Moldova’s new government calls mass rally to oust rival cabinet

Russia backs new government as Romania seeks ‘concrete’ EU steps to end crisis

President of Moldova Igor Dodon, second from left, during a briefing in the parliament building in Chisinau, Moldova. Photograph: Dumitru Doru/EPA

President of Moldova Igor Dodon, second from left, during a briefing in the parliament building in Chisinau, Moldova. Photograph: Dumitru Doru/EPA

 

Moldova’s president and new government have called for a mass rally this weekend to force out a rival oligarch-backed cabinet, as political turmoil grips a graft-plagued country where Russia and the West compete for influence.

The pro-EU Acum alliance and Kremlin-friendly Socialists unexpectedly formed a coalition government last Saturday, but the outgoing cabinet led by the Democratic Party of tycoon Vladimir Plahotniuc is refusing to step down and go into opposition.

Moldova’s constitutional court, over which Mr Plahotniuc allegedly has great influence, ruled that the new government was formed illegally after a 90-day post-election deadline had passed, and it also briefly suspended Moldovan president Igor Dodon to allow the Democrats to dissolve parliament and call snap elections for September.

“Today we can say that we have defeated Plahotniuc,” new prime minister Maia Sandu said on Thursday.

“Today we have a legitimate parliament and government, thanks to your votes from [the election of] February 24th,” added the Acum leader and former education minister, who studied at Harvard and worked at the World Bank.

Calling on Moldovans to join a “people’s march” in the capital, Chisinau, on Sunday, Ms Sandu said the country wedged between Ukraine and Romania would “show the whole world that dictators are not eternal and that our country is free”.

Sunday rally

Ms Sandu and her Acum allies seek integration with the West while Mr Dodon and the Socialists favour close ties with Russia, but they agreed to join forces to end the rule of the scandal-plagued Democrats and their chairman, Mr Plahotniuc.

“More and more people support the new authorities,” Mr Dodon said in urging people to join Sunday’s rally.

“I ask you to come out and support the legal government. Don’t be scared. If there are many of us, then the peaceful transfer of power will be simpler and quicker. If we dawdle, then there could well be destabilisation.”

The old government still appears to command the loyalty of many officials and the police top brass, however, and on Wednesday national police chief Alexandru Panzari sacked six officers who publicly backed the new cabinet.

Ms Sandu urged the security services to ensure the march passed off peacefully, but Vladimir Chebotar, deputy chairman of the Democrats, said it was “stupid” to hold the rally and showed that his party’s opponents wanted to “provoke people to conflict and violence”.

Russian influence

President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that Russia would “undoubtedly support President Dodon and his current partners in the coalition”.

Russia has opposed Moldova’s efforts to escape its sphere of influence and refuses to withdraw its troops from Transdniestria, a region of the country run by pro-Moscow separatists.

The European Union and United States have called for calm in Moldova and expressed measured support for the new government, but Romanian president Klaus Iohannis warned top officials in Brussels that his country’s small neighbour faced “a very serious constitutional and political crisis”.

“I make an urgent appeal to you to identify ... concrete means to end the current situation the Republic of Moldova, through a negotiated solution, based on the values and principles of the European Union,” he said.