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Irina Vlah’s Inauguration as Governor of Gagauzia

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Igor Botan / April 15, 2015
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On 15 April, the ceremony of inauguration of Irina Vlah, winner of the electoral competition of 22 March, took place in Comrat. The ceremony was attended by Prime Minister Chiril Gaburici, Speaker of Parliament Andrian Candu, Central Electoral Commission (CEC) Chairman Iurie Ciocan, and Metropolitan of Moldova Vladimir. Their participation in the governor inauguration is a positive sign. The governor of Gagauzia is an in-office member of the government, so the presence of the prime minister at the inauguration of his future colleague perfectly fits politico-administrative customs. The presence of the head of the legislative body has its own logic, too, especially since for years it seemed that the harmonization of relations between the center and the Gagauz autonomy should take place through legislative harmonization. In addition, given the parochial political culture of our society, the presence and blessing of Metropolitan Vladimir was also appropriate.

President Nicolae Timofti, however, did not participate in the inauguration, despite having been publicly invited. Officials from presidential administration let it be understood that the relation between the center and the autonomy would become ambiguous if the country’s president were present at the governor’s inauguration. In fact, within his three years in office, President Timofti has never visited the Gagauz autonomy, although relations between Chisinau and Comrat went through tense phases, when they should have been loosened up, including by means of working visits. The formula found by the presidential administration is that the governor’s inauguration will be followed by oath before the president and then the president’s working visit to Comrat.

After elections, it is important that the situation and relations evolve to normality. In fact, the critical attitudes of Irina Vlah towards “Euro-integrator” members of the Chisinau government dissolved immediately after her victory in elections. Post-electoral meetings with Prime Minister Gaburici and Speaker of Parliament Candu were truly constructive and positive, focused on discussing the immediate priorities for the Gagauz autonomy and relations with the center. In her inaugural speech, Irina Vlah underlined that after elections, political problems step behind those administrative and social. She mentioned that she would be “the bashkan of all people of the autonomy, without any ethnic or party differences”, promising to be “a guarantor of peace and stability in the region, with a prosperous and consolidated society”. Also, it should be mentioned that the support and friendship of the Russian Federation and Turkey were brought up as a background to saying that “we should not forget about the support of the European Union, either”.

Therefore, one may say that at the start of her term in office Governor Irina Vlah showed pragmatism, somewhat to the detriment of adherence to principles, clearly, if adherence to principles matters to politicians. Irina Vlah’s pragmatism became obvious a week before the inauguration ceremony, when still as an MP she refused to support the motion of no confidence that had come from the Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova (PSRM) against Gaburici’s government. It should be mentioned that Irina Vlah’s support of the motion of no confidence would have been decisive for the initiation of the process. It is curious that even the PSRM allegedly insisted that Vlah refuse to sign the motion (which would not lead to dissolution of the government anyway), in order to ensure that she had the necessary comfort in relations with the cabinet of ministers. The critics of the newly-elected governor and of the PSRM indicate that they give priority to practical interests before the pre-electoral positions based on principles. In this context, critics also mention a possible tacit inclination of Governor Irina Vlah towards the European integration vector, if the Eurasian vector, which she had earlier declared as a priority, fails to remarkably manifest itself, although Irina Vlah insisted on underlying that she is still a pro-Russian politician.

The latter observation is not accidental. Irina Vlah’s post-electoral pragmatism in relation to central authorities revealed the complaints of Gagauz elite representatives. They publicly formulate their reasons: if all ten candidates for the position of governor of Gagauzia declared themselves pro-Russian and sincere supporters of the Eurasian integration vector, then what were the criteria according to which Russian officials chose to bet on Irina Vlah? Was it not humiliating for the other nine candidates to not be recognized as sufficiently pro-Russian? In this context, Member of the People’s Assembly Ivan Burgudji says that the governor elections were not actually won by Irina Vlah, but by Russian officials, who supported Irina Vlah on the basis of some unclear criteria, and that in such conditions even the Barbie doll could have won the elections.

Even more interesting is the attitude of counter-candidateRU from the Democratic Party of Moldova (PDM), Nicolai Dudoglo: “We saw members of the State Duma of the Russian Federation come to Gagauzia, as well as artists and athletes. We saw declarations of some serious Russian politicians, but even so our team worked and obtained a good result. Despite the fact that the bashkan of Gagauzia was not elected, but appointed, our team recognizes these elections. Russia made great efforts, and we are her friends. That is why we will not challenge the results of these elections, although I am sure that if votes were recounted, there would probably be not even 50 percent.” It means that even the main election losers find that the distortion of results in the elections in Gagauzia as a result of involvement of some Russian decision makers is acceptable. It is better to lose the competition in non-free and unfair elections than to challenge the involvement of the external factor, obviously, if that factor is of Russian origin.

Finally, now, after clear signals that Governor Irina Vlah wants normal relations with Chisinau, the intrigue moves to Comrat. Will Irina Vlah be able to establish normal relations with local influential circles in the People’s Assembly, represented by such politicians as Ivan Burgudji or Nicolai Dudoglo, when they believe her victory was undeserved but still acceptable due to the involvement of the Russian factor? The governor’s relations with the People’s Assembly are very important for the good functioning of the politico-administrative machine in Gagauzia, and the majority of the People’s Assembly was or still is affiliated to one of the leaders of the PDM, Vlad Plahotniuc, who is, according to Irina Vlah, “the biggest problem of the Republic of Moldova”. Or maybe we should also expect a manifestation of pragmatisms from Governor Irina Vlah in her relations with those who know how to solve the problems that they themselves create?

Electoral promises of Governor Irina Vlah Modification of electoral legislation shortly before local elections