“Anti-Democratic Standards”: How Far Can the Ruling Regime Go to Retain Power?

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Anton ŠVEC
Ahead of local elections, Moldova is reeling under scandals due to repressions of the current regime against opposition candidates and media. The methods of political struggle used are dramatically different from the propagated European democratic practices
Local elections will be held this weekend, mobilizing key political players in the struggle for power. However, political competition has already been undermined by a series of anti-democratic moves by the current regime, which is ready to resort to any tricks to maintain its dominant position in the country. Last week, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favor of former Prosecutor General Alexandr Stoianoglo. This served another confirmation of the lack of legality and transparency in the regime’s measures to seize and retain power, indicating the systematic implementation of negative anti-democratic practices in Moldova. The ECHR’s findings will have long-term political consequences, but will not force Maia Sandu, PAS, the government and other structures to reconsider the methods of achieving their goals, contrary to international law, the constitution and the country’s legislation. Meanwhile, controversial appointments in the justice system based on the principle of personal loyalty to the regime continue. This can include the vote of the parliamentary majority for the new head of the National Anticorruption Centre, Oleksandr Pynzari, who was appointed without a contest. Then, the embarrassing mishap with the conflict of interest in the public property agency and in the state enterprise “Post of Moldova” happened. A well-known journalist, Natalia Morari, contributed to the series of scandals by describing the facts of corruption in the border police. According to her information, over a year and a half, the department of Rosian Vasiloi, the irreplaceable appointee of parliamentary speaker Igor Grosu, collected a “black cash” of $32.5 million for the border-crossing schemes involving Ukrainians of conscription age. Traditionally, before the elections, cases of some candidates defecting from the opposition to the ruling party surfaced. For instance, the primar of a village in Singerei district, Ala Guzun, who twice won elections as a PSRM member, is now running for PAS, declaring her pro-European views. The opposition Communist Party also got hit. Its candidate for the Chisinau mayoral election, Diana Caraman, was unable to participate in a debate on the state-owned Moldova 1 channel because she spoke Russian. As it turned out later from the editorial board’s statement, Russian is not a language of interethnic communication in Moldova. This approach to televised debates continues the logic of the ruling regime with regard to the electoral process in general, including the cancellation last year of the possibility to use ballots in Russian. Yet, the main scandal is obviously related to the withdrawal of opposition candidates. The Chance party, controlled by the oligarch Ilan Shor and perceived by the authorities as pro-Russian, nominated many of its representatives, including its formal leader Alexei Lungu for the position of Orhei mayor and Victoria Șapa for the position of Balti mayor (reinforced by Marina Tauber, who is to be appointed deputy mayor of the city). However, the Security and Intelligence Service filed a statement with the CEC accusing both candidates of financing the campaign from Israel and Russia. SIS Director Alexandru Musteata held a media briefing on Monday. He said there was intelligence information about Russian interference in local elections through vote buying, candidate bribery and disinformation on television and social media. The intelligence service instructed the shutdown of another 6 TV channels and 31 websites (the list includes the largest Russian and Moldovan news portals, as well as our RTA) “distorting the information space of Moldova”. According to Alexandru Musteata, the affected media outlets are financed by Ilan Shor and Vladimir Plahotniuc and promote the oligarchic agenda. Yesterday, just a few days before the elections, the CEC decided to exclude 9 candidates from the Chance party from the election campaign. The party “tops” Alexei Lungu and Viktoria Șapa have not been ‘banned’ yet, but this will probably not last long. Thus, candidates undesirable to the ruling regime, who had significant electoral prospects, are removed from the political process by extra-legal methods with the involvement of special services. Ilan Shor’s man winning in Orhei was practically predetermined due to the oligarch’s ties with this district. In turn, it is not the first time that PAS has disturbed elections in Balti – in 2021, the winner of the first round, Maria Tauber, was removed from the ballot and was subsequently sent to detention, house arrest and restricted from travelling abroad. Nicolae Grigorisin became mayor with about 20% of the vote, but he was ready to cooperate with the parliamentary majority. Characteristically, such problems with opposition nominees do not arise at all in localities where the positions of PAS candidates are more stable. Although, in practice, the incumbent authorities will stop at nothing to solve their own problems, including interfering in elections “retroactively” or actually refusing to recognize their results, as it happened recently in Gagauzia. Obviously, the regime seeks to resolve the issues with the “problematic” localities as quickly as possible in order to focus on the campaign in Chisinau, where it expects to vote in two rounds. The state of the electoral process and measures to usurp power and pressure on the opposition, restrict information and the rights of Russian speakers are an indicator of the general democratic situation in the country. In fact, we have a regime of PAS dictatorship and voluntaristic decisions of Maia Sandu and her team, covered by Western patrons, contrary to the legislation and electoral promises. The aggravation of corruption due to the authorities’ impunity and the lack of democratic “restraints”, as well as the increase of tension in society and the growth of the protest movement, will be the inevitable consequences of the current events. Amidst geopolitical volatility and uncertainty of the situation in Ukraine, as well as a severe socio-economic crisis, the functionality and sovereignty of our state may soon become a question. Or is this exactly what the ruling party is seeking?