Difficult coalition talks expected after Moldova election

Socialist Party election poster depicts activists meeting with Putin. It reads “Together with Russia” [Reuters]

Socialist Party election poster depicts activists meeting with Putin. It reads “Together with Russia.” [Reuters]

Moldova’s three main pro-Europe parties appeared on course to be able to form a new coalition government, with most of the vote from an election yesterday (30 November) counted, despite the pro-Moscow Socialist Party taking first place, analysts said today.

With 87% of the vote counted, according to the election authorities, the three parties – the Liberal Democrats, the Liberals and the Democrats – had a combined vote of 44% – enough for them to win more than the 51 seats required for a majority in the 101 seat parliament.

This was in spite of the pro-Russia Socialist Party taking a surprise lead, with 21.5% of the vote. 

The performance of the Socialist Party, which seeks to reverse a policy of integrating with mainstream Europe and join a Russia-led economic bloc instead, highlighted the division in one of Europe’s smallest and poorest countries over whether to stick to the pro-Europe path pursued for the past five years, or move back into Russia’s orbit. Igor Dodon, the leader of the Socialist Party, is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Under a three-party centre-right coalition in power since 2009, the landlocked ex-Soviet republic has signed and ratified a far-reaching political and trade deal with the European Union that has earned its 3.5 million people visa-free travel to Western Europe.

>> Read: Moldova sets record in ratifying EU association agreement

Moldova’s breakaway pro-Russian enclave of Transnistria (see background) gives Russia a potential springboard, though Moscow has so far shown no readiness to intervene as it has done in Moldova’s neighbour Ukraine, which has also pursued a pro-Europe agenda.

But it has shown its displeasure by banning imports of wines, vegetables and meat, hurting an economy which relies heavily on agricultural exports and needs cash from thousands of Moldovans working abroad to balance its books.

The centre-right coalition partners appeared to have suffered from their poor record in fighting corruption and by infighting among their leaders, which benefited the opposition.

Election authorities said the full picture would only emerge later in the morning on Monday, after the vote had been counted in the capital itself.

These figures suggest that no single party will have enough votes in the 101 seat parliament to form a government. If the trend shown in the partial count proves to be the final picture, the country is set for a spell of heavy horse-trading over forming a coalition.

The communists say they want to carry out a revision of the trade part of the EU agreement so as to better protect domestic food producers from EU competition, and have said they want better ties with Moscow, but they do not oppose European integration as such.

Their leader, two-time president Vladimir Voronin, has also ruled out doing any deals with the Socialists, whose leaders he personally dislikes because they defected from communist party ranks.

One possibility is that the centre-right parties could now try to form a “grand coalition” with the Communists, to keep the country on a pro-European track and stop the Socialists building up momentum for doing a U-turn and trying to take Moldova into the Russian-led Customs Union.

Prime Minister Iurie Leanca has said he wants full European Union membership for Moldova by 2020.

Moldova is a former Soviet republic, and was part of Romania before being annexed by the Soviet Union in World War II. It is landlocked between Romania and Ukraine. Moldovans speak Romanian, although the country's constitution calls it the 'Moldovan language'. Russian is also widely spoken.

Transnistria, a Moldovan region east of the Dniester River, has been considered a 'frozen conflict' area since the disintegration of the Soviet Union. It has ethnic Russian and Ukrainian populations. Although internationally Transnistria is part of Moldova, de facto its authorities do not exercise any power there.

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