Over the weekend, the former Soviet republic of Moldova was plunged into political crisis. By Monday, the country had emerged with two rival governments that held two separate cabinet meetings, all of it stemming from a February parliamentary election in which no party won a majority.
With no solution in sight, the crisis threatens to destabilize one of Europe’s poorest countries, but it has also yielded a number of surprises. On Saturday, the pro-European Union parliamentary bloc ACUM, meaning “NOW,” and the Russian-backed Socialist Party put their geopolitical differences aside to form a coalition government. Their goal: to fight corruption and keep the Democratic Party of Moldova, which is run by the influential oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc, out of power.
Corruption is rife in Moldova, and last year the European Parliament expressed concern that the country’s state institutions had become captive to the interests of wealthy tycoons. Cristina Balan, the Moldovan ambassador to the United States, dismissed this as “groundless” and a “biased narrative.”
In another twist, the situation has prompted a show of unity between Russia and the West, a rarity in Eastern Europe. The Russian Foreign Ministry and Federica Mogherini, the EU’s foreign-policy representative, have recognized the coalition government. The U.S. State Department stopped short of backing the new government but called for restraint and dialogue.
The origins of the crisis stem from parliamentary elections in February that did not result in a clear majority for any one party. The Moldovan Constitution mandates that a government must be formed within three months of newly elected members of parliament taking office, which occurred this year on March 9.
On Friday, Moldova’s Constitutional Court ruled that the three-month window had lapsed and that Parliament should be dissolved and new elections held, but the leaders of the new coalition have accused the court of misinterpreting the constitution and overturning the vote after 90 days and not the mandated three months.
The secretary-general of the Council of Europe called the decision “difficult to understand” and asked the Venice Commission, the council’s legal advisory body, to review the decision.
The Moldovan ambassador to the United States told Foreign Policy in an email: “Constitutional Court of the Republic of Moldova do not come up with any new rules or interpretations. All of them refer to previous jurisprudence established many years ago.”
On Saturday, in an extraordinary sitting of the Parliament, the Socialist Party, lead by Igor Dodon, and the ACUM bloc, led by Maia Sandu, struck a deal to form an alliance. Dodon, a Russian ally, was appointed president under the deal, while Sandu, a former education minister and World Bank advisor, was sworn in as prime minister.
In a country that is deeply divided over the question of whether to look west to the EU or east to Moscow, the unlikely coalition has been interpreted by experts as a bid to put their geopolitics aside to tackle pressing domestic issues.
“Moldovan citizens with different views on domestic and foreign policy can unite for the sake of a common goal: liberation of the Republic of Moldova from the criminal, dictatorial regime,” said Dodon in a statement.
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