Moldova’s last chance for reform

Moldova's new pro-European government will face a strong pro-Russian opposition and it must act quickly to implement reforms – for its own sake and for the EU's

On 30 November, Moldovans elected their next parliament. It will have five political parties: three of them pro-Western (the Liberal-Democrat Party, the Democratic Party, and the Liberal Party) and two pro-Russian (the Socialist Party and the Party of Communists).

Pro-Western parties won overall: together, the three parties got 55 out of 101 seats, which means that they will form the next government. However, the pro-Russian parties, who won 46 seats, will have enough strength in the new parliament to challenge the pro-European integration reform agenda. Neither the Socialist Party nor the Party of Communists is happy with the result of the vote. Both consider the elections to have been manipulated and plan to challenge the result in court.

Pro-Western parties won overall: together, the three parties got 55 out of 101 seats, which means that they will form the next government.

An international electoral observation mission – representing the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and the European Parliament – concluded that the elections offered voters a wide choice of political alternatives. However, the campaign was influenced by the different geopolitical aspirations within the country and by the late deregistration of the pro-Russian Patria (Homeland) Party, which raised questions about timing and circumstances. The mission said that all parties enjoyed unimpeded access to the media, even though most outlets were subject to political interference, with notable exceptions that included the public broadcaster.

Both the European Union and the United States have welcomed the parliamentary elections, though they share ODIHR’s concern at the decision of Moldova’s Central Electoral Commission to remove the Patria Party from the ballot only a few days before the election. However, the Russian Foreign Ministry stated that it could not ignore the fact that “the conclusions about [the elections’] transparent and democratic nature are at odds with the gross violations committed during the preparation and conduct of the elections”. It added that the results show that “a significant number of Moldovan citizens have voted in favour of further development of relations with the Russian Federation and the country’s inclusion in the Eurasian integration process”. Therefore, Moscow will probably not recognise the results officially, in an effort to cast doubts on the legitimacy of the newly elected parliament and of the future pro-European government.

Moscow will probably not recognise the results officially, in an effort to cast doubts on the legitimacy of the newly elected parliament and of the future pro-European government.

Unlike Russia, the EU and the US have said that the pro-European leaders should form a government as soon as possible, so as to provide a new impetus for key reforms and work towards a comprehensive and peaceful settlement for the Transnistrian conflict. They have pledged to work with the new government on its reform agenda so that the country can see the full benefits of European integration.

On 4 December, the leaders of the new governmental coalition announced that their main objective would be the implementation of the Association Agreement with the EU. However, pro-EU voters are very concerned that the self-proclaimed pro-European leaders will fail them once again and that the new government will continue to serve the interests of the oligarchs rather than of society. Initial signs are not encouraging. Unofficial reports suggest that the main stumbling block in the negotiations is, again, political control over law enforcement and judicial institutions. Some pro-European parties (and the oligarchs behind them) want to have full control over the coming fight against high-level corruption.

The current prime minister, Iurie Leancă, is expected to remain in the position. Leancă negotiated visa liberalisation and the Association Agreement with the EU and so his return will ensure continuity in the reform process. The Liberal-Democrat Party promised this to its supporters before the election and its leader, Vlad Filat, reiterated it when preliminary results were made public – although there are worrying reports that Leancă might be sidelined from negotiations over the next government and its programme. It is highly likely that we will see the same old government, with some slight retouches to contain potential public criticism and to meet the expectations of the EU.

The pro-European parties won the elections, but they lost the popular vote, and most Moldovans are disappointed with the reforms of the pro-European coalition.

The pro-European parties won the elections, but they lost the popular vote. Most Moldovans, disappointed with the reforms of the pro-European coalition, voted either for pro-Russian or non-aligned parties. Local experts believe that the choice was first and foremost a protest vote and only after that a geopolitical one. So, the next government must deliver without delay on the reforms that have been promised, particularly on corruption and justice reforms. Otherwise, it runs the risk of becoming further discredited and losing even more support. The result might be a weak and isolated coalition that could fail to win enough votes to elect the next president in 2016. This could lead to early elections, with potentially disastrous results for pro-European parties.

The EU also has a lot at stake. It has in the past rallied political support and economic resources to assist the pro-European parties in implementing crucial reforms. But due to rampant corruption and the lack of clear results from these reforms, more and more Moldovans associate the EU with authorities whom they perceive as corrupt. In order to stop this dangerous trend, the EU should use all the leverage it has to push the pro-European leaders to form an inclusive government staffed by credible and honest people. It should ask the new government to build a constructive relationship with the moderate opposition by appointing opposition representatives to positions in key institutions, such as the Commission for National Integrity, the Court of Auditors, the National Anticorruption Centre, and the General Prosecutor’s Office. It should also expect the government to push through concrete reforms that can rally support in society, such as investigating the failed “privatisation” of Banca de Economii (Savings Bank) along with other high-level corruption cases from the past five years. The EU should make more vigorous use of the leverage it has over the Moldovan authorities and should build a stronger reform partnership with Moldovan civil society organisations, thereby increasing society’s influence over politicians.

Victor Chirila is the Executive Director of the Foreign Policy Association, Moldova.

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of its individual authors.

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