Moldova has become the first post-Soviet country to have brought the Communist Party back to power, and, by the same token, the first East-Central European country to hand power to an unreformed Communist Party. This Moldovan aberration stems from unique local circumstances and is therefore unlikely to be duplicated elsewhere in the formerly Soviet-ruled world in the foreseeable future. But its consequences play directly into the Kremlin’s hands, will affect neighboring Ukraine and Romania with potential repercussions on the Balkans, and may frustrate international efforts to remove the Russian military installations and troops from Moldova.
The Party of Communists of Moldova (PCM) triumphed in the February 25 parliamentary elections. Its success had been expected, but the proportions of that success exceed all the local or international projections, including those of Moldova’s Communists themselves. According to the final returns, issued on March 3 by the Central Electoral Commission, the PCM won seventy-one parliamentary seats, the center-left government bloc “Braghis Alliance” (named after the prime minister) nineteen seats, and the self-styled right-wing Christian-Democrat People’s Party (CDPP, the rebaptized Popular Front) eleven seats in the 101-seat legislature.
Voter turnout was a relatively high 69 percent. The proportional system distorted the results to some degree. The PCM garnered 51 percent of the popular vote, the Braghis Alliance 13 percent and the CDPP 8 percent, respectively. These three parties gained seats at the expense of the fourteen parties that failed to clear the 6 percent threshold of parliamentary representation. Two of those parties–former President Mircea Snegur’s center-right Party of Rebirth and Conciliation and the outgoing parliament chairman Dumitru Diacov’s centrist Democratic Party–failed by only a few decimal points to clear the 6 percent threshold of parliamentary representation. Because of the proportional system, the lion’s share of those two parties’ votes–that is, some 10 percent of the total votes cast–were credited to the PCM. But even on the basis of the popular vote alone, the PCM can boast of gaining an absolute majority in Moldova.
Transdniester’s authorities forbade the balloting in the areas under their control and prevented left-bank residents from crossing onto the right bank of the Dniestr to vote there. The interdiction has been recurring at every Moldovan election since 1991 and deprives at least 15 percent of Moldova’s citizens of the right to vote.
International observers from the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and other international organizations, and from a number of parliaments of democratic countries, assessed the election in right-bank Moldova as free and fair, in conformance with international standards, and comparing distinctly favorably with the elections held in other post-Soviet countries. In its mechanics, the conduct of this election was almost impeccable. Moldova’s Communists therefore come to power with an apparent aura of democratic legitimacy. It is an aura conferred on the PCM by an uninformed and deeply impoverished electorate, large parts of which never made the transition–or indeed reversed the incipient transition–from the mentality of Soviet citizens to modern civic awareness.
Four factors–two of them structural and two circumstantial–combined to propel the PCM’s landslide. First, the failure of Moldova’s improvised political class to introduce market reforms. The ensuing economic collapse and general pauperization are seen by the electorate as consequences of reforms, not of the absence thereof. Second, the ethnolinguistic structure of the population, with “Russian-speakers” forming approximately 30 percent of the electorate in right-bank Moldova and voting as a bloc, typically redounds to the advantage of the Russian-oriented left. This bloc’s turnout in elections, moreover, is consistently higher than that of Moldovan voters. The latter just as consistently divide their votes among a number of parties across the political spectrum.
Third, the outcome of this election reflects the collapse of the multiparty system in Moldova. That system’s degeneration had been plain since 1999, but it fully collapsed during the final months of the outgoing parliament. Unable any longer to form a working majority on almost any issue, the parliamentary parties ultimately splintered into a welter of squabbling subgroups, each of which sought a separate deal with the Communists–the largest and the sole disciplined party in the outgoing parliament. Months ahead of the parliamentary elections, the PCM had already come close to playing the kingmaker’s role in Moldova.
And, fourth, the PCM and the CDPP in this campaign successfully exploited the issue of official corruption to destroy their adversaries. Those adversaries–the rightist and center-right parties–are common to the PCM and the CDPP, neither of which is alien to venality. The PCM sought to eliminate the center-right parties from parliament for ideological reasons; the CDPP pursued the same goal in the hope of dominating the right and the center-right segments on the political spectrum (Flux, Basapress, Infotag, February 24-28, March 2-3).
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