Moldovan president says ‘decisive’ action needed to defend democracy

(Reuters) – Moldovan President Maia Sandu on Wednesday defended measures to keep members of a banned pro-Russian party from contesting local elections, saying her country needed “decisive” action to defend its post-Soviet democracy from Russian attacks.

Sandu’s remarks come two days after a Moldovan court rejected an appeal by a senior member of the banned party of fugitive business magnate Ilan Shor to run for mayor of Moldova’s second largest city, Balti.

The president, who has spearheaded Moldova’s bid to join the European Union, said she would not comment on the workings of the judiciary, but added that the courts were too slow to act.

It had taken 10 years, she said, to secure a conviction in the $1 billion fraud case in which Shor was involved.

“What will happen with our democracy 10 years from now?” she told a Moldovan television channel.

“Today it is under attack from criminal groups and their intermediaries from Russia. We cannot be playing chess when Russia is trying to engage us in a boxing match. We must be decisive and defend our democracy and statehood.”

Sandu has repeatedly denounced Russia’s invasion of neighbouring Ukraine and last week accused the Russian mercenary group Wagner of being behind what she called an attempt to unseat her earlier this year in a coup.

The war has also meant that Moldova, with a population of 2.4 million and one of Europe’s poorest countries, has sometimes seen Russian missiles land occasionally on its territory.

Shor, who lives in Israel, has organised periodic demonstrations calling for the resignation of Sandu’s government and mocking the president’s drive to move closer to Europe.

He was sentenced to 15 years in jail in absentia in April on fraud charges and Moldova’s Constitutional Court declared the party bearing his name illegal.

The court later ruled that party members could contest elections, but within days parliament passed changes to the electoral law keeping its most prominent leaders off the ballot.

Shor denounced the latest court ruling keeping his deputy, Marina Tauber, out of the race in Balti and said he had found a candidate to run in her place.

“The authorities are simply too afraid that we will turn Balti into a developing, prosperous city,” he wrote on Facebook.

Moldovans, particularly in Chisinau, have endorsed Sandu’s pro-European agenda and local elections throughout the country next month will be a test to see what support it enjoys outside the capital.

(Reporting by Alexander Tanas; Editing by Ron Popeski and Edwina Gibbs)