Moldova can't escape its communist past

By bne IntelliNews October 1, 2010

Justin Vela in Istanbul -

Growing hopes the ruling pro-EU coalition in Moldova would finally bring Europe's poorest state a period of political stability and reforms have been dashed as the acting head of state was forced to dissolve parliament on September 28 and call snap elections for November 28. Worse, recent moves to lift the immunity of former president and long-time head of the Communist Party, Vladimir Voronin, and prosecute him is a sign of how concerned many are about the communists returning to power.

Moldova had become one of the darlings of the international investor community since the four-party Alliance for European Integration (AEI) ousted Voronin and his dirigiste communists and then governed with a narrow majority since September 2009. The AEI launched a series of crucial reforms and even managed to tempt loans from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, but Moldova's communists in opposition have consistently proved themselves anything but a spent force. "The power of the communists may not be that they can get a majority in parliament, but they have proven themselves to have the ability to take about 50% of likely voters out of the equation," says Matt Rojansky of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, referring to the communist's successful boycott of the September 5 referendum that had been hoped would break the dead-lock over the appointment of a president after the parliament had been unable to appoint a new one since Voronin was turfed out 18 months ago.

It was this inability to appoint a president that forced Moldovan Parliamentary Chairman and acting head of state Mihai Ghimpu to dissolve parliament and call new elections. However, in keeping with the country's chaotic and murky politics, decisions on certain matters can still be made, according to Arcadie Barbarosie of the Public Policies Institute in Chisinau, which is how Ghimpu and his allies intend to continue trying to lift the immunity of Voronin and charge him with negligence over the deaths of demonstrators during the April 2009 street protests. "In theory, [Voronin's immunity] can be suspended up to the moment the next election results are validated," says Barbarosie.

The clearly politically-inspired case is lacking in evidence and there is a growing consensus that before an electoral campaign was a bad time to have done it. Should the case go ahead in parliament, it will victimize Voronin and allow the Communist Party to run on the theme that the pro-Europe parties are trying to silence its leader. "Objectively, it could look like an attempt to gain more votes to weaken the communist electorate," says Iulian Chifu of the Conflict Prevention and Early Warning Center in Bucharest. "De facto, this could only strengthen Voronin's electorate."

Difficult bedfellows

Before taking on the communists, the pro-European parties need to find a path for themselves. Barbarosie says that in a recent television appearance the leaders of the AEI parties announced that after the election they would sign an agreement stipulating the process and conditions of the government, thereby hopefully ending some of the in-fighting that has dogged their administration.

According to Chifu, the main problems of the coalition were different agendas among the four parties. "They all have different policies, covering all the spectrum. The only thing that is making the coalition is fighting against communism and for the EU integration - no more than this."

The most likely outcome of the election is that the Liberal Democratic Party, Liberal Party and Democratic Party will form a new coalition. The Our Moldova Party is almost certain to get less than the 3% threshold to enter parliament.

The rule in Moldovan politics is that anything is possible, but it's unlikely that any of the pro-Europe parties will join the Communist Party to form a majority government. It has been speculated that the Democratic Party hasn't shut the door to this possibility, given that their leader Marian Lupu is a former Communist and has recently made a number of trips to Moscow. However, personal differences between him and Voronin, who considers Lupu a traitor for leaving the party, make this nigh on impossible.

Yet it's also unlikely that the pro-European parties will win an outright majority. "The communists are quite popular. They have a very strong core electorate to rely on," says Chifu.

He explains that though their core voters are aging, the communists can rely on at least 25% of the vote. They might pick up an additional 5% of the electorate because of current dissatisfaction with the pro-Europe parties.

The struggle is likely to return to appointing the president. "If they get less than 61 seats, [the coalition] should negotiate with the communists for a neutral president," says Barbarosie.

From there, a functioning government could find a path to amend the constitution in a way that diminishes the powers of the president and allows the country's politics to start functioning again.

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