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Plahotniuc vs Dodon: will there be a change in the political status quo in Moldova?

Today in Moldova, under the slogan of the struggle against pro-Russian President Dodon and his Socialist Party, there is an attempt by local fugitive oligarchs Vlad Plahotniuc and Ilan Shore to change the political status quo in the country. The main "tool" in their hands is Plahotniuc's godfather, Pro Moldova party leader Andrian Kandu.

The current political situation in neighboring Moldova suggests that almost a year after fleeing the country, former "chief oligarch" Vlad Plahotniuc and his "colleague" Ilan Shore are actively trying to regain some of their influence. In addition to the desire to play leading roles in the state again, they are driven by a personal motive: the desire to take revenge on President Igor Dodon for not agreeing to a coalition with them and removing them from power. Their activity at this time is explained by favorable domestic political conditions, in particular by the fact that in recent months and especially in recent weeks, Moldova's domestic political fragmentation has significantly deepened and confrontations between political forces and within them have intensified. Therefore, it should not be ruled out that such a situation could lead to the collapse of the ruling coalition and early parliamentary elections. Given that presidential elections are scheduled for November in Moldova, today's steps of the Plahotniuc-Shore tandem are likely to be aimed at reforming both the presidential institution and the parliament.

Another favorable moment for Plahotniuc and Shore to implement their plan is that despite their physical absence in the country, Vlad Plahotniuc's Democratic Party (DPM), as well as Ilan Shore's Shore party, were able to maintain their positions in the Moldovan parliament.

At the initial stage of the implementation of his plan, Vlad Plahotniuk needed to regain control of the DPM, which, in his absence, became part of the pro-government coalition ruling the Socialists (for which he received a number of ministerial portfolios). Despite Plahotniuc's attempts to prevent this, the agreement with the Socialists took place with the consent of the DPM executive chairman Pavel Filip, Plahotniuc's longtime ally and Prime Minister of Moldova in 2016-2019. As a result, for the first, the issue of regaining control of the entire party has become much more complicated.

In such circumstances, the former DPM leader decided to maintain his influence at least in part. To do this, he used his godson, Pro Moldova party leader Andrian Candu, who is actively cooperating with the Shore party in parliament. Kandu initiated a split in the DPM and the transfer of deputies loyal to him under the wing of Pro Moldova. At the same time, the transfer of deputies from the DPM to Pro Moldova was deliberately carried out in stages over several weeks in order to achieve maximum political effect. In parallel, Pro Moldova is trying to take control of many local DPM branches and associated mayors. The financial support of this process is provided by Ilan Shore, and he himself is quite successful: the deputies from the ruling coalition are lured both by money and various promises of access to financial flows in the future.

In early May, Andrian Kandu announced the formation of a parliamentary "anti-government bloc." It includes the Pro Moldova and Shore parties, positions itself as pro-Western and promises to restore the country's European course. At the same time, Andian Kandu himself calls on parliamentary groups, as well as individual deputies, to create a broad anti-socialist bloc of pro-Western forces and overthrow the Socialist-backed government of Ion Kiku. As of today, the bloc already includes 21 deputies, which in turn means a reduction in the pro-government majority from 64 to 52 deputies (37 from the Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova (PSRM) and 15 from the DPM) in the 101-seat parliament.

However, in order for such a broad anti-socialist bloc of pro-Western forces to materialize and Andrian Candu's plan to dismiss the government to materialize, the Pro Moldova-Shore bloc desperately needs a tactical alliance with the pro-Western parliamentary opposition, namely the ACUM bloc. Solidarity ”by Maya Sandu and Andriy Nestase’s Platform of Dignity and Truth political party, which has 26 seats in parliament. The Pro-Moldova leader's interest in such an alliance with ACUM is due to the following reasons: first, for Kandu, who is associated with Plahotniuc and Shore, this alliance is an opportunity to soften its negative image in both Moldova and the West. Second, Kandu sees the alliance as a necessary step to participate in a future pro-government coalition with ACUM. Having at least 21 deputies (it is possible that over time this number may increase) will allow him to negotiate to obtain ministerial or other positions. Third, the restoration of Kandu to at least part of the former government will guarantee him immunity from prosecution. And for his godfather Plahotniuc, the presence of Kandu in power will be perhaps the best result in today's conditions.

At one time, the ACUM bloc was the main opponent of the Plahotniuc-Shore tandem, and in order to remove it from power, it even entered into a painful alliance with the Socialists. The second main opponent of the pro-European ACUM remains the same socialists led by President Dodon. Now, in order to remove them from power, Maya Sandu and Andriy Nestase are being offered to relinquish certain principles and unite with a political force associated with their former main adversary, the oligarch Plahotniuc. For ACUM leaders, such a decision carries considerable risks, as it could cost them the loss of their electorate.

The possibility of a situational alliance between Pro Moldova and ACUM in order to remove the Socialists from power is currently being actively discussed in Moldovan politics. As for the leaders of the pro-European opposition themselves, for example, Maya Sandu does not rule out the possibility of such a development. "We understood that Dodon would be the next serious problem for the country. But we could not fight both Plahotniuc and Dodon at the same time. Now we are fighting the latter, because he is trying to do the same as Plahotniuc… We know that we must free the country from Dodon, who is completely under the control of the Kremlin, ”she said. And here is another quote from her: "Andrian Kandu has the same sins as before, but it is never too late to do something good for the country." At the same time, if Maya Sandu at least speaks in support of Pro Moldova, then another ACUM leader, Andriy Nestase, remains silent. Although, he continues to actively criticize both President Dodon and his PSRM. Therefore, it is not yet possible to draw unambiguous conclusions about the possibility of ACUM's support for Pro Moldova.

Also, it is possible that in the run-up to the election, in parallel with the above steps, the forces controlled by the Plahotniuc-Shore tandem will actively use compromising material against Igor Dodon and conduct an active information campaign around him. The first attempts, such as the appearance of a video of a conversation between Igor Dodon and Vlad Plakhotniuk, made public by MP Yuri Renitse, are already being made. This could be a serious challenge for the Moldovan president on the eve of the election and lead to a crisis in the PSRM itself and a weakening of its impact on the situation in the country.

So far, developments for the Plahotniuc-Shore tandem are generally positive, but their future success will largely depend on ACUM, with all the political risks of such a decision, going to Pro Moldova and supporting the government's vote of no confidence. For their part, President Dodon and his PSRM, backed not by anyone but by the Kremlin itself, are unlikely to sit back and watch their power being taken away. As a result, the political autumn in Moldova promises to be quite hot.

Igor Fedyk, CIDAR