Any Chance of Success for the Protests in Moldova?

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Sergiu CEBAN
The political autumn in Moldova is going to be hot: not only center-left forces loyal to Russia, but also non-systemic parties and even former “pro-European” associates are mobilizing against PAS. This means that we will see a lot of anti-government protests in the coming months, but do they have a chance to change the political regime in the country?
The opening of the autumn-winter political season in Moldova is accompanied by persistent attempts to stir up protest sentiments in society. Their origin is both internal and external, with Moscow playing the leading role. The Russian Federation is rather transparent in its goals and frankly challenges the Moldovan leadership, which, by the way, does not show any desire to stabilize bilateral relations. Over the past two weeks, Russia has sent a lot of arrows of criticism and accusations to our government, and yesterday it made a massive media blow. It included the “warning” interview of Moscow’s representative in the Transdniestrian settlement and the “alarming concerns” of the Russian Foreign Ministry about the supplies of equipment for the National Army. Separately, there is a toxic journalistic piece in one of the leading federal media that can be regarded as a “direct hit” on Maia Sandu, which the Kremlin has not allowed itself to do before. The answer to the question of why this is happening now is obvious. Summer is over, and the cold season is ahead. The economic problems, deepened by the coronavirus pandemic, are still there. The difficult situation in agriculture has become even more acute after Rosselkhoznadzor imposed restrictions on deliveries from the republic. And, finally, the energy factor, which has become the main driving force of the instability wave. “Moldovagaz” is preparing to request another tariff increase from ANRE, which will add even more “fuel” to the population’s rally activity. In other words, it is the right time to create a perfect social and political storm in the country. Not only the leaders and political forces loyal to Moscow are mobilizing, but also the non-systemic parties and former PAS comrades-in-arms, who during the year have mostly held a silent observer position. Some of them yesterday recalled how seven years ago they all united to hold rallies of many thousands of people, trying to get the country out of the suffocating embrace of the Democratic Party and Vlad Plahotniuc personally. After years of struggle, which seems to have ended in the victory of the “forces of light”, few expected to hear Andrei Nastase’s “heartbreaking” revelations blaming himself for bringing such people to power. It may be politically correct to draw parallels with the Plahotniuc regime and to appeal to historical successes. However, we must be realistic: it is unlikely that PAS will be removed from the political Olympus so easily. With all the problems and a pile of mistakes, the ruling party still enjoys fairly strong voter support and, most importantly, the full confidence of Western capitals. Hardly anyone, except socialists and communists who fantasize, seriously believes that the current government can be overthrown as a result of a hastily assembled popular uprising. All the more so because the country’s leadership is not under any illusions; it allows for the possibility of mass protests and is quite prepared for them. For example, in order to reduce the growing tension in society, the parliamentary majority and its president seem to be prepared to sacrifice a few figures and blow off some of the public discontent by dismissing the current government. It is not by chance that, over the past few days, rumors have been circulating in the media about Dorin Recean as Natalia Gavrilita’s successor. Such news reports, of course, look more like government-controlled “leaks” to measure the level of social demand to replace the Cabinet of Ministers. The main struggle will not unfold this autumn, but at the local elections next year, which will be, among other things, a testing ground for all sorts of growing political projects and all sorts of movements and party alternatives. And only the results of this electoral race will show the voters’ real preferences, whether they are tired of the ruling party and whether they are ready to give other politicians a chance to try to change something, regardless of all the happenings. The current autocracy in the country places the full responsibility for the situation in the country on the Action and Solidarity Party. Besides, it is known how reluctantly, if not fundamentally negatively, PAS is to cooperate with other party and socio-political structures. Therefore, virtually the country’s entire political spectrum will be an opponent of the current government in the upcoming local elections. Even if this motley bunch will not make a united block, they will show maximum solidarity in criticizing the parliament, government and presidency. Besides, the forthcoming electoral cycle will show how PAS is going to act: whether it will resist the temptation to use administrative resources and whether it will be ready for fair-play both in organizing the pre-election campaign and during the voting itself. Meanwhile, the government’s rating is in a phase of protracted crisis, according to open and especially closed opinion polls, which indicate a further decline and increase in the popularity of opposition and especially populist parties. Therefore, in order to thin the ranks of discontented people, the government will probably have to decide on a number of preventive and radical measures, including the prohibition of SOR, standing itself as the driving force of the popular protest. Forceful suppression of individual foci of “popular disobedience” is also not possible. The first in line is likely to be Gagauzia, where the rapid reaction force has already been demonstrably deployed. Since then, the relations between Chisinau and Comrat have aggravated increasing the risk of open conflict between the region and the center. This is the current state of affairs. There are still too many variables and unknowns to predict a more or less realistic picture of how much the internal situation in Moldova will “swing”. Moscow’s tactics will also be an important factor, whether it is ready to support the anti-government protests, and if so, whether it has enough strength and resources to bring them to critical levels for the authorities. No less important in this game is Kyiv’s position, for which the fall of the pro-Western government in the neighboring country and the strengthening of the Kremlin’s political influence is a serious challenge, primarily in terms of security and the deterioration of pro-Ukrainian solidarity in the region.