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    Protesters carry Moldova's national flags during an anti-government rally, organised by the civic platform Dignity and Truth (DA), in central Chisinau, Moldova, September 6, 2015

    Moldova's Mega-Heist May Have Just Ended Country's Path to EU Integration

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    On Thursday, Moldova's pro-EU government was forced to resign after losing a no-confidence vote, following months of street protests over the theft of over $1 billion from the country's banks last year. Plunged further into political crisis, some analysts now suggest that this may mark the end of the country's march toward European integration.

    Thursday's parliamentary no-confidence vote to dismiss the current pro-EU coalition government was made possible through the consolidation of the Socialist, Communist and Democratic parties to form a 65 vote bloc in the country's 101 seat parliament. President Nicolae Timofti is now charged with consulting with the parliamentary fractions to propose a new candidate for the post.

    The no-confidence motion was introduced to parliament on October 22 by the Socialist and Communist parties, which are not part of the government, which consists of the Liberal Democratic Party, the Democratic Party and the Liberal Party. 

    Democratic Party leader Marian Lupu explained his party's decision to break from the ruling coalition, emphasizing that "Prime Minister Valeriu Strelet had not succeeded in earning the trust of his colleagues. In the last several weeks, he has been engaged not in the work of the government, but in the defense of Liberal Democratic Party leader Vlad Filat, who has been arrested on charges of corruption. We have attempted to draw the prime minister's attention to this fact, but he continued to work in the way he deemed best."

    Filat, the former prime minister and founder of the Liberal Democratic Party, was arrested in parliament on October 18, accused of accepting $260 million in bribes to facilitate a fraud which resulted in the theft of 13.5 billion Moldovan lei, or about one fifth of the country's GDP, from three of the country's major banks into offshore bank accounts late last year.

    Lupu went on to note that the work of the government as a whole "raises big questions. In the course of almost 100 days, the cabinet of ministers was not able to come up with a plan of action aimed at taking the country out this crisis. We saw the premier's taking trips, including trips abroad, participating in briefings and making declarations, but we did not see any concrete work for the good of the country. We could not allow things to continue this way."

    In his concluding remarks, Strelet called the Democratic Party's accusations "acrobatics in demagoguery…I am seriously concerned about the fate of the country. I see that some politicians are not interested in maintaining a minimum sense of stability. They want chaos, and therefore supported the government's resignation."

    On Thursday morning, the Socialist Party organized a rally outside the parliament building in Chisinau, demanding the government's resignation, using slogans including 'Down with the government!', 'Down with the bandits!', and 'Down with the oligarchs!'

    But the protest movement over the bank scandal goes back further, beginning in the spring of 2015 after the 'theft of the century' scandal first blew up. It has since culminated in the creation of two tent camps in the country's capital –the left center Socialist Party and the left-populist 'Our Party' on one side, and the center-right Yes! Platform on the other. 

    Both the Socialists and Our Party, which is led by Renato Usatii, the mayor of the northern city of Balti, are opposed to European integration, and call for closer ties with Russia.

    In any case, the main demands of both protest camps is to see the resignation of the prime minister, the president and other government officials, and to hold early parliamentary elections no later than the spring of next year (the last elections were held just a year ago, in November 2014). Protesters also want to see legislation change to see the president elected by popular vote, as well as the initiation of criminal investigations against corrupt government officials.

    This is already the second government forced to resign this year. The Strelet government was formed only three months ago, following the resignation of Liberal Democratic Party Prime Minister Chiril Gaburici in June, after the Prosecutor General's Office began a criminal investigation into the falsification of his school diplomas.

    Pro-European Coalition's Fragile Unity Destroyed

    In an interview for independent Russian news and analysis website Svobodnaya Pressa, political commentator and Moldovan politics expert Viktor Shapinov suggested that the crisis has effectively destroyed the country's fragile pro-European coalition, and may ultimately lead to a tectonic shift in the country's foreign policy away from Brussels and toward Moscow.

    The analyst noted that with President Timofti being an extremely unpopular figure throughout the country, having been "pushed through to become the head of state by openly bribing parliamentary deputies," whatever proposals for a new government he manages to come up with, "the life of such a government will be short-lived."

    Asked to comment on why the Democratic Party decided to vote in favor of dissolving the government, despite the fact that their own party has also been accused of corruption and ties to the country's oligarchs, Shapinov explained that the collapse of the government really signals that "the fragile unity of the pro-European coalition has been destroyed. The Liberal and nationalist parties (among them the Liberal Democratic Party, the Democratic Party and the Liberal Party) are waiting to be reformatted. Given their shockingly oligarchical and corrupt backgrounds, these parties will not survive in their current form. It is no wonder that the Yes! Platform has been formed, as a kind of reformation of the pro-European forces, which have already discredited themselves numerous times."

    Asked about the reasons for Filat's dramatic arrest, and whether the ruling political elite may be willing to make other concessions to the protesters, the analyst suggested that the country's political ruling class is now "crumbling," and that "in these circumstances, the politicians may be willing to sacrifice a lot. Even oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc, the government's 'grey cardinal', may not be able to keep the ship afloat, and could stand to lose everything."

    Two Very Different Paths

    Analyzing the street protests which have overwhelmed the capital over the past month, Shapinov emphasized that "these are two very different kinds of protest actions. Those who step out under the European Union and Romanian flag in the Yes! Platform want to continue the old course, but with new faces in power."

    "The Socialists and Usatii (and the more radical Red Bloc party, whose activist leaders are now sitting in jail [on charges of planning to disrupt last year's parliamentary elections]) favor a change of course. And if the right-wing opposition may have more money, along with access to the media, the left opposition has more support among the masses. It's worth recalling that the Socialists won first place in the 2014 elections, and that authorities simply disallowed Usatii's group from participating, under a false pretense."

    Renato Usatii
    © AP Photo / Roveliu Buga
    Renato Usatii
    Late last month, Usatii was arrested in Chisinau, and charged with tampering with Filat's phone. The politician immediately confessed that he did indeed publish the phone records, but argued that he thought it a necessary measure to get to the bottom of the country's corruption scandal. Held for two days, he has since been released, but the charges against him still stand.

    Asked why the government appears to have shifted course so quickly, Shapinov noted that "Usatii is very popular as things are. His long-term imprisonment would turn him into a real national leader. Therefore, even if the authorities may have wanted to keep him in prison, after weighing all the pros and cons, they decided that freeing him would be less dangerous. Perhaps this was the advice they got from their Western advisors. As for Grigori Petrenko [leader of the Red Bloc], he is the leader of a party which is only growing its popularity; getting rid of him by putting him in prison deprives the protesters of possibly their most determined and capable component." For the moment, the analyst notes, "Petrenko is more dangerous in the streets than in jail."

    Current System Works Only in Pro-Western Oligarchs' Interests

    Speaking to Svobodnaya Pressa, Socialist Party political executive member Ion Choban explained that the political system his party is fighting with today "is built squarely in the interests of the oligarchic class. Its essence is the constant fight among a few oligarchs for a piece of the pie. Through their joint efforts, they have stolen over a billion euros from the country's banking and financial system and, factoring in the Western grants and loans they have stolen in the past three years, the figure amounts to more than the total budget of the country today. However, each oligarch seeks to maximize his own power. Therefore, like spiders in a jar, they devour each other."

    As far as the country's pro-European coalition is concerned, Choban believes that "today we can say that the current alliance in favor of European integration has been laid to rest." He warned, however, that "this does not mean that the oligarchic parties, with the active assistance of the West, will not try to form a pro-Western coalition in some new form. Their goal will be to delay parliamentary elections as much as possible, because if the elections are held in the near future, they will be won by pro-Moldovan, patriotic forces which are friendly to Russia."

    Choban suggested that if pro-Western forces can be stopped, the Socialist Party and Usatii's Our Party have a very good chance of winning a majority, after which they will form a new, "pro-Moldovan coalition, which will substantially change the country's foreign policy vector." 

    As for the Yes! Platform's chances of replacing the discredited pro-European camp, Choban was confident that they do not stand much of a chance. While "they will be able to create their own political force, right now polling suggests that they could win no more than 7% of the vote. They would be able to overcome the electoral threshold necessary to enter parliament, but are not capable of anything more at present."

    Choban noted that the government's resignation could be considered a major victory for the anti-EU Left. "The Socialist Party insisted on the resignation of the government and on new elections since spring. The Socialists were the ones to put forward all the social demands and slogans which have since been used by the Yes! Platform." 

    With these facts in mind, Choban is confident that "the Socialists, together with other leftist forces will certainly surpass last year's success, and be able to form a new ruling coalition" after the country's next elections.

    Asked to comment on how he expects Brussels and Washington to react to the events, Choban noted that "the West considers Moldova as a platform in their confrontation with Russia. It is no coincidence that they approved the current pro-European parties, which took power in April of 2009 as a result of a coup. It is for this reason that the West has been defending the crooks in power over the last six years. It was only when the scale of the theft became a colossus, when the government began to plunder their loans and grants, that the West could no longer turn a blind eye to the situation. Nevertheless, they will be ready to do anything to keep pro-EU forces in power. However, in the case of a convincing victory by the Left, the West will have to come to terms with reality."

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