A Euro-Communist model

Analysts say that the EU will push ahead with Europeanizing Moldova in partnership with the ruling Communists

By By Graham Stack
Russia Profile

Moldova might be "Europe's poorest country," but it is rich in anomalies. The parliamentary elections held there on April 5 only added to these. It all went off a little too smoothly in the end. President Vladimir Voronin's ruling Communist Party took just under 50 percent of the popular vote, but won just over the necessary number of seats in the parliament (61 out of 110) to ensure that the Communists will name the next president. Voronin is due to step down after the two terms in office stipulated by the constitution.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), while noting skewed media coverage, confirmed the results. "I am delighted with the progress of democracy in Moldova. These elections were very good, and they gave me great confidence in the future of this country," said Petros Efthymiou, the head of the delegation of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and a special coordinator of the OSCE short-term observers.

The results roughly dovetailed with the exit polls, but the number of mandates was marginally more than predicted, meaning that the results could have been fiddled with to ensure a sufficient number of seats to elect the president. Moldova's constitution is a unique mix of parliamentary and presidential - the president is elected by the Parliament in a secret ballot, with up to two rounds of voting. However, in other respects it is a presidential republic, with the president appointing the prime minister, and the executive branch separate from legislative one. The president also determines foreign policy.

The parliamentary elections were thus also de facto presidential elections. Since the incumbent president Vladimir Voronin, by far the most dominant figure in Moldovan politics, has to step down after two terms, a lot rested on the outcome of these elections.

Voronin has openly stated that he would pursue a Den Xiaoping outcome, allowing him to continue to determine the country's trajectory while not holding the highest office. This lent the Communist Party a powerful motive to force through an unchallengeable electoral result, similar to that achieved by United Russia in the 2007 Duma elections in Russia, intended as a future power base for then President Vladimir Putin.

"The elections of 2009 were neither free nor fair," said Igor Munteanu, the director of Chisinau's Institute for Development and Social Initiatives. "The reason is that the ruling party has acquired almost unlimited resources to influence and advocate its interests. With no counterbalance force from the judiciary, and with the main opposition parties largely fixed into internecine wars, these elections provided a textbook study on how to not conduct elections, rather than following the general standards of the OSCE/CoE."

Sixty-eight year old Voronin is unlikely to seek the post of prime minister, however. Munteanu believes that Voronin will most probably remain in the Parliament, meaning that the whole construction of his party will change, with the focus of the "vertical of power" shifting elsewhere and "leaving the presidency more as a decorative institution."

The exact identity of the Communists' candidate for the presidency is still a mystery. "Since he [Voronin] personally tried to reduce the chances of any potential rival/candidate inside of the ruling Communist Party, all candidates that were suggested by the media were met with criticism or ostracism from the presidential office," said Munteanu.

Marian Lupu, the former speaker of the Parliament, is one person often mentioned as a possible next president. While apparently loyal to Voronin and a disciplined member of the party, he had in the past even spoken out in favor of future NATO membership for Moldova. "Voronin will look for a less intelligent and more faithful figure to occupy the presidential seat, which he will keep under control while taking the office of the parliamentary speaker," said Sergiu Panainte, a project coordinator at the Soros Foundation Romania.

Moldova is not only anomalous in terms of its constitution and its geography (it counts as a Black Sea littoral state although it is landlocked). It is also one of the few countries to be both attempting to reintegrate a secessionist region -- the tiny self-proclaimed Transdnestr republic--while staving off attempts to be absorbed by the neighboring big brother Romania, with which it shares history and language.

Its foreign policy is equally anomalous: in the 1990s, Moldova strove to reunify with Russia within the Russia-Belarus union, until Russia's refusal to play ball caused the same Communist Party to make a smooth shift in 2005, and aim at EU membership and cooperation with NATO instead. Experts see the elections as having paradoxically strengthened the Communists in negotiations with the EU, and thus given new impulses to Moldova's integration with the union.

Independent political analyst Ion Marandici said that "the Moldovan Communists have declared very often that their goal is to join the European Union. That is why, paradoxically, they will go on with the economic reforms while continuing to infringe on media freedom, freedom of expression and more generally on human rights, in order to combat their political competitors."

Marandici sees the elections as having strengthened Moldova's hand in negotiations with the EU. "The victory of the Communist Party will force the EU to regard the Moldovan Communists not merely as a historical accident, but as legitimate representatives of the Moldovan voters," he said. "The EU dealt carefully and decided to keep some checks on the Communist elite before elections, and indirectly conditioned the signing of the Enhanced Agreement [the document replacing the expired Partnership and Cooperation Agreement] with the conduct of free and fair parliamentary elections."

With the OSCE observers having declared the elections free and to a certain extent fair, the EU will now have to continue its negotiations with the Communist Party, believes Marandici. "That is why probably in the near future, we will witness the signing of an Enhanced Agreement between the EU and Moldova that would envisage the status of an 'associated member'," he said. "The European soft power approach succeeded in Europeanizing the Moldovan communists.

Unfortunately, it failed to delete some of their Soviet-era habits and parts of their biography. These are simply incompatible with European values." Igor Munteanu, however, believes that this core incompatibility will limit EU openness to Moldova. "The election of Communists has clear implications for EU's offer to Moldova. Since their rule is not equivalent to democratic rule, Moldova will be met with open suspicion and mistrust, which could further encourage its leadership to seek 'consolation' in a tango with Russia."

But in view of disappointment with the results of the "colored revolutions" in Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, the year 2008 seems to have seen a shift in European thinking regarding the feasibility of revolutionary change in what are very weak and fragile states. In 2008, the EU even started talking to and opening doors for "Europe's Last Dictatorship," Belarus, next to which Moldova looks much more democratic. Instead of a U.S.-sponsored regime change, the new European strategy seems to be to persuade existing undemocratic regimes to change their ways peacefully, using the positive incentive of increasing integration with Europe.

In fact, this is not really anything new. In neighboring Romania, most of the work in getting the country ready for NATO and the EU was done in the 1990s by the Party of Democratic Socialism (PSD) under President Ion Iliescu - direct heirs of the notoriously repressive Ceausescu Communist dictatorship, in comparison to which Alexander Lukashenko's Belarus is a shining example of democracy.

7 April 2009 — Return to cover.