Moldovan elections fail to resolve political impasse

By bne IntelliNews November 30, 2010

Graham Stack in Chisinau -

The three-fifths super-majority needed in Moldova's unicameral parliament to elect a president proved again elusive after the country's third parliamentary election in two years on November 28: with all the votes counted, Moldova's Communist Party took 39.3% of the ballots and 42 of the 101 seats, while the three-member governing coalition Alliance for European Integration (AEI) took 52.1% of the vote and 59 seats, just shy of the 61 needed to elect the president.

The result was a huge disappointment to the AEI, whose Liberal Democrat party (PLDM) won 29.4% of the vote, the Democratic Party (PDM) 12.7% and the Liberal Party (PL) 10%.0. At the HQ of the PLDM, initial jubilation turned to apprehension as exit polls that gave it a clear victory and first place with an 8% lead over the Communists, turned out to have been misleading.

The exit poll by Publica TV/RIAS claimed the PLDM had taken first place, with a whopping 34.4% of the vote, with the opposition Communists on 26.0%. Altogether, according to the poll, the AEI had landed 65% of the vote, giving them a mandate to finally elect a president and end the political impasse the country has been in since elections in April 2009.

Prime Minister, and head of PLDM, Vlad Filat even held a victory speech. "The fact that so many citizens have voted looking towards the future has proved that we are a mature society," said Filat. "As a result, we have just seen how something incredible can happen."

Moral victory

And incredible was the right word. The first provisional voting returns only two hours later - with 4% of the vote in - reduced PLDM headquarters to stunned silence. Then the scenario was suddenly reversed, with the Communists on a total of 50.1% of the vote.

But over the course of the night, it became clear that the country had again returned a hung parliament. The distortion of the first exit poll - carried out by a Romanian foundation in partnership with a Romanian-owned TV station Publica TV - seemed to confirm fears that the poll may have been politicized.

PLDM's deputy head. Liliana Palihovic, who earlier in the evening following the publication of the exit poll told bne that her party would now claim both the posts of prime minister and president, nevertheless claimed a moral victory. "We felt the mood of the people change during the campaign, when we presented them with real arguments and figures instead of the fairy tales that the communists were telling them," she said.

Palihovic said that the majority of the population still subscribed to "the old mentality," but that the work the party had done meant that people had had started to look forward. She said a low turnout of only 59.1% may have hurt the PLDM and AEI.

With Moldovans living abroad able to vote at embassies for the first time, TV showed Moldovan emigrant workers queuing up to make use of the opportunity. Since voters abroad largely favour the pro-European AEI, Palihovic anticipated that this would swing the vote back towards the AEI in the course of the night, with the foreign ballots due to come in last.

There was also apprehension expressed that the discrepancy between the Romanian exit poll and the final result could undermine confidence in the fairness of the election results, despite most observers finding the elections to have been conducted fairly. In April 2009, disputed election results led to mass demonstration and violent sacking of parliament building and presidential palace by mostly young supporters of a pro-European and pro-Romanian course.

But Moldova's fractious politicians were sounding more ready for compromise yesterday in comments made while polls were still open.

Compromise in air

Vladimir Voronin, head of the Communist Party and president of the country in 2000-2008, said that his party was ready to work together with the liberals to elect a president. The Moldovan Democrat Party (PDM) , headed by former Communist Marian Lupu, is closest to the Communist Party in terms of political position. Lupu, a liberally-minded economist, would be the obvious compromise candidate, and also said he was ready to cooperate with all parties.

Ironically, however, Voronin ruled out the Communists ever supporting Lupu for the post of president, due to what he called the latter's "treachery" in opportunistically switching from the Communists to the Democrats following the April 2009 elections.

Ideologically, the biggest divide is between the Communists and Moldova's Liberal Party, headed by Mihai Ghimpu, the acting president. Ghimpu is an outspoken pro-Romanian, anti-Communist and anti-Russian politician, who has supported the idea of Moldova's unification with Romania, and as acting president antagonized Russia by "rewriting" the Soviet past.

So while there is a commitment on the part of all parties to overcome the constitutional crisis that has seen the country without a president for over a year, the negotiations promise to be difficult and protracted. But with the country still reeling from the global crisis, no one wants fourth parliamentary elections in 2011.

Moldova's ambassador to the US, Igor Munteanu, tells bne that ideological decisions regarding foreign policy orientation should take a back seat in favour of "existential issues [which] mostly include social and economic issues, but also structural reforms to desovietize state bureaucracy, reduce corruption and create incentives for competitive industries."

In comments to bne, Finance Minister Veaceslav Negruta also emphasized the need for pragmatism, making clear that consolidating state finances takes priority and confirmed government plans to introduce a corporate profit tax starting January 2011. The Communist administration abolished profit tax as part of a raft of pro-business reforms spearheaded by Marian Lupu.

Chisinau inhabitants voting spoke in favour of stability, but also a continuation of reforms, and expressed largely non-ideological concerns, while criticizing politicians for their fractiousness. "The main thing is for the political jam to be resolved," said Alona Kirika, a 27-year-old economist who voted for Vlad Filat's PLDM. "I wouldn't be afraid of the Communists joining power, since we had them for eight years and know them already, but I feel we need different younger people for us to really move forward."

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