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Ending the ‘rule of thieves’: Maia Sandu and the fight against corruption in Moldova

2 December 2021

4 mins

In this blog, Dr. Dorina Baltag and her colleague Isabell Burmester share insights from their research on the role of social and political elites in the internalization process of democratic norms in a post-Soviet country, namely – Republic of Moldova. On the one hand, their research addressed a recurring puzzle, specific for the post-Soviet space: what stands in the way of Moldova’s democratization process? While tracing the implementation of anti-corruption measures, the question focused on uncovering why Moldovan political and societal stakeholders ‘walk the walk’ and ‘do the talk’ but are still lagging behind in the anti-corruption reform. Their research results were published this Autumn in this Democratization article that showed that Moldovan decision-makers pay lip-service but do not deliver and that the subtle merger of Western and Soviet norms has the power to skew democratization efforts.

The election of Maia Sandu as President of Moldova in 2020 and the victory for the party she founded at this year’s Moldovan parliamentary election have been viewed as watershed moments in the fight against corruption within the country. Dorina Baltag and Isabell Burmester argue for the LSE European Politics and Policy academic blog that while Sandu’s electoral success provides an opportunity, a parliamentary majority alone will not be enough to bring genuine change. Only by embedding new norms of governance in Moldovan society can the country’s persistent corruption problem finally be resolved.

In July this year, the pro-European Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS) won a clear victory in Moldova’s parliamentary election. Following the election, the party’s founder and current Moldovan President, Maia Sandu, a Harvard-educated economist viewed internally and externally as an anti-corruption crusader, pledged to put an end to what she termed “the rule of thieves”. Moldova’s commitment to implementing anti-corruption reforms dates back to 2005 when then President Vladimir Voronin, the leader of the Moldovan Communist Party (PCRM), adopted a pro-western and pro-democracy stance with the aim of winning electoral support. In the years that followed, several acts of legislation were passed, including a law on political parties and an amendment to the electoral code. These changes, alongside public awareness campaigns initiated by the government, were commended by international actors.

After the fall of the Voronin regime in 2009, a coalition of four pro-western parties came to power under the leadership of Vlad Filat of the Liberal Democratic Party (PLDM). Filat subsequently announced an ambitious anti-corruption strategy at a time when the EU and Moldova were just beginning negotiations over an Association Agreement. Association Agreements are a key component of the EU’s Eastern Partnership initiative. One of the aims of these agreements is to provide a broad framework for codifying democratic reforms. Yet despite Moldova ultimately signing an Association Agreement with the EU in 2014, the country is still far from a stable democracy. While Moldova was once viewed as a frontrunner among the countries targeted by the Eastern Partnership, a major banking scandal in 2014 involving the disappearance of funds totalling over a billion dollars severely dented this reputation. Indeed, pro-European rhetoric has been actively used in Moldova as cover for removing mechanisms that constrain corruption. This was an underlying factor in the so called ‘Russian Laundromat’ scheme through which large sums of money were moved from Russia via Moldovan banks.

EU incentives have proven to be so strong that even corrupt governments have attempted to seek legitimacy by initiating pro-European agendas. In the case of Moldova, the adoption of pro-European discourses and promises of future integration did not lead to a viable reform programme. This raises the question of how the anti-corruption commitments contained in Association Agreements can be effectively realised.

To read full blog, please see here.

About the authors:

Dorina Baltag is a Post-Doctoral Researcher at the Institute for Diplomacy and International Governance at Loughborough University (London campus). Her research covers democratisation in the Eastern Partnership and EU diplomacy related topics. She is currently a visiting researcher at the Institute for International Relations in Prague under the Think Visegrad scheme.

Isabell Burmester is a Doctoral Researcher at the Global Studies Institute and the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Geneva. Currently, she is a Visiting PhD Researcher at MGIMO-University in Moscow researching the nature of EU and Russian hegemony in the shared neighbourhood.

You can find out more about the Institute for Diplomacy and International Governance and the postgraduate programmes we offer here.

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