally was already a deception. It was achieved by luring people to a free concert featuring Russian pop stars, supposedly sponsored by representatives of the Canadian diaspora. In the end, the delays in putting on this concert, which was ultimately never held, became the dominant topic of discussion in the media and social networks, pushing aside the political aspect itself. Can it be a coincidence? Having gathered so many people, interestingly enough, without the slightest objection from the authorities, the New Life movement, or SOR party, as you prefer, didn’t manage to put it to use. It was clearly impossible to ignite the crowd, and the march to the General Commissariat of Police, again because of the demands to hold a concert, ended ingloriously. On the whole, the event didn’t bring any results. We can write it all off as a typical rocky start and express our satisfaction with the very fact of the large-scale rally. But doubts still creep in. For example, the country’s leadership attached almost no importance to it. And while the capital’s central square was packed with thousands of people, Maia Sandu was not even in the city. This is not exactly the kind of behavior when you are threatened by real danger. In comparison, today the farmers’ protests timidly started and to prevent it a meeting with the prime minister was quickly arranged. Yes, it didn’t help, but we can see the response. I think that in our country, which is used to all sorts of schemes and agreements, we can’t even rule out the seemingly fantastic option of unspoken cooperation between PAS and SOR. Let me remind you that, although the ruling party holds a monopole, it still does not have a constitutional majority – and the main law, one way or another, will have to be corrected. No one will obviously go to new elections, so additional votes will have to be sought either from the BoCS or from the SOR supporters. So why can SOR be the main candidate to become “system opposition”? It is extremely convenient. Due to populism, this party will be able to secure some serious support from the population in any case, but its corruption trail and established reputation will never allow it to claim the first place on the political podium. It is convenient to threaten and manipulate, and its Western partners will not even say a word to cover up the formation. Through SOR, whose leader is an acknowledged accomplice to the theft of a billion, it is comfortable to discredit the entire protest potential and orchestrate popular anger. Now, the Sunday events gave enough informational fuel to fill this week’s airwaves, until candidate status is to be granted and become a completely different story. The deal is mutually advantageous – the government imitates pressure on the Orhei oligarch’s party, which in turn imitates opposition to the government. It is a merry struggle, that will never reach the point where the real danger to the ruling party lies. And yet, when necessary, the two political forces can cooperate, say, to vote in parliament for constitutional amendments. How can it be? the PAS and SOR have already voted together to restrict parliamentary immunity. This is just one of the theories, which may be as far from the truth as possible. But the previous years’ experience proves that nothing is impossible in our country. After all, recall how the protests of 2015-2016 ended – turning one of the participants into the ruling system’s loud-mouthed, but obedient opposition.