On November 30, parliamentary elections in the Republic of Moldova heralded the victory of pro-European parties. According to Kommersant special correspondent to Chisinau Vladimir Soloviev, this year’s electoral race was blatantly unscrupulous. Overshadowed by general corruption, poverty, and declining public support for European integration, the pro-Russian opposition is quietly gaining momentum.

 

Moldova’s Socialist Party (received 20.5 percent of the vote) has not been hiding its close connections to the Kremlin during the election campaign. One of its banners (depicted above) showcased a photograph from the meeting of the Party leaders—Igor Dodon (right) and Zinaida Greceanîi—with Vladimir Putin. The Socialist Party is viewed as the real alternative to the pro-European parties that won the November 30 elections. Photo: Reuters.

 

As a result of its November 30 elections, the Moldovan parliament will now be home to five parties: the Liberal Democratic Party (with 23 seats), the Democratic Party (with 19 seats), the Liberal Party (with 13 seats), the Socialist Party (with 25 seats), and the Communist Party (with 21 seats). Together, the Liberal Democratic Party, the Democratic Party, and the Liberal Party, all in favor of European integration, achieved a majority: 55 seats in the new 101-seat parliament. This appears to be enough to form a government, as the leaders of the three pro-EU parties have already announced their willingness to begin coalition talks and work on a new cabinet. (More on the current situation in Moldova can be found in the research paper by IMR and the Legatum Institute entitled “Moldova: The Failing Champion of European Integration.”) 

It is just a matter of time before the three pro-EU parties form a ruling alliance. According to deputy spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State Marie Harf, Moldovan officials must step up efforts toward establishing a new government. “The United States urges Moldova’s leaders to move quickly to form a new government,” said Harf, emphasizing that the new administration must “fight corruption, promote reforms, and find a comprehensive and peaceful settlement for its Transnistria region.” 

The leaders of the Liberal Democratic Party, the Democratic Party, and the Liberal Party have already begun talks. Some of the Liberal Democratic Party members strongly support the idea of including the Communist Party in the bargain talks. Although it claims to be in opposition, the Communist Party’s main goals are not at odds with the pro-EU parties, especially regarding future foreign policy. In this matter, the Communist Party can be viewed as a potential partner of the three pro-EU parties. 

A more clear-cut seat breakdown for the controlling majority will be determined in the near future, but it appears that Moldova will be under the rule of parties that have been in power during the past five years, and which have promoted their electoral campaigns under pro-Europe slogans. 

 

The Battle of Vectors

Participants of this year’s race had marketed Moldova’s parliamentary elections as a referendum on the future of the country. The pro-EU parties campaigned for another chance to modernize Moldova, promote democracy, and return to the European family of nations. The Liberal Party went even further by promoting NATO membership. 

The opposing pro-Russian parties had another agenda. Backed by the Kremlin, the Socialist Party promised to bring Moldova into the Customs Union, while the Patria Party, the other pro-Russian rival, advocated its pro-Eastern vector more discreetly and pushed the idea of a referendum for the Moldovan people to choose whether they want their republic to move in a pro-West or pro-East direction. 

The pro-EU parties received robust support from a number of European leaders. At the peak of the race, Moldova welcomed visits from Polish president Bronisław Komorowski, Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, and the recently elected president of Romania, Klaus Iohannis. All three advocated the path to EU integration as the only path for Moldova. Unable to visit Chisinau personally, German chancellor Angela Merkel sent prime minister Iurie Leanca (also vice chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party) a letter with best wishes for success in the November elections. 

Moscow also doted on its favorites. On November 4, president Vladimir Putin met with two leaders of the Socialist party, Igor Dodon and Zinaida Greceanîi, having identified them as the Kremlin’s best bets in Moldova. The only photograph from that meeting was used as a major campaign poster for the Socialist Party. Russian deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin, also cochairman of the Russian-Moldovan Intergovernmental Commission, expressed his support for the Pro-Russian Patria Party. He would meet personally with party members during his private visits to Moldova. 

Adding intrigue to the geopolitical theater of these parliamentary elections was the way Russia responded to Moldova’s developing relationship with Europe. In September 2013, two months before Moldova initialed an Association Agreement with the European Union at the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius, Russia banned imports of Moldovan wine. On July 2, 2014, five days after the Association Agreement was signed between Chisinau and Brussels, Russia imposed an embargo on Moldovan fruits, vegetables, and canned food products. Moscow never denied that the food embargo was a reaction to the decision by Moldovan authorities to boost EU integration. But the Kremlin’s strategy only seems to have mobilized pro-EU supporters, who intensified their rhetoric about the advantages the demanding but stable EU market offers over the voracious and unstable Russian market. 

The crisis in Ukraine has also played a role in recent developments in Moldova. Prior to the November elections, Moldovan mass media often entertained possibilities of social unrest in the country, in the manner of Ukraine’s mayhem. Along state borders, local police forces launched more thorough checks of people with Russian citizenship arriving in Moldova. There were cases when the Moldovan police had to deport Russian military personnel who would fly to Chisinau without prior notice in order to report to their duty station in Transnistria. (Russian troops had been stationed as peacekeeping forces in order to protect warehouses with weapons left in that breakaway republic.)

 

Foul Play

This year’s electoral race will be remembered as the most scandalous and unscrupulous one in the history of modern Moldova. It was marred by the participation of parties cloned with the sole purpose of confusing voters of popular opposition parties. For instance, the Communist Reformist Party of Moldova was registered during the election year and chose the classic hammer and sickle as its symbol, having thus copied the long-standing and well-known symbol of the main opposition Communist Party. Any efforts by Communist Party leaders to ban their “reformed counterparts” from running in the elections were fruitless. 

Additionally, the voting ballots listed the “communist reformists” sixth on the ballot, whereas the original Communist Party could be found much lower down, in the thirteenth place. This allowed an unknown party that barely campaigned to receive 4.92 percent of votes, siphoning off a substantial number of votes from the Communist Party, which finished with 17.48 percent (Moldova requires all parties to clear a 6-percent threshold to have seats in the parliament). The Socialist Party, with 20.5 percent, ran its platform in support of the Customs Union and never hid its close ties with the Kremlin. Whether by accident or design, the socialists were listed on the ballots next to "Moldova’s Choice"—the Customs Union Electoral Bloc, which collected 3.45 percent of votes. 

If the Moldovan leadership does not step up efforts to bring fundamental changes to the country, its current term will be its last. Their most favorable alternative would be the Socialist Party, which has made it clear that its foreign policy would take the country toward the pro-Kremlin Customs Union. 

The most sensational turn of events happened four days before the elections on November 26, when Moldova’s Central Election Commission (CEC) announced its decision to suspend the participation of the Patria Party, saying it had received information from the Ministry of Internal Affairs on alleged illegal financing. Patria is a strongly pro-Russian party led by Renato Usatii, a successful businessman with strong ties to Russia. According to pre-election poll results, his party could have gained 12 percent of votes. 

The decision of the CEC was initially approved by the Appeals Chamber and later upheld by the Supreme Court of Justice of Moldova, where Patria made attempts to appeal its removal from the elections. Everything was done in great haste and even some CEC members later admitted to having no time to familiarize themselves with the papers of the Patria case, having received them five minutes before the commission meeting. 

The decision to bar Patria from participating in the parliamentary elections caused outrage even among those who did not sympathize with the party, and prompted criticism from many embassies of Western countries. The U.S. Embassy expressed “deep concern about ensuring respect for the rule of law and a fair and democratic electoral process.” Head of the EU Delegation in Moldova, ambassador Pirkka Tapiola, said, “Changes in the ballot list of participants at such a late stage of the election campaign raised deep concern.” 

The CEC’s ban even incurred criticism from certain members of the ruling parties. “You cannot call this decision other than an attempt at diversion against EU integration. If there were any violations there, they should have been made public to the Moldovan society and parties. You cannot just bar a party from elections. It infringed upon the rights of 10–12 percent of the Moldovan population who were ready to vote for Patria,” said Stella Jantuan, a lawmaker representing the Democratic Party. 

Representatives of the country’s civil society did not try to mask their outrage either. “Initially, we thought that was a case of arbitrary justice. To my mind, there were a few parties competing for the top position in the parliament that breached funding regulations. Perhaps Renato Usatii was banned in accordance with law, but they should have barred the participation of several other parties as well. The fact [that] it was done last minute also raises an eyebrow,” said Arcadie Barbarosie, director of the Moldovan Institute of Public Affairs. Cornel Ciurea, director of the Institute for Development and Social Initiatives (“Viitorul”) shared that opinion by saying, “The Central Election Commission judges have the responsibility to explain why they passed that decision and what facts went behind it. Otherwise, the elections are unlawful and so is our new government.” 

The government, however, never bothered to explain anything. Moreover, before and after the elections, many regions of the country reported police searches, which resulted in three arrests. Two of those arrested were young people suspected of plotting a “forcible takeover of power.” The other was Nicolae Tipovici, a would-be member of the parliament from Patria whose at-large status, according to law-enforcement officials, “might be a threat to public order.” 

Election day itself was also tarnished by a number of issues. As soon as the polling places opened, there were reports of voting machine malfunctions (these machines were previously believed by many to be the main assurance of fair elections in Moldova, since they were designed to prevent voter fraud). This news was followed by numerous social media reports of buses full of young people travelling across the country to various voting stations for repeat voting. Promo-LEX, a non-government organization that provided election monitoring, also received reports from its observers saying they witnessed voters being delivered to polling places by bus. 

There is little doubt that the success of the three pro-EU parties was affected by this litany of problems. Together the three parties secured 45.63 percent of the vote; however, if you add up the votes received by the socialists, communists, and their “spoilers,” the total is 46.36 percent. 

Such results don’t indicate a strong victory for the pro-Europe parties. “Either we carry out our reforms or we have another election. With the latter, Moldova will lose any hope of a future with the EU. The results of these parliamentary elections are not very convincing, but they showed that there is still a chance we just cannot lose,” Moldova’s prime minister Iurie Leanca said.

 

All or Nothing 

Prime Minister Leanca was right when talking about Moldova’s need for reforms. The main problems impeding the country’s development still remain a crooked justice system and politically charged government, which, in their activity, have often relied on “instructions” from parties whose members were appointed to head Moldovan ministries—rather than being governed by law. The latest actions by the CEC and courts against Patria confirm this observation. 

Perhaps even more important than the election’s results was a scandal that occurred at the end of the electoral race, which provides further evidence of the existing crisis in law compliance. It involved Moldova’s two major banks, Banca de Economii (the Savings Bank) and Banca Sociala (the Social Bank), which exposed a potentially dangerous development for the country. 

In the case of Banca de Economii, the National Bank of Moldova imposed supervisory control on the eve of the elections, and it did the same for Banca Sociala on the day of the elections. That decision was triggered by ongoing speculations about a number of financial indicators reported by the two banks that did not meet certain standards, including the current liquidity index and capital adequacy ratio. Moldovan authorities were not forthcoming in their effort to explain what had happened to the banks. The country’s mass media, though, published information on giant loans issued by these two banks to companies tied to officials representing the controlling coalition of the pro-European parties. Yet there is still no sign of any official investigation. It is known, however, that the government allocated hundreds of millions of Euros to salvage banks that registered a very low quality of portfolio credit. The source of that financial assistance has not been made public yet again. 

These events are just a few in a long string of scandals involving the ruling parties that have transpired over the years. It came as no surprise that before the parliamentary elections, the polls yielded discouraging results for the pro-EU parties, with 43 percent of Moldovans in favor of the Moscow-backed Customs Union and only 39 percent supporting the European Union. 

If the Moldovan leadership does not step up efforts to bring fundamental changes to the country, its current term will be its last. Their most favorable alternative would be the Socialist Party, which has made it abundantly clear that its foreign policy would take the country toward the Euro-Asian Customs Union. They also appear to be poised to adopt a tougher party line—a winning strategy, especially given that their opponents will have to bear the blame for the current situation and decision-making in Moldova. 

Apparently, the winners of the November elections realize the difficulty of the task before them. “This is our last chance to fight corruption and reform our justice system. We must prove to our European partners that Moldova can still become an EU member,” Prime Minister Leanca said. The question is whether they will be able to prove that.

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