“Captured state” and “useful oligarchs” in proximity of EU: Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine

Politicization of institutions and corruption are considered the ‘origin‘ of most of the problems that destabilize Moldova. At the beginning of 2016, the EU trenchantly condemned the practice of politicizing institutions in Moldova, alongside many other deficiencies of the government (Conclusions of the EU Council of February 2016). Commissioner Johannes Hahn, during his visit to Chisinau in September 2016 suggested that the politicization of institutions must be removed (IPN, October 3, 2016). The same message comes regularly from the Head of the EU Delegation to Moldova Pirkka Tapiola. The politicization of justice sector institutions, investigating and corruption fighting bodies and of the local public authorities are also indicated as major challenges in the Joint Analysis on the situation in Moldova of the EU and other development partners that was made public recently (October 13, 2016).

Things change very slowly yet. The government coordinated by the Democratic Party (PDM) and Vladimir Plahotniuc show that they are not ready to initiate the freeing of institutions from their political influence (for example, the Prosecutor General’s Office and the National Anticorruption Center). This shows that the eradication of the phenomenon of “captured state” remains a difficult mission. However, on the one hand, the anti-oligarchic political forces need yet time to become stronger. On the other hand, the ruling party, associated with the oligarchic interests, is making considerable effort to remain in power and to promote the “oligarchized model of government both in the country and outside it. As a result, the Democratic Party during about a year managed to increase its popular approval rating from 5% in 2015 (International Republican Institute, November 2015) to 10% before the presidential elections of this October (IRI, October 2016).

“Captured state” is a regional phenomenon visible not only in Moldova

At the end of 2015 and the start of 2016, after the formation of the Government of Pavel Filip, the PDM directly monopolized the power and the symptoms of “captured state” in Moldova became more intense afterward. But this phenomenon is not at all new for Moldova or for the region.

Earlier, the manifestations of “captured state” were visible in Moldova, but were more discrete and unknown to the public (government of the Party of Communists of Moldova (PCRM) — 2001-April 2009), or were determined by a number of oligarchic groups (duo PLDM-PDM in July 2009-Octombrie 2015), which divided between them the spheres of influence.

At regional level, among the countries that signed the Association Agreement and the DCFTA, we have the situation of Georgia, where oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili is considered the actual ruler of the country. But the involvement of Ivanishvili in the decision-making process is more subtle and practically invisible. Thus, the Georgian public opinion is aware of the existence of Ivanishvili, but the criticism is directed mainly at his ‘political interface’ and seldom at the oligarch. Despite the dissatisfaction with the deficiencies in governance, the Georgian Dream Party, which is associated with Ivanishvili, managed to score a major victory (about 48% of the vote) in the parliamentary elections of the start of October 2016 (Euroactiv, October 10, 2016). This shows that the government, even if it is related to Ivanishvili, manages to ensure sufficient legitimacy for the population to accept it even if it is suspected of not taking decisions independently from the oligarchic circles.

The oligarchs in Ukraine have an evidently open position, including President Petro Poroshenko himself. The existence of Ukrainian oligarchs and their participation in the decision-making process, ensured through particular political forces, even if it’s challenged by the public opinion, formed part of the Ukrainian political landscape before and after the Revolution of Dignity of 2014–2015. The clashes between oligarchs represent a usual practice in Ukraine, while the dismissal of the Government of Arseniy Yatsenyuk, caused by the rivalry between Poroshenko and Ihor Kolomoiski, is an additional proof. As a result, Speaker of Parliament Vladimir Groisman, who represents the political force of Poroshenko (Reuters, April 10, 2016), replaced Yatsenyuk. This way, oligarch Poroshenko, holding office of President, can influence the executive and Parliament as well, by his parliamentary group. The complexity of the difficulties through which Ukraine goes (Donbas, Crimea, Russia’s actions, the deficiencies of public policies — energy, etc.) and the large volume of initiated priority reforms distract for now the foreign partners’ attention from the problem of oligarchization of the political power in Ukraine.

“Useful” oligarchs versus “destructive” oligarchs

Despite the fact that Vladimir Plahotniuc has huge negative popularity, this continues to become involved in decision-making processes. He thus tries to create a perception of causality between the country’s political stability and his role of government coordinator.

The implementation of the ‘roadmap’ in March-July 2016 enabled to show that he can mobilize the state institutions controlled by his party (Democratic Party) so as to swiftly deliver results. By such actions, he wants to convince the foreign partners, in particular the Europeans, that he is a “useful” oligarch. The arrest and trying of other oligarchs (Vlad Filat) and representatives of obscure interests (Shor, Platon) help him to prove his utility and to also highlight the difference between him (“useful oligarch”) and the others (“destructive oligarchs”). Memory in politics is short, while the current priorities dilute even more the connection with the past, where Plahotniuc and Filat, who now fell into disgrace, represented the state institutions.

The Moldovan model of oligarchization includes features of the Georgian political system, where, even if one oligarchic holds monopoly, this prefers to remain ‘in the darkness’ and does not hold a public post. Also, the Moldovan model is inspired by the Ukrainian one where, despite the existence of several oligarchs who are very visible, the Head of State is the main of these and he has leverage to influence the executive and legislature.

Having similar situations in the region, Plahotniuc openly shows that he monopolized the political power and this enables him to influence the decisions in the Government and Parliament, through the agency of the PDM, PL and ‘transacted’ MPs. This prefers to come closer to the model of Poroshenko (trenchant) rather than of Ivanishvili (subtle), without holding a public post yet.

In all these cases, the oligarchs tend to present themselves as a necessity, not as a problem for the functioning of the political system. In reality, these trends do nothing but damage continuously the independence of institutions, amplifying the effects of “captured state” and diminishing the people’s attachment to the democratic form of government.

Instead of conclusion…

Analyzing the problem of oligarchization of the political power and, respectively, the intensification of the symptoms of “captured state”, we must draw attention to their long-term consequences for the democratic construction in the states with fragile institutions and very weak democratic traditions.

The involvement of oligarchs in the decision-making process runs counter to the democratic principles, but the oligarchs in the region (Moldova, Ukraine, and Georgia) appear as indispensable sanitary agents in a corrupt political system. That’s why the idea of “useful oligarchs” is acceptable to large sections of society (Ukraine, Georgia) and this makes them legitimate for a dialogue with the foreign partners, including the EU.

Ultimately, the advancing of democratic reforms, efficient corruption fighting, liberalization of economy and other sectors are objectives that are incomparable with the existence of “useful oligarchs”. Consequently, the de-politicization of institutions and, respectively, gradual removal of the “captured state” in Moldova and in the region is a necessity for breaking the vicious circle. But progression, not regression, must be ensured for democratic institutions in the transition to a de-oligarchized political system.

Initially was published on Info-Prim News Agency

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