In June, Moldova had a genuine reform government for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union almost 30 years ago. It was sorely needed because the country is one of the poorest in Europe and an extremely fragile state, undermined by corruption, organized crime and mass emigration. Now, the experiment has failed after only five months: On Tuesday, the government of the reform-minded Prime Minister Maia Sandu fell over a forced by her vote of confidence.
The Socialist Party, one of the two partners in the ruling coalition, deprived Sandu of support. Not only is Moldova slipping into a new political crisis, it is also threatening a relapse into the period when the small country between Romania and Ukraine was a "hostage state".
Nominally, the vote of confidence was an important part of the judicial reform: a new law on prosecution and the appointment of a new Attorney General. There was manipulation in the selection of candidates, a promising independent candidate did not reach the final round. As a result, the government annulled the case last week, rescheduled the rules and put a vote of confidence in it.
In an emotional speech, Sandu on Tuesday appealed to the coalition partners to support their judicial reform. Without a truly independent judiciary in the country, no other reform will take effect, according to Sandu. But her appeal died away. Sandu then said, "The thieves in parliament were afraid of our reforms."
There was a dispute about this in the coalition from the beginning. It came about in June during a dramatic power struggle with the oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc. He had ruled the country for years using methods of organized crime, a year ago in a resolution calling for a "hijacked state". Under pressure from Russia, the US and the European Union, Plahotniuc and several of his accomplices fled the country in June. They are searched with international arrest warrants.
Fragile alliance of protesters and political establishment
The alliance for "de-oligarchization" was fragile: in the coalition, the ACUM anti-corruption bloc, which includes the Sandus PAS party, joined PSRM socialists, who are close to President Igor Dodon. Internationally, the coalition's geopolitical opposition has been repeatedly highlighted - the pro-Western ACUM alliance against pro-Russian socialists. However, it is mainly about socio-cultural differences: ACUM mainly represents the younger and Romanian-speaking electorate, who are in favor of a close connection of the country to the EU. The socialists, on the other hand, tend to have their followers among the elders and the Russian-speaking minorities, who together make up about 25 percent of the population.
There were conflicts in the coalition not so much because of these contradictions, but because of the scope of political reforms. The party bloc ACUM, originating from a civil protest movement, advocates radical rule of law and administrative reforms. The socialists, on the other hand, belong to the political establishment in the country and have much to lose in a consistent depoliticization of the state apparatus and strict anti-corruption measures. It is therefore no coincidence that the coalition broke up in the staff of the Attorney General. However, the truth is that ACUM often gave a chaotic, unprofessional image in the government. In addition, the party bloc was split internally because of cooperation with the socialists. The discussion about it heated up recently, because ACUM had done badly in the local election ten days ago.
Domestically, the country now has to prepare itself for a longer political provisional. President Dodon wants to avoid early elections until next year's presidential election. ACUM has ruled out a new coalition with the socialists, who in turn do not want to co-opt with the "Democratic Party" of ex-oligarch Plahotniuc. The most likely scenario is that the head of state appoints an interim prime minister whose minority cabinet is supported by the Democrats. The price would be an end to most reforms.
Cautious hope in the Transnistria conflict
This is not only tragic for the country, but also dangerous for foreign policy, especially for the European Union. In recent years Moldova, as a hub of money laundering and organized crime, has become more and more of a security and stability problem at the EU's external border.
Part of the security issue is also the frozen Transnistria conflict: in the narrow strip of land in eastern Moldova, which split off in 1991, about 1500 Russian soldiers are stationed, also maintains Russia there, near the village Cobasna on the Ukrainian border, one of the largest Weapon depots of Europe with about 20,000 tons of equipment and ammunition, much of it apparently only limited transportable.
Recently, there has been cautious hope that Russia could begin the many years of promised destruction of these weapons, also because cooperation with the US and the EU had worked so well to overthrow the oligarch Plahotniuc. The liquidation of the depot would be the beginning of the long-term end of the struggle for Transnistria. However, if Russia, Europe and the USA in their Moldovan policy again come closer to geopolitical confrontation because of the break with the "pro-Russian-pro-Western" reform coalition, progress in resolving this territorial conflict will also be a long way off.
After the short reform summer, difficult, unpredictable times are once again on the external border of the European Union.