Elections in #Moldova: The SHOR phenomenon

| February 21, 2019

The parliamentary elections in Moldova are scheduled for February 24. The clash unfolds between the ruling democratic party, pro-Moscow socialists, who are supported by the current president, Igor Dodon, and the right opposition pro-Western alliance “ACUM”. However, the “SHOR” Party, led by a young businessman, Ilan Shor, the mayor of Orhei city, a locality situated 40 kilometers far from Chisinau, suddenly intervened in the political heavyweights’ dispute. National sociological polls conducted in Moldova demonstrate a constant increase in the rating of this political group. Experts believe that while maintaining this dynamics, the “SHOR” Party will surely overcome the six percent barrier and enter the parliament. The candidates of this party have high chances to win in their uninominal constituencies. This is primarily about Ilan Shor himself, who gained an unquestioned authority among the inhabitants of Orhei, in which he is running.

Analysts are starting to talk about the “SHOR phenomenon” which is not affected even by the banking scandal of almost five years ago, in the center of which he was. Shor headed the administrative board of a bank that suffered as a result of the so-called “theft of the century”. This story has demonstrated how vulnerable young European democracies are in the face of corruption. Former Prime Minister Vlad Filat, who in Europe was considered for some time to be a strong leader and engine of Moldova’s European integration, is serving a prison sentence today for corruption. And this happened, thanks to the testimony of Ilan Shor, who did not want to become a weak-willed victim of corrupt politicians who robbed the country’s banking system of a billion dollars.

Today, former companions of Filat, members of his corrupt government who are in the “ACUM” alliance, accuse Shor of “bribing” voters with stolen money. Shor has never denied that he uses funds from his family business for infrastructure and social projects in Orhei and to support the poor throughout the country. And the way of this money get from Shor’s family companies to the repair of roads in Orhei, the construction of the country’s largest family entertainment center OrheiLand and other projects can be easily tracked through the accounting documents. At the same time, quite recently, the son of Vlad Filat, convicted for corruption, Luca, who lives in London, was in the center of attention of the law enforcement agencies of Great Britain. The young man, accustomed to live on a grand scale, was never able to explain the origin of the colossal sums of money that he spends on acquiring luxury cars and renting a penthouse in the center of the British capital. We only know that they come from offshore accounts opened in the Cayman Islands. There was no court hearing yet, but it is obvious to voters in Moldova that the enormous wealth thoughtlessly managed by the son of a high-ranking official convicted for corruption is of criminal origin. They associate the luxurious life that young Filat leads with the stolen billion, which was never found.

The SHOR phenomenon is not in his charity work, which, by the way, he led long before he entered politics. It is rather a matter of the general apathy that Moldovans feel both towards the political class and the content of political life. Over the past decade, after the removal of communists from power, who ruled the country for two four-year terms, Moldova’s political and electoral agenda has been reduced to a geopolitical choice. Citizens of a small agrarian country are being persistently offered to decide and swear to one or another foreign policy vector. A part of the political class favors rapprochement with Russia, the other – with European integration. “Europeans” are winning with a slight margin. But the only “Europe” that can be found in Moldova is in Orhei.

This city was not different from other provincial towns of post-Soviet Moldova – the same devastation, unemployment, social depression. However, when three and a half years ago Ilan Shor was elected as its mayor, the transformations started to deploy rapidly. Today, after only three years, Orhei became a true European city with carefully cleaned, build roads and sidewalks, with a full lighting system, landscaped parks and squares, landscaped courtyards, and a grand center for family leisure OrheiLand. Having solved the basic problems, Orhei begins to afford a glaring “excesses”, such as heated sidewalks and free public transport at peak times.

Unnoticeably, the word “Orhei” has become a household word. For most Moldovans, this is a symbol of rapid development, restoration of infrastructure, and implementation of social initiatives. And also a symbol for holidays, since Ilan Shor loves to pamper the citizens with cultural events. People who are forced to move along broken roads and in pitch darkness due to non-working street lighting in their settlements, when visiting Orhei, express a major delight and say that “..it feels like in Europe”.

However, Ilan Shor at all the meetings and in all the interviews emphasizes: he is not building Europe in Orhei, he is building Moldova. His information campaign, which is being built over the well-known achievements of Orhei, emphasizes that this could be achieved throughout Moldova, if politicians kept their electoral promises. The list of his own promises to the residents of Orhei, Ilan Shor practically exhausted with the meticulousness of a businessman. Feeling a strong disappointment with the class of professional politicians who have ruled Moldova for 28 years, he calls himself not a politician, but a manager hired by citizens to effectively manage Orhei. He proposes to introduce criminal liability for unfulfilled promises. He assures that the Orhei experience of quickly solving the most pressing problems can be equally rapidly spread throughout Moldova.

Shor avoids in an emphasized way the geopolitical disputes. He speaks of “pragmatic patriotism”: the authorities are obliged daily to create new reasons for the citizens to love their homeland. He sees no other alternatives in building a welfare state in Moldova, then the model of Scandinavian socialism, which is also the basis of his political program. He even intends to introduce a basic guaranteed income to every citizen of Moldova. He keeps using the Soviet experience, knowing well that namely this period, on the background of the post-Soviet apocalypse is most attractive for the majority of Moldovans. He even restored a Soviet-style collective farm in the rural commune of Jora de Mijloc, which is managed by his party deputy, Marina Tauber.

Shor insists that the state should open industrial enterprises to create new jobs and dramatically increase budget revenues through the introduction of a state monopoly on the import of petroleum products, tobacco and alcohol.

All these proposals are appealing to the residents of Moldova. Like the fact that Ilan Shor avoids calling himself a politician. Being a politician in Moldova today is unpopular.

This complex of factors has led to the fact that the popularity of Ilan Shor and his political project is constantly growing. He responds to the request of Moldovans for new faces, names, ideas. Has the renewal of the discredited political class started in Moldova? This is not yet completely clear. But with firm certainty it can be said that in a country that for 30 years couldn’t get out of the protracted crisis, a third force has appeared.

 

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