Filat’s Political Comeback: A New West’s Bet?

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Anton Švec
The unconditional loyalty of Maia Sandu and PAS to their foreign sponsors, expressed in support for Ukraine and the struggle against Russian influence, does not convince the West that the current regime has no alternative ahead of the elections. At the same time, the development partners have enough strong players on the bench, including those who have already proven themselves in the field of European integration and the fight against left-wing forces 
The political right wing produced some interesting news last weekend: Vladimir Filat again, for the third time, became head of the Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova. The latter also merged with the National Unity Party (PUN) following an extraordinary congress and the adoption of amendments to its charter. The new party platform became radically right-wing and included a course on “reunification with Romania” as “the most real and fastest way to return Moldova to the European family”. The first convocation of the LDPM, which had a significant role in the Alliances for European Integration, acted differently, taking a centrist role (the Liberal Party of Mihai Ghimpu, Dorin Chirtoaca and Nicolae Timofti was responsible for unionism). It is worth noting that liberal democrats put themselves in opposition to the ruling regime, although all the current political leaders, including the president, the prime minister and the speaker, are from their ranks, to whom Vlad Filat actually gave a ticket to political life. According to him, 85% of PAS members previously represented LDPM. Filat himself continues to try to clean his political background. In particular, he demands that the courts review the conviction for which he was imprisoned in 2016. Obviously, he needs this for electoral purposes – with an acting criminal record, it is impossible to become president of the country or a member of parliament. The former premier expects that the case formed on the order of Vladimir Plahotniuc and based on the testimony of Ilan Shor (the struggle against whom is exploited by the ruling class as the core of their mythology) will fall apart. In addition, all his political rights, including the passive suffrage, will be restored. The current government, which controls the courts, might face a dilemma – to get a serious electoral competitor with enormous experience, still having support in the West and in Romania, or to admit the validity of accusations by fugitive oligarchs against their “teacher and ideological inspirer”. Taking advantage of the situation, Vlad Filat criticizes the current authorities quite harshly. He has a solid Euro-integration background, having been involved in such successes as the conclusion of the Association Agreement and the granting of visa-free travel to Moldova, which were achieved in much more ambiguous geopolitical circumstances (all this happened even before the dignity revolution in Ukraine and the conflict in Donbass). Today, from the height of his political experience, Vlad Filat makes resonant statements, calling the PAS party a “sect” and warning that Maia Sandu would have never become president if he had been free himself. Criticism was also levelled at the world’s most expensive gas, ignoring the opposition, and the demographic catastrophe. Actually, the former prime minister’s criticism is well founded. He explains that no geopolitical support and openness of western partners (“even if all the doors of Euro-Atlantic offices are open to the government”) can compensate for an efficient and coherent domestic policy. Here Vlad Filat makes a rather subtle observation of the fact that the country’s leaders, who are constantly on the road to Western capitals in an attempt to demonstrate loyalty to the West, have completely forgotten about the interests of the citizens and the internal political process, which should take place in a natural, legitimate way. Yesterday Filat hammered the regime amidst the Chisinau airport tragedy that led to the deaths of two airport employees and a citizen of Tajikistan who carried out a shooting. Moreover, the ex-premier gave a relevant example by recalling that the death of businessman Sorin Pachu in the Padurea Domnasca reserve incited the resignation of his government. It is a direct hint of a precarious position under the head of the Border Police and the leadership of the Interior Ministry, or even directly under Prime Minister Dorin Recean. It is obvious that Vlad Filat has his own political ambition, being a man of vanity and dependent on media attention and the prestige of public service. Nevertheless, he has long pondered his return to politics, approaching the matter carefully and unhurriedly. It is likely that the former prime minister sought the support of foreign partners and, judging by the transformation of the party program, found it primarily in Romania. Bucharest has already repeatedly shown its flexibility in dealing with our authorities. If a politician supports the European integration and the Romanian language, he will gain ties in Romania, even if he comes from pro-Russian parties – the example of Chisinau Mayor Ion Ceban, who actively develops ties with Romanian cities, is quite telling. It seems that Vlad Filat has also secured a certain mandate in other Western capitals. Brussels and Washington show full support for Maia Sandu and her government, but cannot ignore the fact that the ruling party’s ratings are falling. Vlad Filat has certain electoral perspectives and could be at least a counterweight to the PAS or even a lifeline in case it is necessary to adjust Moldova’s political course. One way or another, his participation in political life will strengthen the right-wing pro-European and pro-Romanian sector, which only reinforces the inevitability of a pro-Western course in the country’s politics. In this sense, despite the criticism of the authorities, Vlad Filat’s ascent is bad news for the left-wing parties. While remaining a “pain in the neck” of Maia Sandu, the former premier has a background of electoral success against communists and socialists (both in legal field and in the street).