Moldovan Elections: New System, Old Parties

The tenth Moldovan parliamentary elections will be held on 24 February 2019. Traditionally in this post-soviet country, parliamentary elections are the most important part of the political process, where the role of President is mostly nominal. These elections are key as the government is appointed by the Parliament of the Republic. In late 2017, a new electoral system was adopted, stating that half of the lawmakers (50 MPs) were to be elected on party lists and another half (51 MPs) by individual constituencies. Additionally, the new system also introduced an electoral threshold that varies depending on the type of list: electoral alliances with three or more parties are required to pass 11% verge to gain parliamentarian mandates, for coalition of two parties 9% is mandatory and standalone parties need at least 6% of electoral support. Opponents claim that new system favors the current political status quo and beneficial to the largest mainstream political parties- the ruling pro-Western Democratic Party (PDM-S&D) and the opposition pro-Kemlin Socialists (PSRM-ENF/S&D).

A very short introduction to Moldovan politics

Moldova gained independence from the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. The first years of  independence were characterized by a sharp decline in the economy, as well as conflict between the national government and ethnic minorities in the east and south. While relationships with the Gagauz minority were eventually settled, the armed conflict that broke between the central government and Transnistria region is still not resolved and remains a “frozen conflict”.

The territorial conflicts made a mark on the later development of Moldova’s politics as the country was divided between pro-Western and pro-Kremlin political factions.  As the country transformed into a Parliamentary republic, democracy became normalised. The political process was typified by intense involvement of powerful oligarchs, as well as corrupt and controversial politicians. In 2013, the corruption scandal involving then Prime Minister Vlad Filat from the Liberal Democratic Party (PLDM-EPP) caused major political and economic shocks. The election of pro-Kremlin Igor Dodon (*) in 2016 facilitated even more polarisation of political life.

Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova (PSRM-S&D/ENF)

According to the latest polls left-wing, nationalist, and pro-Putin Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova (with links to both the Socialist and Democrats and the Europe of Nations and Freedom groups in the European Parliament) enjoys the support of a plurality of Moldovan voters. It was founded in 1997 and in the early years was marginal political actor in the country’s political life. The party became mainstream in 2011 when former PCRM (GUE/NGL) member Igor Dodon joined the party. Since then, PSRM has become a major pro-Kremlin entity on the country’s political scene. The influence of the PSRM increased after the 2016 presidential elections, when Dodon was elected President of Moldova. Though after elections Dodon stepped down as a party chairman in favour of Zinaida Greceanîi, he still enjoys influence over party and is perceived as a leader of PSRM by many.

PSRM is characterized as being a fiscally left-leaning, but socially right-leaning political party. It supports deepening Moldova’s relationship with Russia. The standard package of PSRM electoral commitments include populist policies on job creation, increasing pensions, growing wages and improving social assistance. In addition, PSRM advocates improving relations with breakaway Transnistria region through Russian mediation. Being socially conservative, PSRM advocates for a special role for the Orthodox Church and is against further so-called “western liberal” policy.  Furthermore PSRM is associated with linguistic and national identity politics: PSRM doesn’t agree to call Moldova’s official language “Romanian”, calling it “Moldovan” instead. In addition, the party actively supports the status of Russian language.

Democratic Party of Moldova (PDM-S&D)

Currently, the centre-left Democratic Party of Moldova (PDM) hold the greatest power in the country. It is the leading partner in the ruling Alliance for European Integration III alongside the European People’s Party of Moldova (PPEM-ALDE) allowing PDM’s Pavel Filip to serve as prime minister since 2016. Despite being founded in the early 90s, the party’s first major breakthrough happened in 2009 whenthey became a member of Alliance for European Integration, an anti-communist oppositional coalition. Since then, the party has become one of the mainstream pro-European political forces in Moldova.

After 2015 crises associated with corruption, PDM became the major political player in the pro-European wing of Moldovan politics. In 2016 powerful and wealthy businessman Vlad Plahotniuc became the chairman of PDM, concerning many about the role oligarchs continue to play in Moldovan politics. Commentators note that PDM, though being a nominally left-wing party, mostly serves business interests. In terms of foreign policy, PDM tries to find a balance between Russia and EU, but leaning more towards EU integration. The party also has a raft of commitments related to the improvement of the country’s infrastructure and healthcare system.

Electoral Bloc NOW (ACUM-EPP)

ACUM (or Electoral Block NOW Platform DA and PAS) (“Acum” meaning “now” in Romanian) is the centre-right alliance that was created to fight the 2019 elections. The union was established in late 2018 by the leader of the Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS-EPP) Maia Sandu, and Dignity and Truth Platform Party (PPDA-EPP) leader Andrei Năstase. The platform positions itself as a centre-right pro-European political party. Despite being new, the alliance is not free of corruption allegations, which are directed toward Maia Sandu regarding her tenure in government. Another controversy associated with ACUM bloc is its partnerships with the Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova (PLDM-EPP) and the Liberal Party (PL-ALDE) despite stating that they would not form an alliance with these two parties. PLDM’s image was largely damaged after its leader Vlad Filat was arrested over allegations surrounding bank fraud and bribes. Since then, PLDM lost its popular support. There is some uncertainty about the ACUM bloc composition after PL’s decision to run independently in this week’s elections.

ACUM’s main policy platform is around fighting against corruption having made various anti-oligarchic statements. ACUM also state that they will fulfil all the conditions required for applying to join the EU by 2023.

The fate of the future government of Moldova will be decided among these three parties, however, due to the close nature of these elections, other parties with smaller electoral support, like the Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova or Liberal Party, could become kingmakers.

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Rati Shubladze and Antons Gusevs are both experts in Eastern European politics and are data analysts for Europe Elects. Euan Healey, Editor-in-Chief of Europe Elects, was a contributing editor.

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