WHAT’S HAPPENING? On August 2, authorities searched the offices of the Renastere (Rennaissance) party in relation to illegal financing and
On August 2, authorities searched the offices of the Renastere (Rennaissance) party in relation to illegal financing and money laundering, and representatives of the unregistered “Opportunity, Obligations, Achievements” ‒ abbreviated in Russian and Romanian as “ShOR” ‒ political bloc alleged that Moldovan police had confiscated its tents and promotional materials on July 23. The formation of the bloc was announced by fugitive oligarch Ilan Shor just a week after the Moldovan Constitutional court ruled his Shor party unconstitutional on June 19.
– Ilan Shor will continue to maintain political influence in Moldova through new proxy parties
– Along with disputes over the territory of Transnistria, electoral wins by Shor affiliates in the short and long term will slow progress toward EU accession and lay the groundwork to push pro-Russian foreign policy
– Long-term parliament gains for Shor at higher levels would likely result in the review of the current ruling Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS)’ constitutionality
RESURRECTION AND “RENAISSANCE”
The new bloc is made up of the obscure “Ours” and “Alternative and Salvation Force of Moldova” parties. “Ours” party leadership has promoted the Russian language’s official status in Moldova as well as pro-Russian narratives in relation to the war in Ukraine, and the “Alternative and Salvation Force of Moldova” registered in March of last year under the leadership of a 2021 Shor party parliamentary candidate. Per the June 19 court ruling, Shor party representatives in parliament are now officially unaffiliated with any party, and all but the seat vacated by Shor himself retain their mandates.
On July 26, the Socialist Party of the Republic of Moldova (PSRM) issued a press release accusing Shor of using corrupt methods to entice PSRM members to leave for the formerly-dormant Renastere party. Indeed, prior to the court’s ruling on the Shor party, several members of parliament also abandoned the Socialist party to join Renastere after meeting with Shor in Israel. Other former Socialist party members have also followed suit, at both the local and national levels. The recent search at the party’s offices was related to the arrest of a Renastere district councilor caught transferring $30,000 to the mayor of Osnita, who had allegedly been approached to switch parties in exchange for financial remuneration and local investment.
These recent developments come after the Moldovan government announced the discovery of a Russian plot to stage a coup in Moldova, as well as months-long paid protests led by the Shor party focused on demands for both? the resignation of President Maia Sandu and a referendum on the country’s foreign policy. In its November 2022 petition to the Constitutional Court to review the Shor party’s constitutionality, the government cited the party’s rule of law violations and claimed it endangered Moldova’s sovereignty and independence. On April 13, Shor was sentenced to 15 years in prison by an appeals court ruling, double the term he had been given in 2017 for fraud and money laundering related to his involvement in the infamous theft of one billion dollars from Moldovan banks. Shor fled the country in 2019.
SHOR’S PLAN FOR DOMESTIC RESURGENCE
In the near term, Shor will attempt to cement his current mayoral holdings in Taraclia and Orhei in the 2023 local elections and make a bid for the mayoral race in Balti, which the Shor party was disqualified from in 2021 due to illegal financing after performing well in the first round. To do so, it will likely field candidates from the ShOR bloc and Renastere. As in previous elections involving Shor party candidates, promises of high-dollar local investments and electoral violations will almost certainly play a role in his new parties’ strategies.
In the long term, Shor will also likely leverage Renastere in combination with the now unaffiliated former Shor party representatives as well as the ShOR bloc to consolidate power in Parliament vis-a-vis PRSM, whose parliamentary seat advantage has diminished with the recent defections to Renastere. As the party of former pro-Russian president Igor Dodon, PRSM targets many of the same demographics, and Shor’s multi-prong approach with a new bloc and rebranded party may help him expand his influence beyond those traditional voting blocs.
With Shor’s influence on Moldovan politics unlikely to wane — -‒ and perhaps even poised to expand ‒ post-ruling, some observers in Moldova are concerned that the recent decision may set a precedent for cracking down on opposition parties in the future, should there be a power shift in parliament.
Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS) currently has a large majority in the legislature. However, if the 2025 elections or a vote of no-confidence ousts the ruling party and Shor-affiliated factions manage to form a government, PAS will face the prospect of a petition to the court to review its constitutionality.
REGRESSION AT HOME AND ACCESSION ABROAD
Although Moldova was granted EU candidate status last year, the accession process remains contingent on issues such as adherence to rule of law and anti-corruption efforts.
Shor-affiliated victories at the local level could erode both. For example, Evghenia Gutul of the Shor party was inaugurated as the bashkan (executive head) of the Gagauzia autonomous region on July 19, despite an official criminal investigation into illegal financing and corruption of voters. Such electoral practices could slow Moldova’s EU bid amid President Sandu’s push to accelerate the process. In combination with the still unresolved issue of the unrecognized breakaway territory of Transnistria, expanded representation of Shor-affiliated officials in government could potentially cause the accession process to drag on for years and even decades.
With further gains in higher levels of government in the long term, Shor could undermine or even halt the government’s efforts at legislation in these areas. Recently sanctioned by the United States for working with Russia-based actors to foment unrest in Moldova and hamper its EU bid, Shor will continue to advocate for pro-Russian policy via elected officials affiliated with him. Indeed, while campaigning for bashkan of largely Russian-speaking Gagauzia, Guțul pledged to open a diplomatic mission in Moscow in an effort to build ties with Russia.
This would be a radical step as a sub-national autonomous unit, and is likely indicative of the rhetoric that candidates from Renastare and the ShOR bloc will use with constituents in the oligarch’s local strongholds in the upcoming elections. This includes continuing to push pro-Russian narratives on the war in Ukraine, particularly those that characterize the current Moldovan government as intending to drag the country into the fight, and attempt to further erode support for Moldovan military or other aid to its war-ravaged neighbor.
However, Shor’s push to hold a referendum on Moldova’s foreign policy direction is unlikely to leave the ground in the current context, with tens of thousands attending a recent public demonstration in favor of EU integration and a recent poll showing 54% of Moldovans were in favor of EU membership (with approximately one quarter in favor of closer ties with Russia).
Although his power to alter high-level foreign policy will likely be limited until the 2025 parliamentary elections, Shor can continue to foment support for a Moscow-oriented foreign policy to prepare the ground for future gains.
Any views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Internews.