After none of the four winning parties in November’s parliamentary elections secured the necessary 61 seats to elect a president, Moldova appears set to continue the political deadlock that has gripped the country for the last two years. Carnegie convened a panel with Carnegie’s Olga Shumylo-Tapiola in Brussels, Cornel Ciurea of the Institute for Development and Social Initiatives (IDIS) “Viitorul” in Chishinau, and Moldova’s ambassador to the United States, Igor Munteanu, and Ambassador William Hill of the National War College in Washington to discuss Moldova’s political deadlock and its consequences for the country’s domestic and foreign policy. Leonid Litra of the Institute for Development and Social Initiatives “Viitorul” in Chishinau and Carnegie’s Matthew Rojansky in Washington moderated.

Parliamentary Elections: Results and Consequences

The parties that overcame the 4 percent electoral threshold—the Communist Party of Moldova and a three-party coalition known as the Alliance for European Integration (AEI)—are still a few votes shy of being able to elect a new president. Despite its failure to end Moldova’s political instability, Hill contended that the November elections reflected new trends in Moldovan politics that present new opportunities to change the political landscape.

  • Assessing the electoral results: All participants described the electoral process as largely free and fair. Although the process was tarnished by some technical deficiencies—such as inaccuracies in voter lists—these violations did not affect the overall fairness of the results, said Hill. He also emphasized the importance of impartial mass media coverage, which Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) observers assessed as “generally accurate, balanced, and impartial.” Most importantly, added Shumylo-Tapiola, the electoral results revealed increasing popular support for the democratic parties.
     
  • Winners and losers: Compared to previous results, the November elections revealed a sharp drop in public support for some parties and an increase in the popularity of others. The leading Communist party, for example, lost almost 30,000 votes, commented Hill. While the Communists managed to secure their stronghold among the pensioners, a segment of the population struggling economically, and rural and Russian-speaking voters, the party lost supporters among other segments of the population following a counter-productive campaign strategy, Hill explained. The November elections also saw a consolidation of the AEI, added Munteanu. The Liberal-Democratic Party, one of the AEI members, received almost 240,000 more votes than in the last election. Hill attributed this success to an unprecedented national campaign the party launched to respond to citizens’ long-standing demands for a strong centrist party.

Ending the Deadlock

Several years of political instability mean that volatility “has become a rule, not an exception in the Moldovan political culture,” noted Munteanu. Forming a strong coalition remains the only viable solution for rescuing Moldova from its inability to elect a president.

  •  Coalition Scenarios: There are three possible scenarios for forming a coalition, said Munteanu.

    1.  An alliance of center-left parties, such as the Democrats and the Communists: While this is a possible coalition, such a scenario is unlikely given that the alliance would lack the necessary 61 votes to elect a president. Furthermore, the Democratic Party would object to the alliance with the Communist Party for ideological reasons.
       
    2.  A coalition between the Communist and the Liberal-Democratic parties: This is also highly improbable, as the Communist Party fears it would lose some of its young party members to the Liberal Democratic Party, led by the charismatic Vlad Filat.
       
    3. An AEI coalition: While a four-party alliance would not be viable given the inherent disagreements among the parties, another AEI coalition represents the best and most realistic political configuration to carry out the initiatives of the AEI coalition that formed the previous administration, argued Munteanu. 
       
  • Institutional reforms: Although the formation of the AEI coalition can end the political impasse by electing a president, the formation of the alliance alone cannot resolve the institutional weaknesses of the government. Existing legal inconsistencies—such as the complex procedure for electing the president—can be uprooted only through a series of serious constitutional reforms, said Munteanu.

Political and Social Challenges Remain

  • Social issues: Moldova’s most pressing problems—such as unemployment, high prices, and inflation—remain unaddressed. Although the previous AEI administration failed to solve these critical challenges, they can boast other accomplishments, including launching negotiations over the visa liberalization regime and a free trade agreement. It is imperative for the incoming government to sustain these new and vital initiatives, argued Munteanu.
     
  • Internal bifurcation: The issue of political and economic allegiance remains a disputed topic for the Moldovan people. While the majority of the population favors integration with Europe, Russia is still viewed as the country’s main strategic partner. This duality can be explained in part by the dominance of Russian mass media companies, suggested Munteanu. The country is also divided on the choice of its political system. Political elites favor a strong parliamentary system, while the majority of voters—as demonstrated by the results of the September referendum on whether the president should be elected by popular vote—envision a state with a strong executive branch.
     
  • Smoldering conflict with Transnistria: The reluctance of all interested parties to alter the status quo in the region makes it difficult to develop a strategy to move the peace talks between Transnistria and Moldova forward. Continuing the policy line spearheaded by the AEI would help to end the stalemate and bring the parties to negotiate the settlement, said Hill. Additionally, developing and sustaining the program of broad economic reforms launched by the AEI will provide an extra incentive for economically struggling Transnistria to resume talks with Chishinau, Hill suggested. Ciurea added that there can be no progress in the peace talks until Moldova’s current political crisis is overcome.
     
  • Moldova and the West: The EU and the United States have supported pro-European and democratic forces in Moldova. For instance, Moldova recently received a $2.6 billion grant from the EU to maintain various nascent democratic initiatives. While the EU commended Moldova for meeting international standards in its elections and promised to offer  unconditional, long-standing support to the country, EU officials said it remains unclear whether Moldova will succeed in using its elections to implement democratic reforms and create a governing coalition, stated Shumylo-Tapiola.