Vlad Plahotniuc's Interview. PDM leader on anti-corruption fight, economic situation

PDM leader Vlad Plahotniuc has given an interview exclusively to PoliticScan – ȘtiripeSurse speaking, among others, about the foiled attacked against him, the anti- corruption struggle, about the economic situation in the country and the government’s relations with Moldova’s president Igor Dodon.

Q. Mr. Plahotniuc, how do you feel now after the attempted attack against you and that there are people wanting to kill you? Do you think of withdrawing from politics not to be targeted by the ones plotting this?

V.P. Such a moment, certainly makes you think it over, but my thoughts are that I must finish my projects, not to leave as a coward. I realize very well who are the ones behind the attempt, I realize their motivation and this namely makes me go forward, to do my best in order that such individuals never be able use Moldova’s banking system to launder billions of dollars. 

Huge progress has been last several months in making the banking system safe, the progress was also noticed by the IMF, but big progress has been made in investigating the laundering of over $22 bn through a Moldovan bank, the money being from Russia. 

This progress makes nervous certain groups of interests outside Moldova, respectively the persons related too and having managed this money laundering. It’s a complex and very sensitive issue, but I hope it will find its final solution.

Q. A strong campaign of the anti-corruption prosecutors has been lately led in Moldova. However, your enemies accuse you it’s a political cleansing campaign. How much truth is there and the foes’ propaganda?

V.P. Lets debate facts not words spread now and then. The latest anti-corruption moves targeted top officials from the government, including from the PDM, the party I lead. Two ministers were arrested, from the Agriculture and from the Transports, both appointed by the ruling parties, an Economy deputy minister, appointed by the party I lead, as well as other high-rank officials from governmental agencies.

Many top officials from the Chisinau City Hall, which is also managed by a ruling party, several district managers, also from the ruling parties, the PDM including. What kind of political cleansing can we talk about? Do the prosecutors make political cleansing in the ruling parties?

Earlier, they would say no top official from the ruling coalition had been probed. Now, when these moves are there, they say it’s political cleansing. In fact, we notice the ones saying so are from the opposition parties, who, normally, should welcome such unprecedented moves, but they are worried a real fight against corruption is unfolding, and envisages all the corrupt regardless of their political affiliation. Or, seemingly, the opposition feels comfortable with the country’s being discredited and the systemic chaos, not with the order and the authentic reforms. That’s regrettable.

Q. Moldova was praised by the IMF a couple of weeks now. The forecasts are encouraging, the exports are up, it seems Moldova is economically growing day by day. When will the Moldovans feel the economic growth in their own pockets?

V.P. Moldova managed to get the IMF’s second installment in a simplified procedure, and that’s namely because they found the serious way in which the agreed reforms had been implemented. And moves targeted to make safe the banking sector were among these reforms.

The problem is that these achievements come after long political crises. It’s only earlier in 2016 that the country entered a stability stage and reforms can be done. So it is natural that their benefic effects be not immediately felt by the citizens.

But I am certain, if we go this way, the people will shortly feel more directly the effects of this economic growth.

Q. You came recently from the U.S.A. What did you do there? On your return, your party introduced an initiative of restricting the Russian TV propaganda in Moldova. Is this also an effect of the visit?

V.P. The PDM introduced this initiative last year, but some of our foreign partners then asked us to wait and we put it aside.

We promised to apply it later because we must clean the information space from the manipulation of some Russian channels. It’s strange that the move was opposed by a station who accused me that one of the TV stations I founded was airing Russian programs.

But that station will be affected by these changes. As Ukraine did, given the special situation we are in, we should be more determined in this respect, otherwise we run the risk that our citizens should become victims of propaganda and manipulation, should be subjected to overseas ideological influences, especially in electoral campaigns.

Speaking about the trip to the U.S.A., I discussed with congressmen, had meetings at the State Department and the National Security Council, we discussed our reforms and the challenges in our region. 

Important and useful discussion were there in which we wanted them to know which is the PDM’s views on matters of common interest, as the main ruling party.

Q. Did you discuss, in the U.S.A., about changing the electoral system in Moldova? Did you try to find support for this change?

V.P. Our U.S. colleagues know it very well which are the benefits of the uninominal or mixed voting system, they have been using it for years, no need to talk with them about it. We discussed in general about the system, we did not try to find support.

An important polling U.S. company released the results of the largest opinion study ever made in Moldova right now. The sample was 12,000 respondents.

It clearly shows the citizens want the electoral system changed. 61 % want this thing, but 29 % want the present party list voting system.

So, the citizens clearly say it they want this change, and we must listen to them and seek for solutions to do it most correctly, observing the international electoral standards. That is why we’re waiting for the opinion of the Venice Commission with much interest. We’ll study the recommendations of the experts with much attention and seriousness.

Even though it’s a state’s sovereign right to decide on its electoral system and we have such a large number of citizens wanting this, we think it’s important to assess the way to make and optimal legal frame to apply the mixed voting system

Q. What about the idea that the Transnistrian region could have 25 MPs in the Moldovan Parliament through the mixed system?

V.P. It’s not going to happen. It’s a manipulation that some Moldovan politician also took into the European Parliament and thus managed to stir emotions. My colleagues were in Brussels one of these days and found out how much wondering is there when one showed them much of the information supplied to them by a party in opposition from Moldova was fake

Q. By the way, there were hot discussions on this issue in the European Parliament. Some MEPs even demanded to curb the financing to Moldova. What do they have to reproach to Moldova?

V.P. It’s about two parliamentary political groups who acted at the request of their colleagues from certain Moldovan parties. It’s nothing bad in debating, in the issue’s being discussed. We closely follow these debates, we try to identify the objective arguments and see how we use them to make better this important political reform.

The respective European parliamentary groups have political favorites in Moldova and it’s normal. They certainly want to make sure the parties they support will obtain the best possible results in elections. We realize that.

But the interest of no party shall be prior to the citizens’ will, the starting point of the process of changing the electoral system.

I realize it well the due compromise must be reached to observe both the citizens’ will and to make the changing in a way not to vividly advantage certain parties. We are open to discuss with everybody and find the best solutions possible.

Q. Does Moldova have a conflict with Russia? The Parliament President and the Prime Minister sent a harsh document to Moscow announcing Moldovan officials would not go there, until the abuses against them ended. Any changes after that notice?

V.P. Moldova does not have any conflict with the Russian Federation. We found a series of reproachable moves on behalf of some people from certain Moscow institutions, who had ordered to harass the Moldovan officials whenever they went to Russia.

We notified those practices, there are discussions on the issue, but we still don’t having a convincing solution of the situation. That is why the recommendations that the Moldovan officials shan’t go to Russia is in force and will be until the situation is clarified.

Q. Do these harassments have any link to the case of laundering those 22 billions through Moldova, money come from Russia?

V.P. There are clues namely confirming this very link. But we don’t understand the logics of these moves: they have not changed and will not change anything. On the contrary, our authorities asked for the cooperation of the Russian institutions in identifying and punishing the ones have laundered this money

Q. Let’s take the optimistic scenario for you and the PDMmanaging to change of the electoral system through the Parliament. No matter how you calculate, you can see the PSRM will win the 2018 elections. On the other side of the political spectrum where we have the pro-European parties, one can you there is a big gap dividing these parties.

Even though the PDM may gain 15-20 %, you’ll need an alliance with the PAS and with Năstase’s party in order to stay in power. Is such an alliance possible or would you rather say the PSRM will rule in minority in case this alliance is not shaped?

V.P. It’s too early to talk percentages: we have one and a half year till the elections. We’re not concerned with elections at this stage and make no such evaluations, we have much to do till then, to rule well and this will surely mirror well in our electoral result, too. 

The PDM has a very clear post-election objectives: to maintain Moldova on the European path. And that’s because we realize that’s the region which will allow us develop faster, not because of the funds received, but because of the expertise and development programs, which have already confirmed their positive effects in the case of other states, which had been in Moldova’s situation.

It’s hard to discuss about alliances. Given the speed with which some right-wing parties make stupidities, it’s hard to anticipate what will be left from them till the elections. Instead of fighting Dodon, the right-winged opposition makes presents to him. And he is glad to capitalize on them: the requests to the IMF or the EU to postpone Moldova’s financing.

It’s exactly what the Socialists want: that this countries should not be supported, that a severe social crisis should emerge, then a political crisis, that the citizens should lose their trust in the EU’s support and good intentions. On such a background, the Socialists Party should win the early or ordinary elections all by itself.

The early elections would be the best thing right now for Dodon. The right wing is dispersed and weak, he is much alone on the left side: a perfect situation for him in elections. That is why he was so glad at the prospect of postponing the financing from the EU. I am confident he will not be too glad at such a conjuncture.

Q. Which is the government’s relation with president Dodon? Much speculation is there it would be just a fake war, and you both cooperation actually.

V.P. We said it publicly: our goal is not to let the materialization of Dodon’s any initiative channeled against Moldova’s interests and our European course. We have managed so far as a matter of fact, not by plain declaration as some would fancy. And this without plunging the country into the abyss of political instability.

President Dodon would much like a war with the government right now, a harsh war leading to instability and sacking the Cabinet. That is why he has launched different provocations, that is why he challenges the European leaders to turn their back on Moldova. He still has high rankings in polls and needs scandals and political hardships to keep it. Either to go to the people and victimize himself and get some more points, or to manage to block Moldova economically and trigger a political and social crisis.

He saw the effects of the political warfare on the pro-European parties and is not happy with the stability in the ruling coalition, no intestine wars are there. All the referendums he proposed are actually provocations against the government.

He tries us, but we have decided not to let ourselves trapped into his agenda. We look after our business, we govern, we make reforms, we keep the balance within society. Moldova is a parliamentary republic and the strategic decisions are made in the Parliament and Government, despite the pretensions of the presidential office

Q. Would it be possible to impeach him?

V.P. It would, if he makes rather severe mistakes and jeopardizes the country’s political stability. But you know how it is with these impeachment attempts: sometimes you do more good than bad to the one you try to impeach. Such situations were in Romania.

Such a decision must be weighed well, one needs convincing evidence for the people and then you need political unity within the right wing, if you get into such a referendum. Otherwise it’s intricate and risk just to consolidate his position. It’s important in politics to know to identify the timely moments for situations.

Q. How should Romania take Dodon’s warlike statements?

V.P. To ignore them. Although provoking, no heed should be paid. The Romanian authorities have open and constructive partners in the Chișinău Government and Parliament, the institutions actually deciding and implement the state’s policies, and these institutions much appreciate Romania’s efforts for Moldova. 

For us, Romania represents a pattern to follow on the path of European integration, it’s a trustworthy strategic partner. I think we’re bound by friendship, political including, regardless of hostile wills of some.

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