Nicu Popescu discusses what is at stake in Moldova's April 5 elections.
This article forms part of Nicu Popescu's EUobserver blog.
Moldova will hold parliamentary elections on 5 April. The stakes are high. Moldova has been governed by a democratically elected communist party since 2001. The party is communist only in name. Its economic team is more liberal than communist. The current president, Vladimir Voronin, is at the end of his second term and will have to step down. The future parliament will have to elect a new president. At stake is whether the communists will manage to stay in power in coalition with some smaller parties, or whether a coalition of opposition parties will take over. The first scenario seems more likely.
Perhaps the best news is that the outcome of the elections is not known. That is a huge achievement for a post-Soviet state. Pretty much everywhere in the region (with the exception of Ukraine, and to some extent Georgia) election results are known well in advance, and elections do not really matter. While the big picture for Moldova is good, zooming in on the electoral process is less reassuring. The elections are marred in irregularities. Harassment of opposition parties, NGOs and media is wide-spread and more systematic than ever before in Moldova's short history of elections.
Funnily enough, some 10 percent of candidates have double citizenship, and another 10 percent applied for the citizenship of other states (mainly Romania, Russia, Ukraine and Bulgaria). Paradoxically enough, the vividly anti-Romanian governing communist party has 4 Romanian and 1 Bulgarian nationals on its list of candidates to the parliament. Those double citizens that will be elected to the parliament will have to renounce their second citizenship.
Every single political party that matters in Moldova is pro-EU. Seventy-five percent of the population is pro-EU as well. The governing Communist Party is a vocal supporter of Moldova's accession to the EU. But the communists' record in government is less clear-cut. In the years it has been in power, it has often failed to respect quite a number of democratic principles such as media freedom and non-use of state institutions (such as police) against opposition parties. The Communist's campaign slogan is "Building a European Moldova together". Their main campaign trail is a mix of Putinism, Obamism and Europenism. From Putin they borrowed a "blame the chaos of the 90s" message that underpins much of what they have to say. From Obama they borrowed the promise of "change". They also extensively use images of president Voronin with Barrosso, Ferrero-Waldner, Basescu, Putin and Moldova's flag in front of the European Commission's Berlaymont building. This is supposed to symbolyse "Moldova's integrationist openness to East and West". Promissing a tous azimuts foreign policy will hardly be a big change.
The opposition parties have also adopted a mixture of Obamism and Europenism. Two, of the four, main opposition parties also have "change" as a key electoral slogan. The Liberal Party calls on voters to "Vote for the change", and the Lib-Dems say they have already started the change.
Despite party messages, what will really change Moldova is the quality of the electoral process. The EU will adopt a mandate of negotiations on a new EU-Moldova enhanced agreement right after the elections. This agreement will define the EU-Moldova relations for a decade to come. If the quality of the elections will be bad, the consequences for EU-Moldova relations will be felt for years. The "change" promissed by most political parties would better start now - before the elections.
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The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. This commentary, like all publications of the European Council on Foreign Relations, represents only the views of its authors.