Democracy. Russia. CIS.

Moldova’s Autumn Propects

Posted by democratist on June 10, 2010

10th June 2010

The next few months promise to be an interesting time for the generally ignored Moldovan political scene. What is happening? 

Most people who don’t actually live there don’t spend a lot of time worrying about Moldova; with a population of 3.4 million (about 600,000 of whom are currently working – usually illegally – abroad) and a GDP of only $5.4 bn, it has been easy to overlook this small, mostly agricultural, and very poor country, since it gained independence from the collapsing Soviet Union in August 1991.

Once part of the Roman province of Dacia, Moldova has more often than not been the play-thing of more powerful entities; it was annexed by the Russian Empire in 1812 and known as Bessarabia. Later, in 1920, the (mostly ethnic Romanian) Moldovans took advantage of the Empire’s dissolution to join the Kingdom of Romania. However, they were re-annexed into the USSR (as a result of the Molotov-Ribentrop pact in 1940)  as the “Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic.” 

Between independence in 1991 and 2009, Moldova was essentially characterized politically by the domination of the Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova (PCRM) or its allies. Thus all three post-independence Presidents prior to 2009 – Mircea Snegur (1991-1996) Petru Lucinschi (1996-2001) and Vladimir Voronin (2001-2009) were either members of the PCRM, or closely allied to it, and had also all cut their administrative and political teeth in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). Whereas other parties had helped to constitute coalition governments prior to 2001 (and it has to be said that the quality of elections since 1994 has generally been judged to be fairly good by international observers), the political instability of the late 1990’s discredited the other Parties considerably, and the Communists won a crushing majority in the 2001 parliamentary election.

But whereas the PCRM again managed to cobble together the constitutionally required 61 votes (three-fifths of the 101 seat parliament) in order to re-elect the President in 2005, it was (somewhat unexpectedly) unable to manage this after the April 5th 2009 polls (despite gaining a tantalizingly close 60 seats). Subsequently, a second vote took place on 29th July, but this only resulted in a further stalemate, with the PCRM gaining even fewer – only 48 seats, and the four opposition parties together taking 53. 

As of late July 2009 therefore, the non-Communist parties seem to have finally gained the upper hand in Moldovan politics for the first time since independence.  On August 8th they formed a governing coalition, the “Alliance for European Integration” (AEI), and after Voronin resigned from the Presidency on 11th September, he was replaced by acting-President (and leader of the AEI’s Liberal Party) Mihai Ghimpu.

However, the AEI’s two constitutionally permitted attempts  to lure the 8 Communist MPs they additionally required to make up the 61 votes needed to elect a permanent President on 7th November and 10th December 2009 both fell flat. Parliament must therefore be disbanded and new elections held, but, due to constitutional provisions, this cannot not take place until one year after the parliament was last disolved – which is to say until after June 16th 2010. In order to try to bring an end to the current disorder, the AEI has recently called for both a constitutional referendum – which is planned for this coming September (allowing for the direct election of the President), and for subsequent concurrent parliamentary and presidential elections in November (if the initial referendum proves a success).

While it currently seems likely that the constitutional ammendment will pass and the elections take place, the end result is still far from clear; the AEI will have to put forward a single “unity” candidate if it hopes to have a realistic chance of preventing the Communists – still the most popular single party in Moldova – from retaking the Presidency. 

But regardless of the final result, the West will doubtless continue to employ the three major levers of power currently at its disposal in relation to Moldova; the huge attractiveness of the promise of eventual EU membership (over 70% of Moldovans want to join); the new financial influence of the IMF acquired since the 2008 economic crisis, and above all in relation to the forthcoming referendum and elections – the democratic oversight and development role of the OSCE ODIHR. This last factor is especially important for maintaining confidence in the sometimes mistrusted electoral process, and ensuring that Moldovan politics continue to develop within a democratic context.

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