International Politics
Blitz action: President Maia Sandu replaces prime minister

Moldovan Prime Minister designate Dorin Recean

Moldovan Prime Minister designate Dorin Recean speaks after being appointed by President Maia Sandu, left, to form a new government in Chisinau, Moldova

© picture alliance / ASSOCIATED PRESS | Aurel Obreja

The action did not come as a complete surprise, especially since tensions between the two power women had been in the public eye since October. Speculation about camps with different interests in the ruling party PAS, founded by President Maia Sandu, was also reported by the radio station Free Europe. According to other media, Gavriliță is said to have opposed a restructuring of the government some time ago, when Maia Sandu invited the cabinet, at the time in the evening hour, to secret talks. Among other things, these discussions are said to have been about the controversial Energy Minister Andrei Spânu, whose questionable decisions, for example, on gas imports from Russia or the purchase of electricity from Transnistria, had caused irritation not only in the presidential office but also among international partners. If months ago Spânu was still considered a candidate for mayor of the capital Chișinău, this is no longer the case. Justice Minister Sergiu Litivnenco also came under fire after the content of a chat conversation was published in which he sought to exert influence without a legal basis. There is also speculation that the aforementioned ministers did not want to leave the cabinet, which led to the downfall of the entire government.

A difficult and yet successful mandate

Gavriliță herself, visibly moved, said at her farewell: "I leave the government with a clear conscience. Indeed, since taking over in August 2021, she had had to manage a difficult mandate, which had begun under Corona, followed by Russia's targeted energy war against the country.  This in turn led to a seven-fold increase in energy prices, resulting in annual inflation of 30 percent.

The country's security also remains under threat. Just recently, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov had even blatantly threatened the country with "the same fate as that of Ukraine." He named Maia Sandu as the culprit who wanted to lead Moldova into NATO. The following Thursday, President Zelenski reported to the European Parliament that Ukrainian intelligence had intercepted plans by Russia to destabilize Moldova and handed them over to Moldovans. Moldovan intelligence has since confirmed this information.

In addition, the government had to accommodate an enormous influx of refugees, which is why the country was on the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe, measured against the population of about less than 2 million. Of the 300,000 Ukrainian refugees, the country still hosts 100,000 people today, which is still 5-7 percent of the population.

In light of the fact that it was obviously Russia's goal to cut off Moldova's heating, electricity and financial resources during the winter, one can speak of a successful mandate by the government, because the country is stable, there is peace, and social benefits to the now even more impoverished population were provided on time. In addition, significant funds have been allocated from the national budget to compensate for the significant increase in energy costs among the disadvantaged.

A tactical move after all?

According to some analysts, restructuring the government is more of a tactical and political move by the ruling party. After all the crises, the government was seen as unpopular and unproductive in the eyes of the population, and Gavriliță himself has not been able to get out of the poll cellar lately. There has also been criticism of the slow pace of reforms in the judiciary, the flourishing corruption at the borders, and the stagnation of reforms necessary for EU accession-an area in which Ukraine, which is at war, has done much more. This is also confirmed by the draft of the EU's progress report draft, which recently reached the press.

With the person of Recean, who is perceived as energetic, more action should now take place. Maia Sandu also pointed to this in her speech after thanking Gavriliță for her efforts: "In order to move forward towards our fundamental goal of European integration and the consolidation of democracy, to strengthen the rule of law and to raise the standard of living in Moldova, we have decided that it is necessary to accelerate and intensify our efforts by appointing a new government. This is a difficult time for everyone, and our task is not just to resist. We need to develop in order to move forward. The country's economy and security need a new boost."

What happens next?

The EU accession process does not appear to be in jeopardy. On the contrary, should Recean implement what he has set out to do, an improvement in governance can be expected, especially in those areas where the previous administration failed. Indeed, he promises: "Order and discipline within the authorities. The institutions must serve the citizens and the economy. Yes, there is resistance, but we will overcome it. (...) A new life for the economy. That means making more resources available, especially for investment in businesses, in small and medium-sized enterprises, because that's the way to create jobs, to create higher wages and to create wealth for us all. (...) Peace and stability. We have to realize that we face the greatest risk of challenges since World War II. We must therefore strengthen the security sector so that everyone feels safe." As a fourth priority, he mentioned an acceleration of the reforms necessary for EU accession.

For this to happen, "the terrible figures of compromised ministers must disappear from the future government. Arrogance and lack of respect for democratic norms must disappear from communication with citizens," stated Igor Munteanu, the leader of the liberal party Coalition for Unity and Prosperity (CUB), who at the same time called for more unity in the pro-European political camp.

Parliament still has 10 days to approve the government program and the new cabinet. Problems are hardly to be expected, especially since the ruling party PAS holds 61 of the 101 seats in the unicameral parliament.

Raimar Wagner is project manager of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom in the region of Moldova and Rom