The Politics of Moldova’s Governing Alliance

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 181

Liberal Party leader Mihai Ghimpu

The Alliance for European Integration (AEI) has taken over much but not all power in Moldova from the Communist Party. The AEI is a heterogeneous combination of four political parties, each one with its own profile and its leadership ambitions, and in some cases competing against each other for their overlapping electoral constituencies. The AEI is holding together thus far, thanks largely to unsophisticated communist politicians refusing dialogue and threatening to trigger new elections for a revanche. In this sense, AEI’s irreconcilable communist foes can also be seen as the AEI’s inadvertent best friends, helping it to hold together for the duration of this battle.

Almost all Moldovan parties, including those in the AEI, are leader-oriented parties and some of the top leaders tend to act as authoritarian personalities. The Liberal, Liberal-Democrat, Democratic, and Our Moldova parties hold 18 seats, 15 seats. 13 seats, and 7 seats, respectively, for an AEI total of 53, against 48 communist seats in the new parliament. The AEI parties’ top leaders are all dominant personalities, three of them -except, that is, the Democratic Party leader Marian Lupu- running their parties with a heavy micromanaging hand.

The AEI parties agreed among themselves on a power-sharing formula. At the top level this means that the parliament’s chairmanship went to the Liberal leader Mihai Ghimpu, the premiership to Liberal-Democrat leader Vlad Filat, and the state presidency was to go to Lupu, the well-respected chairman of the preceding parliament. These candidacies were to be regarded as joint AEI candidacies under the agreement. The election of the head of state in parliament requires at least 61 votes in the 101-seat chamber, meaning that Lupu and AIE fall short by 8 votes at this point. This situation necessitates a deal with at least some communists as well as full commitment by all AEI parties to the AIE’s joint candidacy for head of state (Moldpres September 29, 30, October 1).

Filat, however, seems to regard his prime-minister’s post as a stepping stone toward being elected president by popular vote, possibly next year, under an amended constitution. As party leader, Filat has campaigned to amend the constitution to that end. He would prefer a colorless transitional figure as head of state at this stage. Consequently, Filat is now signaling quietly that he might not necessarily back Lupu’s election as head of state in parliament, notwithstanding the agreement among the AEI’s parties.

In the current situation, the Liberal Party leader Mihai Ghimpu temporarily combines the posts of chairman of parliament and acting head of state. Elected to the parliamentary chair with the AEI’s 53 votes, Ghimpu became interim head of state by default; upon the expiry of Vladimir Voronin’s term as acting president on September 11 (Voronin’s second, final regular term of office had expired in April). Ghimpu exercised his interim presidential powers to nominate Filat to form the government, which the parliament again approved with the AEI’s 53 votes. Ghimpu, a veteran of the Moldovan Popular Front movement of the late 1980’s-early 1990’s, spent many years in the wilderness before re-emerging in 2007 as chairman of the Chisinau Municipal Council, following his nephew Dorin Chirtoaca’s election as Mayor of Chisinau. The uncle-nephew tandem presided over a notoriously fractious council and chaotic municipal administration until this year, when their Liberal Party entered parliament for the first time. Chirtoaca was instrumental in popularizing the party in these elections; but he has chosen to stay on as mayor, intending to build a political power base at Chisinau City Hall (Moldpres September 29, 30, October 1).

Meanwhile, the Liberal Party has toned down its national-Romanian message, practically muting it during this year’s two electoral campaigns and after acceding to shared power. Most of the Liberal leadership team holds Romanian citizenship or are applicants for it, in addition to Moldovan citizenship. The party has inherited most of the core "unionist" vote, amounting to some 10 percent of Moldova’s total electorate. This segment switched to the Liberal Party when Moldova’s Christian-Democrats renounced the goal of unification with Romania. In Bucharest, President Traian Basescu has openly signaled his sympathy for the Moldovan Liberals and Chirtoaca personally through invitations to Romania and media appearances there.

In Chisinau’s inner circles, Filat is believed to aim resolutely for the state presidency. In what looked like advance preparations, Filat campaigned in 2007-2008 for a referendum on constitutional amendments to enhance presidential powers and elect the president by popular vote, instead of by election in parliament. He further proposed instituting single-mandate electoral districts and allocating one half of the parliament’s seats to deputies elected from those districts, instead of the current proportional system based solely on party lists. Both of those measures would have significantly reduced the influence of political parties. Filat used his party’s organizations in a signature-collecting campaign for a referendum on those constitutional amendments. The effort, however, fell short of the necessary number of signatures.

The Liberal-Democrat team includes some representative figures from civil-society groups and from the legal profession. The team also consists largely of Romanian-minded figures, mostly however without the "unionist" baggage that the Liberal Party carries from the past.

Meanwhile, Communist Party leaders calculate that the ongoing economic crisis and upcoming winter could severely damage the AEI government. The communists therefore seem intent on forcing new parliamentary elections for a revanche. They can precipitate new elections by refusing to lend 8 votes for the head of state to be elected in parliament, in which case parliament is dissolved and new elections are called. The European Union and the International Monetary Fund can forestall that scenario by disbursing the planned anti-crisis assistance without further delay, as Filat has just suggested during his Brussels visit (Moldpres September 29, 30, October 1).

Politically, a timely disbursement would enable the government to survive the winter without severe loss of popularity. And in that case, the communists would no longer risk triggering new elections and would instead have to become more cooperative in the parliament and political arena.