BUCHAREST, Romania — Frustration with the political establishment is boiling over again in Moldova, where more than 15,000 people took to the streets of the capital on Sunday to vent their anger at the new government that was sworn in just last week.
Opposition groups from both the pro-European and pro-Russian sides of the country’s political divide united in the frigid weather to shout antigovernment slogans and demand new elections. The protests in the capital, Chisinau, were the latest to rack Moldova, an impoverished former Soviet republic between Ukraine and Romania, since November 2014, when an immense bank fraud with political implications came to light.
The trigger for the latest wave of protests was the appointment of Pavel Filip as prime minister late Wednesday night, leading the country’s third government in less than a year.
The deeply divided Parliament had been wrangling for months over how to replace Valeriu Strelet, who lost a vote of no confidence and was forced to resign as prime minister in October after three months in office.
The choice of Mr. Filip, a former technology minister, was supposed to end the political deadlock. But he is widely seen as a proxy for a wealthy and powerful businessman, Vlad Plahotniuc, who is increasingly viewed as a symbol of all that is wrong with Moldova.
Shortly after Mr. Filip was sworn in, thousands of people surrounded the Moldovan Parliament, and a group of protesters broke through police cordons to get inside the building. Local media reports said the police used tear gas to dispel the crowd. But the demonstrations have continued outside the building despite the cold weather.
“The mood of people here is very serious — they are determined in their intentions,” said Stanislav Pavlovschi, a former judge at the European Court of Human Rights and a founder of the Dignity and Truth Platform, a pro-European political movement.
Moldovans are angry over endemic corruption in the country and the disappearance of as much as $1 billion from three Moldovan banks in the 2014 fraud scandal, an amount equivalent to one-eighth of the country’s entire annual economic output.
Demonstrations in September drew more than 40,000 people, numbers rarely seen since the country gained independence in 1991. A protest site of around three hundred tents, reminiscent of the protests in Independence Square in Kiev, sprang up outside the main government building, with Dignity and Truth taking the lead.
A former Moldovan prime minister, Vlad Filat, was detained in October in connection with the missing money; he denies being involved. Still, many Moldovans say too little is being done to bring those responsible to justice.
“The stolen $1 billion was the last straw in many ways,” said Nicu Popescu, an analyst at the European Union Institute for Security Studies in Paris. “It turned people in Moldova from disappointment to active opposition.”
As far as who is prime minister, Mr. Popescu said, “it doesn’t matter if it is Filip or another politician — the real power in Moldovan politics is Plahotniuc.” He added that Mr. Plahotniuc “is the least popular figure in Moldova right now.”
Disgust with the country’s political establishment appears to be running high. In a recent poll conducted by the Association of Sociologists and Demographers of Moldova, almost half the respondents said they did not trust any of the country’s leaders. The poll’s results suggested that if a new election were held now, three of the five parties in parliament would lose all their seats.
Moldova is barely holding on economically, and some analysts say a crisis is looming. “According to different estimates, in one or two months Moldova won’t be able to meet its budget payments, including state salaries and pensions,” said Arcadie Barbarosie, executive director of the Institute for Public Policy, a research group based in Chisinau. “Pro-European parties came to power in 2009 and didn’t diminish the level of corruption. Worse than that, they just redirected the flows of money into their own pockets.”
The European Union, which signed an association agreement with Moldova in June 2014, is watching events there with concern. Maja Kocijancic, the European Commission’s spokeswoman for matters involving neighboring countries, issued a statement Jan. 20 urging all sides to “engage in a dialogue and find, together, a way forward.”
Protest leaders say they want the new government to resign by Thursday, but that is unlikely to resolve the major issues facing Moldova.
“Protest leaders now face a dilemma,” Mr. Barbarosie said. “Moldova badly needs a functioning government, to negotiate with the country’s foreign partners and plug the budget gaps to stop a social implosion.” He said he thought the most likely outcome would be a compromise of some kind, allowing Mr. Filip to stay on with promises of reform and a new election this year.
Mr. Popescu said, though, that while Mr. Filip is likely to stay prime minister in the short term, public anger will remain. “While the current protests will likely dwindle over the coming days,” he said, “they will explode again with the next crisis to hit Moldova.”