Moldova’s Parliamentary Elections: European Choice Versus Russian Political Projects (Part Two)

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 11 Issue: 215

(Source: Reuters)

Moldova’s small Party of Socialists, pro-Kremlin and pro-Eurasia, has suddenly become Moldova’s single largest party after the legislative elections on November 30. Surpassing the Communist Party, Igor Dodon’s Socialists are now the leading leftist party, the primary recipient of Russian/”Russian-speaking” votes (but not confined to that segment), and the single strongest group in Moldova’s newly elected parliament. The Socialists and Communists have received 21 percent and 18 percent, respectively, of the total votes cast; corresponding with 26 seats and 21 seats, respectively, in the 101-seat parliament. The governing pro-Europe coalition (comprised of three parties) holds 54 seats in this parliament (Moldpres, December 1; see Part One in EDM, December 2).

The Socialist Party’s billboard advertisement shows the party’s top leaders in an intimate conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. The party’s election campaign motto was, “A Prosperous Moldova Together with a Powerful Russia.” The Socialist Party calls for abrogating Moldova’s Association Agreement with the European Union and for holding a referendum on Moldova’s accession to the Russia-led Customs Union (to be expanded into the Eurasian Union as of January 1, 2015). Symbolically at least, this is a party of the Red Left (Soviet five-pointed red star as electoral trademark, red flag, no political affiliations in Europe).

Putin has long ranked as the most popular of all politicians in Moldovan opinion surveys (a reflection of Russian television’s impact on this society). Socialist Party leader Dodon has become the first Moldovan politician to associate himself with the Putin image and capitalize on it. The Kremlin has evidently authorized this image transfer, which catapulted Dodon from obscurity to sudden prominence.

No significant political party in any former Soviet country has sided with Russia as demonstratively as Moldova’s Socialist Party. By the same token, Russia has found a satellite party—now suddenly a serious one—in Moldova for the first time in 25 years. More broadly, this is the Kremlin’s first-ever open endorsement of an opposition political party against the incumbent government of a former Soviet country. It is also the Kremlin’s first-ever decision to endorse a party of the Red Left in any former Soviet territory.

Dodon seized this chance for his small party to supplant the mass-based Communist Party of Vladimir Voronin (head of state, 2001–2009), from which Dodon has since split off. The Communist Party had garnered 44 parliamentary seats in the preceding elections (2010) while the Socialist Party fell below the threshold.

The Communist Party, a home product in Moldova under Voronin, never became Russia’s political partner. The Kremlin deeply distrusted Voronin’s Communists when they were in power, and has ostracized them ever since. The Communist Party, moreover, had locked in the Russian/”Russian-speaking” voters in Moldova, making it almost impossible for Moldova’s pro-Russia parties to capitalize on that electorate—until now.

That situation became unacceptable to Moscow in the context of its “Russian World” design and anti-EU policy in Europe’s East, where Moldova is the EU’s most advanced partner country. To counteract Brussels effectively in Moldova, the Kremlin had to effect a transfer of voters from the Communist Party to hardline pro-Russia forces. Moldova’s electoral campaign leading up to the November 30 parliamentary elections provided that opportunity. The Kremlin, in effect, unleashed the Socialist Party to cut into the Communists’ voter base.

The same was the goal of the “Patria” party, a parallel Moscow project, which was disqualified by Moldovan courts on the eve of the November 30 vote. The US State Department evidently misunderstood the situation when its spokeswoman expressed “concern” (, December 1) over that disqualification. “Patria” bears the marks of a pro-Moscow operation with both overt and covert dimensions (see Part One).

Prior to the November 30 vote, Socialist leader Dodon and “Patria” leader Renato Usatyi were intimating a post-election coalition with a reduced Communist Party, on anti-EU terms, and presuming Voronin’s retirement. Such a coalition, hemming in a still-large but declining Communist Party between these smaller but rising pro-Moscow parties, would have made good sense for them and Moscow.

However, the Socialists’ election gains (largely at the Communists’ expense) surpass Dodon’s and all the pollsters’ predictions by far. Flush with success, Dodon is now declaring his ambitions to monopolize the Left for the Socialist Party by 2018, when the next parliamentary elections are due. However, pre-term elections are already being mooted.

Russia’s Ambassador to Moldova, Farit Mukhammetshin, visited the Socialist headquarters on December 2, congratulating the party on its success. Dodon used this occasion to call for parliamentary elections to be held again, as soon as possible. Dodon claims that the elections just held cannot be deemed fully legitimate because “hundreds of thousands” of Moldovan guest workers from Russia could not vote, and “Patria” was disqualified in Moldova (Unimedia, December 2; TV-7, December 3).

These are obvious pretexts. Those guest workers never voted in any significant numbers in any previous Moldovan elections (Moscow might press to change this in the next Moldovan elections). And most of “Patria’s” voters (including defectors from the Communist Party) apparently switched to Dodon’s Socialists on voting day.

Dodon’s call for a repeat election actually seeks to pressure the Communist Party into accepting a subordinate role in a coalition of the Left. The Socialist Party’s main conditions are: a joint initiative to abrogate the Moldova-European Union Association Agreement in the Moldovan parliament, and a joint effort to stage a referendum on Moldova’s accession to the Russia-led Customs Union (Eurasian Union).

Any such coalition would accelerate voter crossovers from the Communist to the Socialist Party. But Voronin’s Communists would fare even worse if new elections are held any time soon. The Communist Party has run out of resources and ideas, whereas the Socialists are riding Putinism’s wave.

Moscow’s decision to stake on Dodon’s splinter group indirectly confirms that no mainstream party was willing to play this role for Russia in Moldova (the Communists must be seen as mainstream in Moldova’s conditions). The Kremlin, however, will undoubtedly also seek a centrist party for the role of Russia’s political partner in Moldova, preferably within the governing coalition. The Democratic Party controlled by billionaire Vlad Plahotniuc is a potential choice for such a role.