18 March 2019

Elections in Republic of Moldova: can the European dream go on?

Andi Cristea

Image source: Mediafax

* (An analysis for Defence and Security Monitor made by Andi Cristea, S&D EU parliamentarian, vice-president of the Foreign Policy Commission- AFET of the European Parliament, president of the European Parliament Delegation at the European Union - Republic of Moldova Parliamentary Association Committee) 

Ten years after launching the Eastern Partnership, whose negative definition comes from not representing the European Union’s enlargement policy, we are focusing, as we did in 2014 as well, on the parliamentary elections from 24th of February, from Republic of Moldova. We are keenly looking at it hoping that Republic of Moldova’s pathway towards the West is not reversible. The “political associations and economic integration” process with EU is a challenge for Chisinau, due to its integration in the European system without having the EU ingredient accession at arm’s length.  

In 2014, Republic of Moldova was the first state in the Eastern Partnership to get EU visa regime liberalization for its citizens. In the exact same year, prime-minister Iurie Leanca, was signing the Association Agreement and the Free Trade Agreement with EU, in Brussels, which was, politically speaking, a superior level for the political relations with Brussels and, economically, it was about cutting off the custom taxes. If back in 2014 two thirds from Republic of Moldova’s commerce was being made with the East, in 2019, two thirds from the same commerce is being made across Prut, with EU, Romania having the first position. We should mention that, currently, the European Commission has some proposals targeting Republic of Moldova regarding the development of the future European highway, TEN-T. There were recorded positive evolutions about it, however, in a world wherein perception is more important than reality, the scandal of the billion robbery became the key element in any discussion involving Republic of Moldova.

Republic of Moldova is, for EU, one of the 16 states incorporated in the European neighboring policy - a partner Brussels wants to have on its side when building and consolidating the acknowledged European values- law domination, human rights, justice’s independency, the fight against corruption etc. If for Brussels Republic of Moldova is a partner and an associate state which has received, in the last 10 years, more than 100 million euro, for the Russian Federation it would be more like a valuable territory to be used for geopolitical purposes, where custom taxes are implemented overnight in order to punish the pro-European orientation, a buffer zone where the project cannot be but the preservation of the current status-quo, which is a country placed in the middle of two systems.

For Romania, Republic of Moldova is, and will always be, the second Romanian state, wherefore most of the Romanians still feel to have a duty for, given the common identity vein. The historical duty gets doubled by a legitime interest, specific to all states, to have everything stable and predictable at their border, and the unpleasant surprises potential or challenges (the barbed wire border of ambassador’s expulsion) to be as small as possible, in a region where frozen conflicts and the unilateral territory annexation have become a reality.

Republic of Moldova’s citizens are voting for a new Parliament on 24th of February

Unlike 2014, when the 101 deputies were elected on parties’ lists, this year half of the candidates are elected in constituencies, and the other half on party’s lists, similar to Germany. The novelty of the electoral system, precisely the election on uninominal formats, can have surprising results comparing with the results of the vote on the list, were citizens are voting parties, following the logic- we are voting the homesteader, not the politician. In other words, parties’ organizational and human resources will influence the result in uninominal formats, and the advantage goes on the governing party, which have the biggest number of mayors.

The polls, most likely feasible (often results have refuted the quantitative results), are suggesting that in the next Parliament will enter three great electoral blocs:

-SPRM (Social Party of Republic of Moldova), the party of president Dodon, which, in three years, it was only once to Brussels and 20 times to Moscow;

- the Social Democratic party led by Vlad Plahotniuc, which has the current majority and the governance through prime-minister Pavel Filip (PES partner);

-the electoral bloc ACUM- Maia Sandu and Andrei Nastase, the so-called anti-oligarchic opposition (PPE partner).

According to polls, SPRM would have the biggest number of mandates, however the majority in parliament will probably be made through the alliance between any two of the three electoral blocs.

For those used to think of it following the pro-European/pro-Russian breach, the fact that there is a harsh oligarchy rhetoric (Plahotniuc)- an anti-oligarchic opposition could be a surprise, however the common denominator must be found in the hybrid and anti-European war tool, used and upgraded since 2014.

Undoubtedly, the European option is, again, after 2009 and 2014, tested through vote. Unfortunately, the pro-European front is more divided than ever, which offers SPRM (president Dodon’s party) ammunition.

Although natural in any democracy, attacks and critics against the political competition are reaching a climax in the state across Prut. Often, the European calls on certain limits not to be crossed because it could turn any ulterior coalition impossible, are simply ignored. The separation is important, but more important is the common contrast with SPRM.

The last three years have brought more peacefulness in the Moldavian politics than we were used to. Some also see the bad part behind this calm, blaming it on control. On the other hand, many are talking about the political, social and economic crises in 2015 and surely no one wants for the instability episodes to be repeated, however we would have a lot to mention- April 2009, the repetition of the 2010 elections, the governmental crisis inside the Alliance for European Integration from 2013, etc. From 2014 to 2016, Chisinau had 5 prime-ministers, including the interim ones. Hence, recently, crises were more like the rule than the exception.

In 2016, Government Filip took the power in an extremely complicated context, and he succeeded in stabilizing the country economically and socially speaking. Accomplishing the European plan of works at the end of 2016, signing the agreement with the International Monetary Fund, opening the NATO information office in Chisinau, the 2017 decision of the European Commission to offer macro-financial assistance and retake the European funding, stopped in 2015, are clear evidences for the political will going in the right direction.

Unfortunately, we have witnessed, in 2017, the distance in the relation with EU, as consequence of the revocation for the mayoral anticipated partial elections for Chisinau, won by Andrei Nastase.

Obviously, a lot of things need to be done, and Chisinau has to work a lot to have strong institutions, independent justice, a business environment and a labor force to bring greater incomes for the citizens. The last reactions in the European Parliament against the governors were marked also by the political favorites (a majority in EP has correspondent-parties in the opposition), despite the rightful reproaches about the post-elections’ situation from Chisinau.

The tension between the ACUM bloc and the DP, as the main vectors of the European project, has a long and hopeless history. What happened at the partial elections from Chisinau has complicated this equation even more. However, I believe that this February electoral campaign must be more about who represents better the pro-European public. The more intense is the competition between the two forces, the less it is discussed the bankrupt project SPRM is proposing. Eventually, the purpose is the same: stop the pro-Russian socialists to get the power and throw away what is has been worked for after the 2009 revolution. Politics means compromise if there is a "raison d'Etat". 

I personally want to see how those belonging to ACUM bloc, as well as those from the DP, are going to propose ideas to answer people’s priorities, which are similar with the ones in Romania: salaries, pensions, jobs, infrastructure, qualitative public services, the fight against corruption. Only by connecting these concrete measures on how can Europe make things easier, can outclass the pro-Russian propaganda which blames EU and the politicians to have this orientation for country’s problems.

A positive perspective for Moldova and the contrast with the socialists is the key that could decrease Republic of Moldova’s political Russification threat. It is not the time to discuss about post-electoral coalitions- because, given how the polls look like, none of the parties can get the majority by itself, but it won’t be bad to be more balanced.  Bad words could destroy a common political project which basically means European wealth for the citizens across Prut.

Each Romanian political party, despite state’s institutions, can change Republic of Moldova’s issue. Doing everything possible, promoting the economy and political project of European integration, insisting on a future accession perspective, offering resources for public projects or encouraging the Romanian capital cross the Prut more often.  We are here to help if someone is asking us so, not to give lessons, but it is important to warn about the importance of decency and the European red lines. Our hope is for the political leaders in Republic of Moldova, as well as the citizens, to continue to believe in Europe- even if it is a marathon session, not a sprint one.

After five years since managing the European file of Republic of Moldova, as president of the European Parliament delegation, my answer is: yes, the European project and dream of Republic of Moldova can go on, but the ball is on their court.  How they will play it will actually reveal who is on the solution and who on the issue side.