The appointment of a new government, presidential elections, and continued fallout from the 2014 “billion-dollar theft” scandal in the banking industry dominated 2016 in Moldova. At the beginning of the year, the Democratic Party of Moldova (PDM), led by the unpopular oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc, was able to consolidate its control over governing institutions despite widespread protests. Although civil society objections and demonstrations led by the “Dignity and Truth” civic platform prevented Plahotniuc himself from becoming prime minister, PDM was able to secure the nomination of Pavel Filip, a former minister of information technologies and communications and reportedly a close Plahotniuc associate. The new government was installed in January during an undisclosed, late-night ceremony and only later confirmed by a press release from the president’s office. This left the premiership and speaker of parliament positions in the hands of PDM, an unusual concentration of power for a party that placed fourth in the last parliamentary elections in 2014.
On entering office, the Filip government not only had to stabilize the political situation and win back public trust but also gain the confidence of Moldova’s international partners, whose financial support is crucial for the country’s economic survival. Consequently, the government drafted a Priority Reform Action Roadmap with key measures to adopt from March to July 2016. The government’s commitment to swiftly undertake a series of complex reforms that had been postponed for several years was intended to demonstrate its decisiveness, but it achieved only partial implementation. At the end of the five-month period, a monitoring report by local think tanks found that only slightly more than half (55 percent) of the pledged reforms were achieved without deficiencies, 28 percent were achieved with deficiencies, and about 17 percent were not achieved. The most significant overdue actions were the reform of the National Anticorruption Center (NAC) and adoption of a new Broadcasting Code. The investigation into the 2014 billion-dollar bank fraud and reform of the National Bank of Moldova (NBM) also continued to drag, and the government failed to sign a new electricity supply contract with more favorable terms.
In 2016, mass media remained under political control, clearly visible during the presidential campaign when media institutions were preoccupied with polishing candidates’ images rather than informing the public. The law on media ownership transparency enacted in November 2015 requires owners to disclose their identities, but complementary provisions on transparency of media funding still have yet to be adopted. The advertising market remained monopolized in 2016.
Civil society was active throughout the year pressing social and political issues, such as the billion-dollar fraud; the closed trials of former prime minister Vlad Filat, controversial businessman Veaceslav Platon, and Orhei mayor Ilan Shor; and the appointment of compromised individuals to key positions in law enforcement bodies. Civil society input was seldom taken into account, however, and the parliament and government continued to drag their feet on laws and mechanisms that would improve cooperation with the civil sector. The protest movement initiated in 2014 by “Dignity and Truth” continued its demonstrations in central Chişinău until March 2016, when a ruling of the Constitutional Court restored the former mechanism of direct presidential elections instead of indirect parliamentary vote, meeting one of the civic platform’s key demands. The parliament set 30 October as the date for the presidential elections, and protest leaders refocused their agenda on engaging in the presidential campaign.
Judicial reform also proceeded slowly in 2016. The appointment procedure for judges and key officials continued to be a source of concern, especially in terms of candidates’ integrity. At the same time, intimidation of judges who do not conform to political orders also posed a problem. The most prominent example was judge Domnica Manole who faced criminal proceedings after ruling in April that the Central Electoral Commission’s refusal to organize a constitutional referendum as petitioned by “Dignity and Truth” had been illegal. Several law packages and initiatives were adopted, including a law on the prosecution and reforms of the NAC and National Integrity Commission (NIC), but most of these will either enter into force in 2017 or their implementation and enforcement are being stalled to preserve political influence over the institutions concerned.
In 2016, Moldova’s banks remained fragile in the aftermath of the billion-dollar fraud scandal. At year’s end, three banks (Moldova Agroindbank, Moldindconbank, and Victoriabank) were still under the monitoring of the NBM. Sergiu Cioclea was appointed the new governor of the National Bank of Moldova (NBM) in April, pledging to do his best to achieve stability in the banking sector and try to recover the stolen billion, “even if it is very difficult to do.”1
For the first time since 2000, the president of Moldova was elected directly in a two-round process in the fall. In the second round in November, the pro-Russian candidate Igor Dodon of the Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova (PSRM) defeated the pro-European Maia Sandu, the candidate of Action and Solidarity Party, also supported by “Dignity and Truth” and the Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova (PLDM). Dodon earned 52.11 percent of the votes against Sandu’s 47.89 percent. His victory was attributed mainly to his promises to improve economic relations with Russia as well as anti-Europe rhetoric. However, it remained unclear whether he would succeed in improving economic relations with Russia given the relatively limited powers of the president. At the same time, his rhetoric could contribute to the worsening of relations with the European Union (EU).
Outlook for 2017: The year 2017 will be decisive for the Republic of Moldova. After the presidential elections, the government now must implement the most important reforms related to justice, fighting corruption, adoption of the legal framework for the media sector, and stabilizing the banking industry and economy in the face of persistent unemployment and declining remittances. Vladimir Plahotniuc’s Democratic Party of Moldova (PDM) is in control of the policy agenda, and early parliamentary elections could lead to a reconfiguration of the political scene as several parliamentary parties at year’s end polled below the threshold.
The government, and especially PDM, will likely lobby for modifying the Electoral Code by adopting a uninominal or mixed electoral system in order to gain an advantage during the next parliamentary elections. The presidency has no new powers, but his direct election may allow President Dodon to project his agenda onto the public and state institutions. Relations with the EU will stagnate, at best, and could see a downturn if Dodon pursues his anti-European agenda. The president promised to work at improving relations with Russia by negotiating better market access for Moldovan goods and Moldovan workers in Russia.