Five Years Without Plahotniuc: Are There Any Changes?

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Moldova is approaching the first anniversary of the omnipotent oligarch’s escape as a “recaptured state”, with an even more authoritarian political regime safely guarded by Western partners  
Semyon ALBU, RTA: Tomorrow will be an unofficial milestone for our country – the first anniversary after Vlad Plahotniuc’s flight, which finalized the collapse of his seemingly immutable rule. The once omnipotent oligarch was then forced to hastily flee from the capital to Ukraine in order to fly from there to a safe harbor. June 2019 was supposed to be a turning point in the country’s history. The stars seemingly aligned: a unique geopolitical consensus on Moldova, which gave birth to the “revolution of ambassadors”. No less unique alliance of right-wing “pro-Europeans” and left-wing statesmen, which formed the new composition of the executive power in parity. The expulsion of the odious “master of Moldova” was followed by general popular inspiration. It was nice while it lasted… Five years is a pretty significant and long time span to accomplish a lot of changes – if not in terms of bringing the country to a better state, then at least to lay the groundwork for such a leap. This is exactly what many people were hoping for – that the words “European integration”, “balanced foreign policy”, “democratic values and freedoms” would no longer be idle slogans, but rather turn into real guidelines and foundations of the state’s policy. Judging by the parallels often drawn between Sandu/PAS and Plahotniuc, the reformation of the country failed. Five years later, Moldova is once again a “captured state”, and in fact, the current regime is far more merciless, authoritarian and scary than the one established by the former leader of the Democratic Party. Facts prove it well. First of all, Plahotniuc, after taking over Moldova, didn’t have that much room for maneuver. One way or another, he had to act with an eye on external partners. And, unlike today, geopolitical loyalty alone was not enough back then. Besides, both the Americans and, to a greater extent, the EU demanded at least formal compliance with democratic rules of decency. And when these rules were violated, they did not hesitate to bombard the main democrat with criticism and punitive measures. Let us recall that after the scandalous cancellation of the Chisinau mayoral elections Brussels froze macro-financial aid to Moldova. That is, the oligarch was at least discreetly warned about “red lines” and actually punished for crossing them. As a result, they exerted direct political influence for his expulsion from the republic. Now the situation is different. As we can see, Maia Sandu and her party have no flexibility in foreign policy, but enjoy a mandate for any domestic decisions. I honestly don’t see Western partners putting any restrictions which the “yellows” would be prohibited to violate. As a result, we have the largest abuses of power in the country’s history, violations of the Constitution and legislation, the foundations of democracy, the rights and freedoms of citizens. What Plahotniuc could not afford is boldly done by the current regime: banning political parties, depriving politicians of the right to vote, cancelling election results. Moreover, the persecution of the undesirable will intensify, because Maia Sandu didn’t hesitate to sign into law new Criminal Code amendments relating to treason. The language is so broad and unbiased that, without any exaggeration, any critic of the “yellow” policy can be convicted and sent to jail for a long time. At the same time, the country’s information space is being completely sterilized. The national broadcasting network has been freed from disloyal TV channels for alleged links with Sor-Plahotniuc, or even just for awkward questions to the President, as was the case of Canal5. The online space has been cleaned of all opposition and Russian portals and media. The authorities, with the help of the new Ministry of Truth aka Patriot Centre, are doing their best to get into the area they cannot yet control, i.e. communities and channels in social networks and messengers, with the full support of partners who provide specialists, money and equipment. Meanwhile, the scope of acceptable content is constantly narrowing. According to the recent proposals of the Audiovisual Council, “attacks” on the country’s foreign vector, politics and the “European” reforms of the PAS will now be considered disinformation. Like Plahotniuc, the current regime is consolidating its power by seizing state and public institutions. This process started instantly after the victory of PAS in the snap parliamentary elections and accelerated with the outbreak of war in Ukraine. The Constitutional Court, the CEC, the Prosecutor General’s Office, Teleradio-Moldova, etc. were all put at the service of the new regime just as they had been during the era of the “captured state.” Lately, as if in mockery at the population, PAS has started copying or returning the ideas, practices and schemes of the former puppeteer. The most recent is the construction of a new football stadium announced by Andrei Spinu, which, ironically, will be built near Plahotniuc’s Chișinău Arena. It is planned to spend 85 million euros on this rather important event in the context of impoverished population and deep economic crisis. In other words, in terms of ambitions, Spinu has twice surpassed the oligarch, whose sports project cost “just” 44.5 million euros. And if we take into account that the construction cost of a football stadium often tends to increase, sometimes by multiples, we can only imagine the scale of the future embezzlement of budget and donor money. Or let’s consider the return of monopoly status to the state enterprise Metalferos. Until 2019, this was Plahotniuc’s well-known trough generating tens of millions of euros annually, which were used to pay the regime’s servants. And it was the Sandu government that put an end to this feast, a point of their pride. This time, however, the “yellows” were lured by the sweet smell of money and they didn’t hesitate to brazenly revive the old corruption scheme. The former ideas of the DPM ex-chairman are also in great demand. For example, the Prima Casa mortgage lending programme, which PAS previously criticized for possible corruption, was recently even expanded, and the re-launch was announced by Maia Sandu herself. Like Plahotniuc’s DPM, she also needs to go to the polls and have something to attract voters. There is no need to talk about holding a referendum on the same day as voting for the president. It is a direct copy of the trick done before the 2019 parliamentary elections. For this purpose, PAS did not even hesitate to scorn the European recommendations in the field of electoral legislation, which prescribe not to change it less than a year before the elections. However, Western partners not only remained silent, but even got involved in the promotion of the referendum. Do you still believe that they care about democracy in Moldova? There are many more such examples of synchronization of the two regimes. But in 2019 it was a “captured state”, and now it is “good times” and “successful European integration”. Thus, unfortunately, in five years we have both failed to build a better Moldova on the fragments of the Plahotniuc system and revived it even in an uglier, unprincipled and less efficient form. Like it or not, the objective economic indicators of those years and now are a big difference, and back then Moldova did not fall into credit slavery with an increasing state debt, as it is now. By a twist of fate, Plahotniuc himself has not been punished for his crimes and now resides somewhere in Northern Cyprus, while his closest henchmen and former leaders of the Democratic Party are at large, holding profitable posts or engaging in political activities. And they even occasionally lend a hand to the ruling regime, as after the local elections. To some extent it is even logical - the “students” should at least somehow thank the “teachers” for such useful lessons in seizing the state and bleeding it white.