On 29 July Moldova will hold early parliamentary elections. Nicu Popescu offers a snapshot of the country two days before the elections.

This piece was published as part of Nicu Popescu's EUObserver blog.

On 29 July Moldova will hold early parliamentary elections. Here is a snapshot of Moldova two days before the new elections

Why early elections?

The previous elections on 5 April led to the victory of the Party of Moldovan Communist which got 60 places out of 101 in the parliament (and 49% of the vote), while three opposition parties - the Liberals, Liberal-Democrats and Our Moldova alliance - got 41 deputies in the parliament. The best site to check all the data is www.alegeri.md. The announcement of the election results led to riots in Chisinau, attacks on the parliament and presidential palace and a subsequent crackdown by the government against youth, media and opposition parties.

The Communists had enough (52) votes to appoint a new government and the speaker of parliament, but fell short by just one vote of the necessary 61 votes to also elect the new president (the president is elected by parliament). Most observers, including me, were absolutely sure that finding just one vote through corruption or pressure in an opaque, centralised, and unprincipled Moldovan political system would not be a big problem. However, the opposition was able to close ranks and NOT deliver that one vote in two consecutive rounds of presidential elections in May and early June. I confess I still do not fully understand how this was possible... In any case after a double failure to elect a new president, under the Moldovan constitution, the parliament was dissolved in early June and early elections for 29 July were announced.

A polarised society

The 7 April riots in Chisinau and the subsequent crackdown lead to a huge polarisation of the Moldovan society. Around April and May most Moldovan observers thought that the riots boosted societal support for the Communist party which used domination of the media to sell its version of the ‘April events' (which could be roughly summarised as follows: "the opposition parties are a bunch of fascists that tried to organise a coup d'etat with Romanian involvement". To be fair the opposition version of events is equally straightforward: "the government faked the elections. When people went out on the streets to protests against fraud, government inspired provocateurs instigated the riots in order to discredit the opposition and justify a crackdown".) In early June the Communists boasted they would take 80 MPs in new elections, and most observers were sure they would obtain at least more votes than they did in April.

However, by July opinion polls showed that while the society remained polarised, most clusters of the public maintained their political preferences. The most reliable opinion poll made in Moldova by the Institute for Public Policy (summary) showed the following:

  • 42.6% of the population thinks the 5 April elections were free and fair, while 42.4% think they were not.
  • 45% said the 7 April protests were not justified, while 40% thought the protests were partly or entirely justified.
  • After the April-June political crisis 47% of the population think early elections were necessary (and 43% - not necessary).

Such numbers are quite striking because they suggest that the heavy pro-governmental TV propaganda had a rather limited impact. (88% percent of the public relies on TV as the main source of information. The Russian Pervyi Kanal and the government controlled Moldova 1 - are the most watched TV channels. Both are gave an unabashedly pro-governmental interpretation of the April events.)

Re-creating the political centre

Marian Lupu was number two on the Communist list for the April election, and he was speaker of parliament (representing the Communists) in 2005-2009 and was the most likely Communist party candidate for the presidency (in the end the Communists promoted Zinaida Greceanii), the most popular Communist party member after Vladimir Voronin and one of the most popular politicians in Moldova. In June he announced his departure from the Communist party and spoke against the polarisation of the society, the undemocratic ways of the Communist party and took over the small and marginalised Democratic Party to use it as a vehicle for the July elections. He also brought in into the Democratic Party a few young and respected professionals.

Lupu's departure is not a fatal blow to the Communists, and very few of the party rank-and-file followed Lupu. However, he is likely to take away with him a few percent of the Communist vote and could potentially contribute to a re-balancing of the political system. He tries to re-create the political centre and is likely to be the king-maker in the next parliament.

The opposition

Zooming in on Moldova and judging its opposition by "European" (Polish, Lithuanian, Estonian or Romanian) standards anyone would conclude that Moldova's opposition is unimpressive. It could not control the crowd during April riots; some of its leaders have been involved in opaque business practices in the 90s, its campaign is often uninspired and uninspiring, and, worst of all, it is not united (here is a good selection of political ads by most political parties on YouTube). It is not an opposition ready to assume power should it win the elections.

But if you zoom-out and judge it by post-Soviet standards the picture is quite different. There are three main parties: the Liberals, Liberal-Democrats and Our Moldova. They also cooperate relatively well with each other. The Liberals have a young and charismatic leader, Dorin Chirtoaca - the 30-years old mayor of Chisinau (with a mostly unconvincing team of party colleagues). Compared to many other Moldovan politicians he seems human, not a stiff political robot (here is Chirtoaca's performance in Russsian on Gagazia TV). The Liberal Democrats - have a less charismatic and less popular leader, but a good team of lawyers, former diplomats, businessmen and economists. Both parties are rather young, relatively modern and on an upward spiral. The third opposition party Moldova Noastra is dominated by politicians from the 90s and is on a firm downward spiral. It is not clear if they will make it into the new parliament.

A year ago there were some 7-8 opposition parties with some political visibility in Moldova (they still exist but their irrelevance is clearer than ever before). But now the opposition is much more consolidated. It looks young-ish, has rather functioning political parties, is entrenched in the political system and supported by some 35-40% of the electorate (while the Communists have 40-45%).

The opposition in most other post-Soviet states, bar Ukraine, scores much worse on most accounts. In Russia the opposition is squabbling, marginal and cannot even make it into the parliament. In Azerbaijan it is the same. In both countries the opposition has its roots in the 90s and its potential for growth is uncertain as youngsters are more interested in doing business or joining the government. In Georgia the opposition seems quite popular, but it is more divided and it is virtually not represented in the parliament which pushes politics onto the streets (Saakashvili's United Georgia controls 119 deputies in the Georgian parliament while the Georgian "United opposition" and the "Republican party" obtained 19 seats (17+2) in May 2008 and refused to take them). The Georgian opposition has stronger personalities than Moldova, but weaker and less institutionalised parties. The bottom line is that the Moldovan opposition is not hugely impressive, but by post-Soviet standards its scores relatively well. The last year brought on the frontlines of politics a new generation of politicians in the Liberal, Liberal Democratic the Democratic Parties (and partly in the Communist party where young people are more visible than before).

Romania's role

Immediately after the April riots the Moldovan government announced that Romania tried to fuel a coup d'etat. It expelled the Romanian Ambassador, a few dozen Romanian journalists, and imposed visas on Romania. But on July 24 the Moldovan prosecutor general announced that Romania was not involved in staging any coup d'etat.

Russia and China's role

As in run-up to the April elections Russia again did quite a lot to show support for the Communists. Medvedev and Putin held a summit with Voronin in late June where Russia promised half a billion dollars credit to Moldova to sooth the economic crisis. In July Voronin went to an informal CIS summit in Moscow, but strangely enough Medvedev did not have enough time for a bilateral with Voronin (but had time for the other 3 CIS presidents of Tajikistan, Azerbaijan and Armenia who bothered to attend the summit).

More surprising was the announcement a few days before the elections that China will offer Moldova a credit worth 1 billion USD. Leaving aside the solidarity of the two communist parties of Moldova and China, I still don't understand why China would offer Moldova a billion USD. More surprising is that China's promised assistance to Moldova is twice bigger than the Russian offer of support. I don't exclude that most of these money will never materialise and they are PR-money, not real credits.

Will there be new riots?

Most probably not. The government is much more prepared. The potential protesters are much more scared. And the opposition parties are much more reluctant to call people onto the streets. The EU is keeping an eye on the situation. The Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorksi visited Chisinau five days before the elections with the support of the Swedish EU presidency to tell everyone to behave. There should not be any major drama unfolding on the streets, but I expect two months of intense horse-trading for the post of the president and a near permanent state of political (and economic) crisis for the following couple of years.

PS: For Polish speakers here is an interview I gave Gazeta Wyborcza on the Moldovan elections. Those who understand Romanian are welcome to read my Romanian language blog http://npopescu.yam.ro/ with more opinions on the Moldovan 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.