The Eastern Partnership is suffering a two-front assault. On the one hand, the Netherlands are going to the polls in a referendum that will approve or disapprove of the Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine. On the other hand, Moldova is heading towards elections that are likely to have a profound effect on the country’s foreign policy orientation.
In theory, Ion Paduraru could be the New Prime Minister of Moldova. His nomination for the post came on Thursday, January 14th by Moldova’s President, Nicolai Timofti.
The last pro-European Prime Minister, Vlad Filat, had his immunity revoked and was sent to prison on corruption charges in October. He was accused of personal involvement in the “loss” of $1 billion from the country’s bank reserves. The former Prime Minister was held in high esteem in the West, seen as a pro-US and pro-NATO politician.
However, Paduraru is anything but certain to succeed either to gain confirmation in Parliament or form a cabinet. Unless he does, by January 29th, Moldova will go to the polls.
Pro-European parties rejected the nomination of Ion Sturza in a parliamentary vote on January 4th. Like Paduraru, Sturza was nominated by President Timofti despite the fact he did not command a parliamentary majority. In this parliament, pro-European parties have a majority, but cannot agree on power-sharing.
Signs of a power-sharing agreement emerged on Monday, January 11th. A new pro-European parliamentary coalition emerged comprising of the Democratic Party (PD) of Marian Lupu and Vlad Plahotniuc, the Liberal Party (PL), as well as 14 MPs that defected from the Communist Party (PCRM), 8 MPs that defected from the Liberal Democratic Party (PLDM), and one independent. Theoretically, this would be a 56-strong majority in a 101-seat Parliament. The key to the formation of the pro-European alliance was the defection of 8 MPs from PLDM, that is, the imprisoned former Prime Minister, Vlad Filat.
The Democratic Party’s favorite for the position of a Prime Minister is not Paduraru. They have suggested Vlad Plahotniuc, who besides being the Vice President of the Democratic Party, he happens to be the richest man in Moldova, and implicated by the opposition in the very corruption scandal that led the previous Prime Minister, Vlad Filat, to prison. President Timofti refuses to bow to his nomination, and the Democratic Party accuses him of constitutional overreach and threatens impeachment.
Since the appointment of Paruraru on Thursday, seven Liberal Democrat party (PLDM) MPs withdrew their support from the pro-European coalition. The coalition no longer has a majority. Paruraru could have Sturza’s fate.
But, here is the rub: if elections do happen, many of the MPs in Moldova’s parliament are likely to lose their vote. The banking scandal that has cost Moldovan citizens 15% of the GDP has also changed electoral preferences. The political landscape of this parliament reflects a 14-months old reality. Since, Moldova is a different country. Polls suggest that a pro-Russia coalition could win the elections.
This has implications not only for Moldova, but also for Eastern Partnership policy. Moldova has signed an Association Agreement with the EU, a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement was the first to be granted Visa Liberalization in 2015.