Parliamentary elections were held in Moldova on February 24, 2019. According to the final data presented by the Central Electoral Commission, the voter turnout was 51% and the Socialist Party emerged as the largest parliamentary group with 35 out of 101 seats(1).
The ruling Democratic Party came second with 30 seats, while the ACUM bloc received 26 mandates and the Shor Party won seven. The three remaining seats were divided among independent deputies (2).
In its preliminary report, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) stated that the elections were “competitive and fundamental rights were generally respected” (3). Furthermore, the OSCE observation mission noted that “[m]ost aspects of the elections were administered in a professional and transparent manner (4)”. That said, both the Socialist and the Democratic Party accused each other of vote-buying by candidates or charities associated with them (5). Moldova’s Constitutional Court nevertheless validated the election outcome on March 9 (6).
The Socialist Party, affiliated with Moldova’s President Igor Dodon, is known to be pro-Russian. On the other side of the spectrum, the Democrats of chairman Vladimir Plahotniuc are considered pro-Western, but have called to balance East-West relations (7). They are challenged by the ACUM (“NOW”) bloc, a coalition between former Minister for Education Maia Sandu and protest leader Andrei Nastase. The ACUM bloc is more outspokenly pro-European Union and ran an anti-corruption campaign (8). The fourth major actor is the Shor Party, often described as conservative and led by businessman Ilan Shor (9).
With the Parliament divided among these four parties, the election result set the stage for coalition talks. Right after the elections, the Democratic Party offered ACUM to start negotiations, but the offer was declined. On March 11, ACUM’s co-chairs also turned down an invitation from the Socialist Party to form a coalition government. The Democrats then reiterated their offer to form a parliamentary majority with ACUM on March 14, now even willing to give the prime minister’s seat to the pro-EU bloc( 10). ACUM resisted though, “rejecting any sort of political alliance or cooperation with oligarchic parties” (11).
According to Vladimir Socor, Senior Fellow of the Jamestown Foundation, “[v]arious coalition formulas [were] under discussion, non easily attainable” (12) and the political landscape bears the question why that is the case. First, President Dodon has repeatedly stressed “’the openness of the Russian leadership’ and its ‘great interest’ in developing a strategic partnership between Russia and Moldova” (13), a stance that seems hard to reconcile with ACUM’s overtly pro-EU agenda.
Most importantly though, ACUM’s supporters view the movement as “a credible pro-Western, morally uncorrupt [sic], and well-educated force” (14). By contrast, Vladimir Plahotniuc “is widely believed to control key state institutions, the prosecutor general, the judiciary, financial flows, and media” (15), as Balazs Jarabik and Leonid Litra point out, scholars at the think tanks Carnegie Europe and New Europe Center. Thus, ACUM and the Democratic Party may both be pro-European to some extent, but remain prime adversaries nevertheless. Vladimir Socor therefore concludes that the “newly elected parliament contains three mutually incompatible parties” (16).
An Unlikely Alliance
Despite ACUM having turned down the Socialist’s coalition offer in March, the two parties “put their geopolitical differences aside” (17) to strike a surprise deal on June 8: in an extraordinary sitting of the Parliament, Maia Sandu was sworn in as Prime Minister, while Igor Dodon was to continue serving as President. A day later, the Constitutional Court ordered the Parliament’s dissolution, ruling that the three-month time window to form a government had passed (18). The Court then appointed outgoing Democratic Prime Minister Pavel Filip as interim President. Subsequently, Filip decreed snap parliamentary elections to be held on September 6 (19).
The Moldovan Constitution does indeed require a government to take office within three months of the certification of election results (20). That said, the “surprise coalition” challenged the ruling, pointing to the fact that the Court counted 90 days instead of three months (21). On June 11, and despite being suspended, Igor Dodon consequently signed a decree to override Pavel Filip’s call for snap elections (22). Following international pressure, Filip resigned on June 14 (23).
After the standoff
In a recent interview, Prime Minister Sandu said “her government aims to fight corruption, remove dishonest officials, make the electoral system fairer and get foreign aid flowing” (24). Vladislav Kulminski, executive director of a Chisinau-based think tank, confirms that figures like Vladimir Plahotniuc could soon “face prosecution over corruption allegations” (25). While “Moldova now has a fragile chance to cleanse its political system” (26), questions are also raised whether the Russian-backed Socialists may eventually try to disrupt the pro-European agenda of their coalition partner (27).
Update (26 November 2019): Since the publication of this piece, Maia Sandu has lost a no-confidence vote and has had to resign as Prime Minister. Ion Chicu has since been appointed as her successor. Updated analysis is to follow shortly.
Philip Aaron Bowes, M.A. Intelligence and Strategic Studies
(1) ELECTION GUIDE: DEMOCRACY ASSISTANCE & ELECTION NEWS, “Republic of Moldova: Election for Parlament (Moldovan Parliament)”, date unknown, http://www.electionguide.org/elections/id/3120/, (accessed 1 May 2019).
(2) RADIO FREE EUROPE/ RADIO LIBERTY, “Moldova’s Constitutional Court Confirms February 24 Vote Result”, 10 March 2019, https://www.rferl.org/a/moldova-constitutional-court-confirms-parliament-elections/98212890.html, (accessed 1 May 2019).
(3) ORGANIZATION FOR SECURITY AND CO-OPERATION IN EUROPE, “International Election Observation Mission: Republic of Moldova - Parliamentary Elections, 24 February 2019: Statement of Preliminary Findings and Conclusions”, 25 February 2019, https:// www.osce.org/odihr/elections/moldova/412346?download=true, (accessed 18 May 2019), p.1.
(4) Loc. cit.
(5) Ibid. p. 2.
(6) RADIO FREE EUROPE/ RADIO LIBERTY, “Moldova’s Constitutional Court Confirms February 24 Vote Result”, op. cit.
(7) Loc. cit.
(8) RADIO FREE EUROPE/ RADIO LIBERTY, “Moldova Polls 'Competitive' Despite 'Strong Indications Of Vote Buying,' Monitors Say”, 25 February 2019, https:// www.rferl.org/a/moldova-socialists-lead-democrats-acum-parliamentary-vote/29788181.html, (accessed 1 May 2019).
(9) Loc. cit.
(10) BANILA, Nicoleta. “Moldova's Democratic Party invites pro-EU ACUM bloc to form govt coalition“, SeeNews: Business Intelligence for Southeast Europe, 14 March 2019, https://seenews.com/news/moldovas-democratic-party-invites-pro-eu-acum-bloc-to-form-govt-coalition-646593, (accessed 1 May 2019).
(11) MUNTEANU, Igor. “What does Moldova’s inconclusive election mean for the country’s future?”, Emerging Europe, 15 March 2019, https://emerging-europe.com/voices/ what-does-moldovas-inconclusive-election-mean-for-the-countrys-future/, (accessed 1 May 2019).
(12) SOCOR, Vladimir. “Moldova’s Parliamentary Elections: One Silver Lining Amid Multiple Negative Trends (Part One)“, Eurasia Daily Monitor, 11 March 2019, https://jamestown.org/program/moldovas-parliamentary-elections-one-silver-lining-amid-multiple-negative-trends-part-one/, (accessed 1 May 2019).
(13) Igor DODON cited in RADIO FREE EUROPE/ RADIO LIBERTY, “Crucial Moldovan Parliamentary Vote Marred By Fraud Allegations”, 24 February 2019, https://www.rferl. org/a/moldova-elections-dodon-socialists-acum-democrats-russia-eu/29787009.html, (accessed 1 May 2019).
(14) SOCOR, Vladimir. Op. cit.
(15) JARABIK, Balazs and Leonid LITRA. “Moldova Election: A Democratic Illusion?“, Carnegie Europe, 21 February 2019, https://carnegieeurope.eu/strategiceurope/78416, (accessed 1 May 2019).
(16) SOCOR, Vladimir. “Moldova’s Parliamentary Elections: One Silver Lining Amid Multiple Negative Trends (Part Two)“, Eurasia Daily Monitor, 18 March 2019, https://jamestown.org/program/moldovas-parliamentary-elections-one-silver-lining-amid-multiple-negative-trends-part-two/, (accessed 1 May 2019).
(17) MACKINNON, Amy. “Moldova’s Governments Go Head to Head: One of Europe’s poorest countries plunges into crisis”, Foreign Policy, 10 June 2019, https://foreignpolicy. com/2019/06/10/moldovas-governments-go-head-to-head/, (accessed 13 June 2019).
(18) Loc. cit.
(19) TANAS, Alexander. “Moldovan president suspended, snap election called as crisis deepens”, Foreign Policy, 9 June 2019, https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-moldova-politics/moldovan-president-suspended-snap-election-called-as-crisis-deepens-idUKKCN1TA06O?utm_source=applenews, (accessed 10 June 2019).
(20) RADIO FREE EUROPE/ RADIO LIBERTY, “Moldovan Court Rebuffs 'Vehement Attacks' On Move To Oust President”, 11 June 2019, https://www.rferl.org/a/moldovan-court-rebuffs-vehement-attacks-on-move-to-oust-president/29993953.html, (accessed 13 June 2019).
(21) MACKINNON, Amy. Op. cit.
(22) RADIO FREE EUROPE/ RADIO LIBERTY, “Moldovan Court Rebuffs 'Vehement Attacks' On Move To Oust President”, Op. cit.
(23) KINGSLEY, Patrick. “Moldova Had Two Governments. One Has Finally Resigned”, The New York Times, 14 June 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/14/world/europe/ moldova-new-government.html, (accessed 15 June 2019).
(24) Maia SANDU cited in DEUTSCHE WELLE, “Moldovan oligarch's party makes way for pro-Europe, pro-Russia coalition”, 15 June 2019, https://www.dw.com/en/moldovan-oligarchs-party-makes-way-for-pro-europe-pro-russia-coalition/a-49215060, (accessed 15 June 2019).
(25) Vladislav KULMINSKI cited in Amy MACKINNON. Op. cit.
(26) THE WASHINGTON POST, “Moldova has a chance to cleanse its political system. It needs more Western support”, 12 June 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/ global-opinions/moldova-has-a-chance-to-cleanse-its-political-system-it-needs-more-western-support/2019/06/12/c1611082-8c7d-11e9-b08e-cfd89bd36d4e_story.html? noredirect=on&utm_term=.aa784235d3dc, (accessed 13 June 2019).
(27) KINGSLEY, Patrick. Op. cit.