Major trends in Moldova’s parliamentary election

Natalia Stercul, Foreign Policy Association of Moldova (Chisinau)

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The 2019 parliamentary election in the Republic of Moldova was the first vote under the mixed system in the country’s history. Will this eliminate systemic flaws in electoral processes? Will this help the key stakeholders of Moldova’s political landscape to find compromise, or will it bring more conflict into the system of governance? Will this system ?not? create favorable conditions for turning Moldova’s foreign policy towards rapprochement with Russia?

Cornerstones of the mixed election system

Although much is known about the benefits and flaws of the mixed election system in international legislative practices, it was difficult to predict the impact of this system on the balance of political powers in Moldova. Broad criticism of the switch to the mixed system from the extra-parliamentary opposition and European partners aggravated concerns. The election is over, but tensions in the country remain. The key question is what the post-electoral scenarios will bring.  

Building a well-balanced election system that can implement democratic principles is only possible with a range of factors in the political model and system of power taken into account. That  was not done in Moldova. Socio-political nuances, institutional development of the state were not taken into account, and recommendations of the Venice Commission were blatantly ignored. There was no consideration of the criticism from civil society. By contrast, both the Democratic Party and the president, the initiators and supporters of the mixed election system bill, repeatedly justified the need for this step and spoke about its direct contribution to overcoming systemic flaws of election processes. Reality is completely opposite, leaving Moldova in a deep political crisis for a long time to come.  

The turnout threshold was cancelled for the 2019 parliamentary election. Fewer than 1.45 million voters cast their votes. Young people aged 18 to 25 delivered the lowest turnout (8.5%) compared to the previous election. This points to the need to improve electoral awareness and cultivate an active civic position among the young voters.

While the fundamental requirements for organization of elections were met and international observers were present, this electoral process was not completely transparent or open. The Central Election Commission looked at complaints about the registration of candidates, violations of the election procedure, and the involvement of people with no Moldovan citizenship. According to the Promo-LEX supervisory mission, numerous violations were recorded on the election day. These included restricted access of observers to polling stations, pressure on the voters, attempts to pay out monetary reward near the voting units, organized transportation of the voters, violations of the secrecy of voting and many more. The use of black PR, dirty campaigns and mutual accusations in public speeches, including in mass media, are especially noteworthy. Still, the election was declared valid.

The impact of external factors on the election result

Moldova’s choice in the election affects its agency on the international arena. As a country positioned on the East-West divide line, Moldova has traditionally found itself at the crossroads of geopolitical interests from potentially powerful international players. The 2019 parliamentary election was viewed as a test of resilience for the foreign policy vector Moldova has chosen. Fear of a turn towards Russia was not ungrounded. Russian influence still plays an important role, using traditional instruments of soft power, political propaganda, disinformation, fake news, as well as financial resources to feed certain political parties, leaders, representatives of the establishment and a fifth column that seriously intensified its activity in the run-up to the election. All this created additional destructive impulses that further destabilized the difficult situation in the country.

The influence of the Russian Federation is not the only problem. Moldova’s authorities are a major factor as they put their political interests and ambitions above the country’s national interests. Allowing the Şor Party to run in the election after the notorious banking fraud (it gained 8.32%) is one example. The participation of the Our Party, an opposition force led by Bălți ex-mayor Renato Usatyi with financial support from Russia, is another case. The Russian laundromat, the scam to launder Russian money through Moldova, affected many well-known politicians in the country, including the leader of the Democratic Party who is now on international wanted list for fraud and violations. This does not stop him from essentially controlling all institutional entities in the country. As one of the most influential politicians and richest people in the country, he has repeatedly managed to adjust the political game to his interests.

The changes in the political platform of the Democratic Party refocusing on pro-Moldova policy have cooled down relations with the EU and raised the question of the party’s ability to maintain Moldova’s European course of development. Still, the technological tool of the mixed system allowed the ruling party to stay in power despite the unimpressive result of 23.62%. Even this was mainly possible due to the victory of the party’s candidates in single-mandate constituencies structured to minimize the success of the Party of Socialists. All this once again proves the political nature of the changes in the electoral legislation; corruption in Moldova’s top echelons; democracy as window dressing, and the poor quality of political culture. Conducted under the guise of a struggle between pro-Russian and pro-European interests, this is in fact political double play in favor of personal interests that helps Moldova balance between East and West.

The Party of Socialists has openly declared its favor of the pro-Russian course. Its ex-leader, President Igor Dodon harboured great hope in winning parliamentary majority with his Russia-re-approach policy. His statements were backed by demonstrative rebuilding of the Moldova-Russia dialogue and the aspiration to strengthen bilateral relations at all levels. As the electoral reserve of pro-Russian forces, Transnistria played a serious role in helping the Party of Socialists get a leading position with 31.15%. More than half of Transnistria residents voted for the Party of Socialists.

The АСUM, the extra-parliamentary pro-European opposition, got 26.84%. In fact, it was the only political force with no serious political power, administrative leverage or financial support. It focused its efforts on dialogue with the EU and fight against corruption and oligarchy.  Importantly, the ACUM received a lot of support from the civil society which has played a serious role in its electoral success.

The post-election changes in parliament include the disappearance of some political forces, such as the Communist Party, the Liberal Democratic Party and the Liberal Party from the political scene. It has an entirely new balance of power now.

Post-electoral scenarios: Decoding the political mystery

The new parliament will be comprised of the Party of Socialists, the Democratic Party of Moldova, the ACUM and the Şor Party. The election outcome makes it obvious that political parties are the key interested parties in the mixed electoral system. Still, none has gained a majority which creates ground for a new intrigue: will they manage to form a coalition? If they don’t, Moldova will face early parliamentary election. This would probably be the best option in the current context. But that scenario will hardly materialize. Despite of the possible post-electoral scenarios, one thing seems obvious: in any coalition, regardless of who strikes an agreement with whom or what reasons push them to seek an agreement, the Democratic Party will retain its mechanisms of control. Any coalition will face constant internal disagreements. As a result, decisions will be blocked and status quo scenarios will prevail. Once again, Moldova remains in the grey zone of balancing between the East and the West.