Could Dodon become the new Plahotniuc? Part Two
This is a translated and slightly adapted version of an article originally published in Romanian on December 24.
Socialist MP Bogdan Țîrdea ventured to explain why Dodon would never be Plahotniuc. We accepted the challenge and examined the 17 arguments, plus a bonus (phew!) put forward by the honorable analyst, who literally tried to demonstrate that person X is not, and will never be person Y. We’ve discovered in the process that some arguments are irrelevant, other are rather bizarre, some are farfetched, and other negate the principal thesis – that Dodon is different from Plahotniuc, accusing rather than excusing the President.
In the first part of this piece, we looked at the first 9 points. Now let’s sort out the rest:
“10) Dodon doesn’t have any organized crime connections. Plahotniuc was monitored by the Interpol for [possible] connections with the Solntsevskaya Brotherhood and he stands accused in 3 criminal cases opened in Russia. There are dozens of accusations of wrongdoing hovering over him, some of them very serious!”
Agreed. Plahotniuc’s criminal connections, or at least his criminal reputation doesn’t compare to that of the President. But while Plahotniuc is accused of having direct ties to the Russian mafia, Dodon is connected through his entourage with Russian officials accused of grand corruption (see point 9 in the first part).
Speaking of serious accusations that “hover,” the skies above the President and Țîrdea’s party are not quite clear either. A 2016 investigation by RISE Moldova showed how at least 30 million lei coming from a Bahamas-registered offshore company landed in the accounts of a company affiliated with the presidential entourage and further into the Dodon presidential campaign. The prosecutorial investigation into the Socialist Party’s financing and money laundering seems to involve leading PSRM members as well as administrators of the first lady’s charity. These accusations are at the center of public attention and they “hover.”
Among the charges faced by Plahotniuc, there are accusations of money laundering, too. One politician is accused of laundering money stolen from his own people, and the other for accepting campaign money from a foreign power. It’s difficult to compare, but neither sounds good.
“11) I. Dodon is a defender of schools, hospitals, state companies, Orthodoxy and our history! He negotiated an amnesty for Moldovan migrant workers. Whereas Plahotniuc sold all the country’s banks, the Airport, the Savings Bank, the biggest state-owned companies (AIR Moldova, Tutun CTC). 40% of our country’s territory has been leased up! Plahotniuc is a typical comprador, he betrayed our national interests!”
Plahotniuc’s Democrats also fought against the “disastrous” optimization of schools planned by Maia Sandu, to be correct. Otherwise, both schools and hospitals around the country are in a deplorable state, despite all their defenders. Religion and government affairs should not intersect, while history should be left to historians, not politicians, if we don’t want propaganda. As for the Moldovan migrant workers in Russia, Dodon did secure a general pardon for immigration violations, but he didn’t do it without interest. To benefit from the amnesty, those workers needed to return to Moldova just around the time of the February 2019 parliamentary elections.
*** “12) I. Dodon is supported by Putin, Lukashenko, Erdoğan. Accidentally? Obviously not! Dodon met with D.Trump, E. Macron, the Roman Pontiff, etc. This is a recognition of his presidential status, however much Sandu and Năstase would lament about it. Plahotniuc is a persona non grata in Russia, just like Shor and Usatyi, and is being repudiated around the world!”***
Putin, Lukashenko and Erdoğan may not be the best acquaintances to boast about. All three of them have been rebuked by the western partners for their authoritarian ways, including repressing opposition and civil society. Plahotniuc was accused of the same things, by the way.
Besides, it’s part of a President’s job to attend international events and meet with other heads of state and other officials. This does mean recognition – of the presidential status – not necessarily of some personal merits. Plahotniuc didn’t have this job, so he cannot boast any photos with the Pope. But, like Dodon, he does have some with Erdoğan.
“13) I. Dodon is promoting a balanced foreign policy. Plahotniuc played some antinational geopolitical games – he expelled Russian diplomats, banned Russian newscasts, assaulted and insulted the EU!”
Dodon’s “balanced foreign policy” has been quite oscillating actually, especially with respect to the European Union. Back in 2016, we wrote that his attitude towards the Association Agreement with the EU has morphed from positive, to outright hostile (“by siging the Association Agreement, Moldova has committed suicide”), to hesitantly moderate (let’s have a referendum on this), to negative again at the beginning of his term. Now, Dodon professes an “everybody’s friend” policy. Rather than being “balanced”, Dodon’s foreign policy vector is more like a weathercock that mostly responds to northeast winds.
It should be recalled at the same time that, when Moldova was criticized for pushing ahead with undemocratic reforms, for example, the mixed voting system, both the President and Plahotniuc’s Democrats were using the same argument, that Moldova is sovereign and won’t take instructions from outside.
“14) I. Dodon obtained lower gas tariffs and dismantled the Energokapital scheme with Moscow’s help. Plahotniuc only profited from gas and electricity supply schemes.”
According to energy expert Sergiu Tofilat, the Russian gas was supposed to get cheaper anyway, with or without Dodon’s intervention. It’s because in calculating tariffs for Moldova, a formula is used that depends on European prices, which dropped significantly in the reference period. The fact that Dodon “obtained” this expected reduction in price by flying to Moscow is only a publicity trick.
However, there is another problem. With the opening of the TurkStream pipeline in 2020, which is a rival route, the amounts of Russian gas transiting Moldova are expected to drop significantly. In fact, they already did. This means that Moldovagaz will lose income from transit. Naturally, sooner or later this will have to be reflected in gas bills to compensate Moldovagaz for this loss. But the increase is unlikely to happen in the presidential election year, as Moldovagaz will be left to accrue further debt only for Dodon to be reelected.
As for the Energokapital scheme. This dummy corporation, which siphoned off millions of dollars each month from electricity supplies from Transnistria, was presumably controlled by Plahotniuc and the region’s former de facto leader, Yevgeny Shevchuk. When Moscow decided to replace Shevchuk, the scheme fell apart. How is this Dodon’s merit then? Moreover, in 2017, for the first time in Moldova’s history, a transparent procurement procedure was conducted for buying electricity which involved observers from the EU and rules developed in Vienna. Dodon hardly had any merit in that as well.
“15) I. Dodon goes to the Central Market, he goes everywhere, he discusses openly with people. Whereas Plahotniuc, even with his bodyguards around, is afraid of the people!”
On the openness assertion, the guys over at Ziarul de Gardă might have something to object. The President’s Office notoriously blacklisted the investigative paper at an end-of-the-year reception for media representatives. This has echoed the attitude of Plahotniuc & Co. towards the TV8 channel and other critical outlets.
Dodon did brag he didn’t need any bodyguards. But that was before he became president. For starters, security isn’t something a president can simply opt out of, because, after all, the safety of a top government official is a matter of national security. So, naturally, Dodon is now always surrounded by bodyguards, just like Plahotniuc was, and just like the fugitive oligarch, Dodon has said he feared for his life.
Moreover, the presidential motorcade is notorious for bullying motorists while driving at high speeds on the way to the Condrița suburban residence. Sometimes this behavior results in accidents. While Dodon naturally cannot give up his guards, he certainly could tell them to stop putting people’s lives in peril.
“16) I. Dodon didn’t leave our country during difficult times, he rescued Moldova out of the claws of oligarchs!”
Dodon was also instrumental in helping those “oligarchs” from the former Alliance for European Integration put their “claws” on Moldova. He and other MPs who defected from the Communist Party provided the so-called “golden votes” to elect a president and keep the Alliance in power. As President, Dodon was almost invisible or, on the contrary, instrumental when the same “claws” annulled elections, changed the voting system or syphoned public wealth.
“17) Dodon led the Immortal Regiment march and he fully supports [the movement]. Plahotniuc never visited the Eternity Memorial and transformed the Victory Day on May 9 into Europe Day.”
Rather, it’s relevant that both Plahotniuc and Dodon never missed an opportunity to use festive or commemorative events for publicity purposes (be it the Victory Day, the Patron Saint’s Day in Plahotniuc’s native Nisporeni, or the Strawberry Festival in Dodon’s native Sadova). If we agree that it’s cynical to exploit veterans for the sake of favorable publicity, then both Plahotniuc and Dodon are guilty of this.
“But the most important difference,” according to Țîrdea, is that
“a) Dodon is the only politician in this country who on the first attempt removed Plahotniuc from [the deputy speaker’s] office in 2013, and on the second attempt removed him from power in 2019!
b) Dodon is the only politician who was able to remove all the oligarchic governments installed by Plahotniuc: Filat, Leancă, Gaburici, Streleț, Filip!”
Dodon is also the only President who was five times suspended by Plahotniuc’s Democrats with the help of a docile Constitutional Court. Even if he had declared that “tens of thousands of supporters are just waiting for the President’s sign to topple this government,” he never acted on that threat, choosing to swallow all his suspensions instead of confronting Plahotniuc.
While Țîrdea singles out two episodes of contention between the two, he seems to forget the long period of collaboration or selective resistance on the President’s part. Dodon promoted and approved the electoral reform, which was so crucial for Plahotniuc to remain in power. He supported and approved the tax and capital amnesty package and the citizenship-by-investment scheme, both seen by critics as ways of laundering illegal money. He approved a measure that enabled the likes of Shor to sell fuels in the border area under duty-free arrangements, with the excuse that he hadn’t read the bill. He also approved controversial pet projects initiated by the Democrats, like the Chișinău Arena.
Instead of conclusion
It’s an obvious thing that there are many differences between Dodon and Plahotniuc. But if we focus on the differences, we miss what’s more important – the things that the two politicians have in common. One such glaring similarity is the desire to seize all the power in the state, which is a recipe for abuse. Even if occasionally Mr. Țîrdea does spot the differences correctly, none of his arguments is able to demonstrate why Dodon could never be Plahotniuc. Because, as we saw, there’s plenty of potential.
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An important step towards transparent procurement of electricity in Moldova , energy-community.org ↩︎