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Moldova's leaders step up east-west tug of war

Moldova's government and its president are locked in their own cold war but voters and neighbours seem more concerned about corruption.

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Moldova's leaders step up east-west tug of war

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Sandwiched between the superpowers of the European Union and Russia, Moldova’s political quagmire is fueled by the east/west divide. The country’s foreign policy represents the bone of contention between the president and the government.

Moldova’s pro-Russia president, Igor Dodon, has accused the pro-European governing coalition of unlawfully preventing him from addressing the General Assembly. Prime-minister Filip [main picture] led the country’s delegation to the UN invoking constitutional prerogatives. The president said that the move was intended to bolster the government’s popularity “marred by corruption allegations” and prevent him from pleading in favour of Russian troops stationed in Transnistria, Moldova’s breakaway region.

“The government did everything in its power to stop the President Dodon from going to the UN. Its purpose was to use the General Assembly’s rostrum to speak against Russia.”, added Mr. Dodon’s spokesperson

On the other hand, the pro-European faction within the Parliament has accused the president of violating the Constitution and asked for his impeachment.

“We will not accept as chief of state a President who promotes the interests of the Russian Federation”, said the leader of the Liberal Party.

This call has been echoed before by a former president of Moldova’s Constitutional Court who said that president Dodon has repeatedly acted against Moldova’s interests.

Dodon is the country’s first popularly elected president, after winning the second round of voting with 52% of the ballots cast. Up until the Constitutional Court decision of 2016, the president had been elected indirectly by the Parliament of Moldova. The president has largely a ceremonial role, something that Mr. Dodon wants to change.

His recent push to hold a referendum on expanding the president’s powers has been declared unconstitutional by the courts.

This tit-for-tat between a pro-Russia president and a pro-Western government, saw Dodon suffering another defeat when earlier this month, PM Pavel Filip overruled a presidential order and sent out Moldovan soldiers to attend NATO-led exercises in Ukraine. This acts to strengthen the governing coalition’s position and its de facto leader, Vlad Plahotniuc.

Plahotniuc epitomises Moldova’s east/west dilemma.

The president of the Democratic Party is also one of Moldova’s most successful businessmen.

He entered politics as a close supporter of ex-president Voronin and the pro-Russian Party of Communists. When the communists lost power, Plahotniuc moved to the right and planned to head the new government. His plans turned sour when his candidacy was rejected by the then President, Nicolae Timofti, in early, 2016. Timofti, in an official statement, noted that “Plahotniuc fails to meet the criteria of a candidate for the post of prime minister.” In the end, Plahotniuc nominated his protégé Pavel Filip as PM.

Following the Moldovan bank fraud scandal and the disappearance of $1 billion from Moldovan banks in 2014, the equivalent of 12% of the country’s GDP, large protests erupted, taking aim at the political class.

This has left the governing parties battered and the shockwaves are still being felt. A recent poll shows that both the liberals and Plahotniuc’s Democrats may not even earn a place in parliament during elections scheduled for next year. On the other hand, Dodon’s Socialist Party is predicted to make big gains. Dodon himself is polling as the most popular politician in the country.

Despite capturing the public’s attention, the power play between president Dodon and Plahotniuc’s governing coalition seemingly leave both Russia and the European Union unimpressed.

This week, a group of Members of European Parliament called for the 100 million euro assistance given to Moldova by the EU to be halted, invoking sluggish reforms and an insipid anti-corruption campaign. It comes after this summer Russia announced sanctions against members of the Moldovan government over a refusal to allow Russian Deputy Prime Minster Dmitry Rogozin to enter the country.

By Cristian Gherasim