Moldova's 2010 Parliamentary Election: Toward Stability and Reintegration?

By
William E. Pomeranz

The Republic of Moldova is a "newly independent, multiethnic country divided by 18 years of unresolved separatist conflict," stated Rebecca Chamberlain-Creanga, a Title VIII Research Scholar at the Kennan Institute. At her 6 December 2010 Kennan Institute seminar, Chamberlain-Creanga analyzed Moldova's November 28, 2010 parliamentary election results, in which citizens went to the polls for the fourth time in less than two years. Chamberlain-Creanga discussed how the process of coalition building was proceeding one week after Moldova's election, and what these developments meant for the country's internal stability and for its broader consolidation of national identity and future conflict resolution.

Chamberlain-Creanga examined the factors behind Moldova's internal divisions, emphasizing the territorial division between the Transnistrian region and the rest of the country that occurred in the wake of the Soviet Union's collapse in 1991. Although a cease-fire has been in place since 1992, the conflict essentially has remained frozen for almost two decades. Chamberlain-Creanga further highlighted the national split within Moldova between Moldovans who are Romanian or EU-disposed and Moldovans who are domestically inward-looking or Russia-disposed, a cosmopolitan-versus-localist split that, in turn, was reflected in the country's sharp political divide. In general, noted Chamberlain-Creanga, Romanian-disposed Moldovans, while not advocating for union with Romania, broadly supported center-right political parties. Meanwhile, "localist" Moldovans of rural and urban rank-and-file backgrounds largely voted for the Communists. As a result, politics and identity clearly went hand in hand in Moldova, concluded Chamberlain-Creanga.

After Moldova's contested April 5, 2009 election, the July 29, 2009 election brought to power the new four-party coalition called the Alliance for European Integration (the "Alliance"). The Alliance, however, did not receive sufficient support to select a president, which is elected by the parliament, and attempts to change Moldova's constitution to allow for direct presidential elections also failed. Chamberlain-Creanga argued that the 2009 elections exacerbated political and social divisions in Moldova; the Communist party feared the loss of Moldovan sovereignty and self-control, while the parties of the Alliance feared the loss of the European Union option and perspective. A social-structural split also emerged in the aftermath of the elections, with an urban intelligentsia oriented toward Europe and a rural/urban rank-and-file increasingly looking to Russia for support. As a result, cross-river relations between Transnistria and the rest of the country deteriorated because of what was perceived on the left-bank as a rise in pro-Romanian, pro-European aspirations by the Alliance. Opinion polls dated as recently as November 2010 further revealed an almost even split among the population between pro-European and pro-Russian supporters.

Chamberlain-Creanga next described the differences between the main political actors in Moldova, particularly as they related to different development approaches for the country. The Communists in Moldova champion "a state-controlled model of development for the country, and are wary of outside foreign forces operating on their territory," including missionaries, NGOs, and representatives of foreign direct investment. Alternatively, the Alliance sees itself as intimately linked to Romania in language and identity, even as it upholds Moldova's independence and sovereignty. According to Chamberlain-Creanga, the consensus among foreign experts (and approximately half of the Moldovan population) is that European integration represents the single best way for Moldova to move forward. European accession - even if far off - could also ultimately make the industrially-advanced Transnistria region more open to re-integration into Moldova, noted Chamberlain-Creanga.

Chamberlain-Creanga reported the results of the November 28, 2010 elections: the Communists won the plurality of votes (39 percent), which translated into 42 seats in parliament. The Liberal Democratic Party came in second place with 29 percent of the vote (32 seats). In third place was the Democratic Party, with 13 percent of the vote (15 seats), while the Liberal Party won 10 percent of the vote and 12 seats in parliament. Since no one party received enough votes to form a government, a coalition government once again was the only possible outcome from this election. Several options remained viable, including a re-incarnation of the Alliance, although even if this occurred, the Alliance would be two seats short to elect a new president. The Communists have a much more difficult path to power, since they would have to convince one or two parties to break with the Alliance and enter into a coalition government, which could still be short of necessary seats.

But the worst case scenario, argued Chamberlain-Creanga, would be if no coalition was formed, thereby leading to the formation of another interim government. Such a result would lead to more foot-dragging in trying to resolve the Transnistria conflict, as Russia and Transnistria would claim that there was no stable government with which it could negotiate. An interim government also might threaten advances made with the EU and other inter-governmental bodies, as it would demonstrate an inability of Moldovan officials to share power, an important skill needed if Moldovans hope to cooperate with Transnistrians in a one-day re-unified Moldova.

Chamberlain-Creanga insisted that the way forward for Moldova had to begin with the promotion of greater social cohesion. Such a strategy needed to address the social-structural divides and take into account the wishes of a significant (even if shrinking) part of the electorate that wants to remain close to Russia. Therefore, so as not to alienate a significant part of society, Moldova needed a regime of "pragmatism, not ideology." Any new government also needed to balance EU aspirations with "repairing past social friction and reducing poverty in a polarized country." Chamberlain-Creanga further stressed the need to follow a path of national consolidation that would emphasize Moldova's development as a civic, multi-cultural nation. Finally, Chamberlain-Creanga argued that Russia may yet prove to be a willing partner to end the frozen conflict in Moldova.

Blair Ruble, Director, Kennan Institute

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