Moldova's pro-Moscow president suspended as election battle nears

Russia offering amnesty to Moldovan migrants who go home for key February vote

Russian president Vladimir Putin and Moldova’s president Igor Dodon in St Petersburg on December 6th, 2018. Photograph: Olga Maltseva

Russian president Vladimir Putin and Moldova’s president Igor Dodon in St Petersburg on December 6th, 2018. Photograph: Olga Maltseva

 

Moldova’s constitutional court has again suspended the country’s pro-Russian president, Igor Dodon, amid an intensifying power struggle ahead of parliamentary elections in February.

Mr Dodon was temporarily sidelined for a fifth time on the request of Moldova’s avowedly pro-western government, to allow speaker of parliament Andrian Candu to sign several Bills that were passed by parliament but blocked by the president.

The Bills included measures to formally change the name of a May 9th holiday from the Russian-style Victory Day to Europe Day; to allow land at a former stadium to be sold to the US embassy; and police and broadcasting reforms that Mr Dodon said were “anti-constitutional”.

“I won’t make any concessions on any of these questions and I’m sure the people of Moldova support me,” Mr Dodon said. “After the parliamentary elections on February 24th, 2019, all these laws will be revoked [and] new members of the constitutional court will be appointed.”

Widespread disillusionment

The ruling Democratic Party (DPM) says it aspires to EU membership, while Mr Dodon and the Socialists back stronger relations with Moscow, Moldova’s Soviet-era master.

There is widespread disillusionment with the entire political elite, however, in a country where graft and cronyism flourish, the average income is about €300 a month and many seek work abroad.

The DPM is led by shadowy oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc, Moldova’s richest man, and has faced growing EU criticism since the country’s politically controlled courts cancelled anti-corruption campaigner Andrei Nastase’s victory in June’s mayoral elections in the capital, Chisinau.

Fears for lagging reforms, democracy and the rule of law in Europe’s poorest country prompted the EU to suspend €100 million of aid to Moldova last month.

Polls suggest the Socialists will win February’s elections, potentially cementing Mr Dodon’s power and creating a pro-Russian alliance between the presidency and government that could take the country back into Moscow’s orbit.

Illegally in Russia

After attending a meeting of the Socialists (PSRM) on Tuesday, Mr Dodon said: “The president needs support from the parliamentary majority to successfully implement the agenda that most citizens of the country voted for. The only party that can guarantee such co-operation with the head of state is the PSRM. ”

Following talks between Mr Dodon and Russian president Vladimir Putin late last month, Moscow announced an amnesty for any Moldovans now living illegally in Russia who return to their homeland of 3.5 million people before the elections.

Up to 500,000 Moldovans are believed to be in Russia, about one-third of whom may not have the correct legal papers, and Mr Dodon expects the vast majority of them to support the Socialists’ call for closer ties with Moscow.

“This move indicates the openness of the Russian leadership as well as its great interest in helping our citizens and developing our two nations’ strategic partnership,” Mr Dodon said of the amnesty.

Moldova has been pulled between Russia and the West since gaining independence in 1991, and Moscow still keeps about 2,000 troops in Transdniestria, a Russian-speaking region that broke from Chisinau’s control in a 1992 war.