Moldova’s voters to decide country’s external orientation

By bne IntelliNews November 27, 2014

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Moldova’s 3.2mn voters will determine on November 30 not just who will be the 101 members of the parliament for the next four-year term, but also the country’s external orientation - towards either the EU or the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union.

The fragile pro-EU coalition now in power in Chisinau took firm steps toward European integration, but further actions will depend on popular support at a time when the conflict between the West and Russia leaves little room for neutrality. Polls reveal that the ruling coalition could win a majority in parliament, but it might need supplementary support. Such support depends on compromises and could slow the European integration process. The mixed recent economic performance and the still high levels of corruption and poverty have not significantly strengthened voters’ pro-EU sentiment.

The anti-EU parties are not united – at least judging from their pre-electoral statements - but a post-electoral coalition of anti-EU parties is still a plausible scenario. The Party of Communists (PC) still enjoys the broadest base of voters and its leader Vladimir Voronin seems increasingly willing to play a more active role. He has avoided expressing his preference for post-electoral alliances so far, which has made pro-EU advocates hope for his support. But Voronin has consistently expressed approval for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s policy and has questioned the benefits of EU membership.

The radical anti-EU party Patria was excluded from the parliamentary elections by the Chisinau Court of Appeal on November 27, but the party may still appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeal. The Electoral Bureau asked on November 26 for the court to invalidate the party’s participation based on evidence of foreign (Russian) financing. In case the Supreme Court upholds the lower court’s ruling, Patria's voters will probably migrate to either the leftist Socialist party (PS) or, less likely, to the PC. The banning of Patria would however radicalise a party that already enjoys the support of some 10% of the voters.  Patria’s president Renato Usatii has already announced demonstrations.

Moldovans working abroad might play an important role in the elections but their preferences are unclear - all electoral polls are conducted on Moldovan territory. But up to 800,000 or one third of the working age population is assumed to reside outside the country, one third irregularly, according to research by Nora Ratzmann of the Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS) at Oxford University. About 65% of the migrants go to Russia and 30% to EU – 20% to Italy, with Portugal, Spain, France and Greece being other notable destinations. While the workers in Russia are dispersed, those in Italy and Portugal are expected to be more active in the November 30 vote.

Choice unclear

The two options – EU or the Russian-led Custom Union, are more or less equally supported by Moldovans, as revealed by polls. Broadly speaking, the older, conservative voters having experienced the Soviet-era period, are more inclined to stick with the Custom Union, while the younger voters who have travelled abroad and even worked in the EU tend to prefer European integration.

The choice is difficult as Moldova’s future EU membership is not yet officially discussed, while the Eurasian Economic Union will only come into force next year and is in the early stage of setting up its own institutions. Furthermore, the frozen conflict in the separatist region of Transnistria complicates Moldova's European integration. The breakaway region of Transnistria is entitled to make its own choice independently in case Moldova chooses to take formal steps toward EU or Nato membership, Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov stated in October. The Association Agreement signed by Moldova with the European Union, however,  covers the territory of Transnistria.

Moldova already took major steps toward European integration when it signed the Association Agreement with the EU earlier this year. The agreement has been already ratified by the European Parliament. But the hopes for further EU membership are underpinned only by an official note specifying that the agreement would not be the final step of the country’s integration process. The most committed advocate of Moldova’s EU membership, the senior ruling PLD party, set 2020 as the target accession year.

Moldova’s Nato membership is even more problematic since it requires prior amendment of the constitution, which states the country's military neutrality. The junior ruling party PLD advocates amending the constitution and joining Nato. However, the ruling coalition as a whole does not openly share such views, as confirmed by Prime Minister Iurie Leanca on November 27. Moldova should remain neutral and join no military block, he said in a statement that was probably aimed at avoiding taking radical stances before the parliamentary elections.

On the other side, joining the Eurasian Economic Union would be supported by the large number of Moldovans working in the Russian Federation, as well as older voters educated during the Soviet regime, and  ethnic Russians themselves. Russia’s vice-premier Dmitri Rogozin estimated the number of Moldovans working in Russia at 0.7mn – meaning 22% of the total voters. But the turnout among Moldovans working in Russia is expected to be low. Russia and anti-EU parties in Moldova have reportedly discussed the option of sending home Moldovan workers for the vote.

If the polls conducted in the past weeks are confirmed by the ballot, the continuation of Moldova’s integration might depend on the pro-EU ruling coalition being joined by the Communist party. Even if some see PC as the most appropriate intermediary for turning conservative-inclined voters toward the values of the EU, such assumptions have no grounds so far, as long as Voronin praises Moldova’s performances during the Soviet period.

Moldova’s Communist party might join the pro-European coalition after the parliamentary elections on November 30, according to Vladimir Socor, a political analyst of East European affairs for the Jamestown Foundation and its Eurasia Daily Monitor. However, the PC is losing ground, partly because Russia is supporting the rival Socialist Party [PS], Socor explains. PC and Russia have a relationship of mutual distrust and, despite the superficial impression of a common vision, they are not supporting each other. Instead, it is the Socialist party led by Igor Dodon that is sponsored by Russian, Socor argues, explaining that this is aimed at weakening the Communists’ position.


Number of MPs, after re-distribution of votes under IPP poll, November 2014 [total = 101 MPs]
. . MPs .
PC Communist Party 30 .
PLD [pro-EU] Liberal Democrat Party 23 to 24
PD [pro-EU] Democrat Party 14 to 15
PP Patria Party 13 to 14
PL [pro-EU] Liberal Party 10 to 11
PS Socialist Party 10 to 11
NOTE: [pro-EU] -- ruling coalition 
Public Opinion Barometer – November 2014
conducted by Institute of Public Policies
Individual parties have to meet 6% electoral threshold, coalitions 9%



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