August 16, 2009

An Opportune Time for Moldova

14 Aug 2009

Opposition leaders announce a new, Europe-bound coalition following July elections in a bid to outflank the Communist Party, but can they overcome ideological differences? Jeremy Druker comments for ISN Security Watch.

By Jeremy Druker in Prague for ISN Security Watch

This past weekend saw a slight opening of hope for Moldova, a neglected country in southeastern Europe that has rarely been in the news, and if so, usually for the wrong reasons. Opposition leaders announced on 8 August that they had formed a coalition named “The Alliance for European Integration,” with the aim of pushing market and democratic reforms and bringing the country closer to Europe.

The agreement followed early elections that took place on 29 July, less than four months after the last vote, which resulted in a Communist victory, widespread charges of electoral manipulation, and violent demonstrations that saw dozens of young protestors arrested. While the Communists obtained an outright majority in parliament, they still couldn’t muster enough votes to elect a successor to the outgoing Communist president, Vladimir Voronin, meaning a new election had to be called.

The Communists won again this time, but with less than a majority. It was thus left up to the opposition parties - the Liberals, the Liberal Democrats, the Our Moldova Alliance and the Democrats - to see if they could overcome their ideological differences to form a government.

That was no easy task. While they had succeeded in working together back in April (not one opposition deputy jumped ship to vote for the Communist presidential candidate), opinions differ widely on the country’s orientation (full speed toward the West versus a pragmatic balance between Russia and the West).

Trust also mattered, as Democratic Party leader Marian Lupu is a former parliamentary speaker and economy minister who defected from the Communists soon after the April elections. Reportedly, he has presidential aspirations.

The formation of the coalition is just the first step, however, toward a more liberal, stable government. The victorious parties still lack eight votes to elect a president, and, if they don’t succeed in finding them, that would again trigger early elections - a devastating blow for a polarized, election-weary population.

Some opposition members favor negotiation with the Communists on a compromise candidate in the spirit of national reconciliation; others dismiss that tactic, believing that the prospect of a strong, unified coalition will be enough to lure away enough Communist deputies looking out for their political survival.

Hopefully, one way or another, the coalition will succeed and remove the country’s stigma of being the only European nation still ruled by a Communist party. That label is deceptive - the country is not authoritarian along the lines of Belarus, for example - but power has been far too concentrated in the hands of Voronin and his loyalists, including over the media, the legislature and the judiciary. Reformers, such as the young mayor of Chisinau, Dorin Chirtoaca, have been stymied in their efforts even on the local level.

Moldova still hasn’t recovered from the 1990s, when the country often found itself forgotten, somehow not fitting into most donors’ plans for the former Soviet republics or for the countries of Southeastern Europe. The country has remained one of the poorest in Europe, with tens of thousands of its citizens migrating abroad in search of better-paid opportunities, with a large number of women infamously lured into sex trafficking schemes.

The next few weeks present a real window of opportunity for Moldova to recast itself, and, for once, generate a bit of attention and good will for itself that has nothing to do with poverty, fraudulent elections or media repression, and everything to do with political cooperation and an optimistic future.

Jeremy Druker is executive director, editor-in-chief and one of the founders of Transitions Online.

No comments: