NEWS

Moldova’s surprise election results

After the last Moldovan elections in April, parliament burned as protesters claimed the ruling Communists had rigged the vote. The authorities blamed youthful rioters; the opposition blamed government provocateurs. Hundreds were arrested and allegedly beaten. The authorities clamped down on the media and on businesses that supported the opposition. The outgoing president, Vladimir Voronin, accused neighboring Romania of organizing a coup d’etat and introduced visas for Romanian visitors. Yet the opposition won enough seats, 40 out of 101, to ensure that the new parliament was gridlocked. Voronin installed himself as chair of parliament, and hoped, like Putin in Russia, to remain the power not too far behind the throne, but after it twice failed to elect Voronin’s chosen successor as president, he reluctantly agreed to dissolve the new parliament and hold new elections on July 29. The predicted result is again finely balanced, with the Communists losing ground. But it is too early to assume, as many early reports have done, that they will finally relinquish power. The Communists have claimed around 45 percent and 48 seats, compared to 50 percent and 60 seats last time. Exactly as in April, however, the main exit poll gave them 5 percent less, indicating that similar methods of padding the result may have been used. The three opposition parties won 38 percent and, once again, 40 seats. If the exit poll had matched the official results, they would have won 45. Moreover, it is too easy to characterize the three parties in the current opposition as a united pro-European front. The Liberal Party represents pro-Romanian youth and intelligentsia, the core of the opposition that has gained momentum since April. The Liberal-Democrats are a business party, some of whose business supporters have come under pressure since April (the Ascom business group led by Anatol Stati). Our Moldova is most vulnerable, as it is dominated by former officials who have been out in the cold under the Communists, like the former mayor of Chisinau, Serafim Urechean, and is a declining force. More subtly than swinging to the opposition, Moldovan voters have, encouragingly, moved to the center. The Communists lost ground and the Liberals failed to advance, while the Liberal-Democrats and Democrats gained votes. The key to Moldova’s governability after the elections is Voronin’s predecessor as chair of parliament from 2005 to 2009 Marian Lupu, who left the Communist Party after the April events and took over the Democratic Party in June (which won only 3 percent last time), reinventing it as a centrist party that promised an «end to political war.» With almost 13 percent of the vote and 13 seats this time, Lupu had hoped to be king-maker in the new parliament, possibly even crowning himself as the next president. Math doesn’t add up But the detailed math of coalition building doesn’t really add up. The three older opposition parties plus Lupu have 53 seats, which is enough for a bare majority but not the «super-majority» needed (61 seats out of 101) to elect a new president. If Lupu cuts a deal with the Communists, they would have exactly 61 seats. If such a coalition then tried to govern over the heads of the opposition, many of whom have accused him of being in reality a secret «satellite» project to prolong the Communists’ stay in power, there would again be uproar. A third solution would be some kind of government of national unity. But the formula is again not clear. Including every party is one possibility. Maybe the Communists could try to do a deal with Our Moldova. Or the three opposition parties plus Lupu could hope the Communists might split, and further defectors would join Lupu to create a workable majority. Though the Communists also hope to split the Democrats, between the old guard around Dumitru Diacov and the new arrivals under Lupu. Or the count may be refined – or there could be a recount – and one side or another could win one or two extra seats to tip the balance. It is certainly too early to say the opposition have «won.» The trend is in their direction, but there is no clear winner. Lupu has done as well as he could have hoped, but is stymied by the overall result. A lot of horse-trading lies ahead. The EU can play a positive role in brokering a solution. Whatever the formula that emerges, it will be unstable unless it emerges within a broader context of national accord. The EU’s priority should be to help build that accord. The EU should also help deal with the unfinished business from April: promoting reform of the legal system and security apparatus and a properly independent investigation into the events of 7 April (the day parliament burned). It should also help Moldova to deal with the economic problems that have accumulated while it has had no effective government since April – GDP is forecast to drop by up to 13 percent in 2009. Moldova cannot afford a third election. * Andrew Wilson is senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations and co-author of ECFR’s latest report «The Limits of Enlargement-lite: European and Russian Power in the Troubled Neighborhood.»