Pro-Western parties have retained a slim majority in the national legislature, but their hold on parliament may not last long unless substantive progress is made in tackling rampant corruption, observers predict.
The pro-Moscow Socialist Party captured the highest percentage of votes (20.51 percent) in the November 30 parliamentary elections, but the pro-European Union Liberal Democrats, along with its coalition partner, the Liberal Party, polled just well enough to keep hold of the reins of government. The results mark a victory for Moldova’s efforts to move toward the EU. The governing coalition signed an association agreement with the European Union this June, and its slim election victory keeps the country’s EU aspirations on track.
While avidly pro-Western parties may now hold 55 of parliament’s 101 seats, their main challenge lies ahead, analysts say. To maintain voter support for integration with the EU, the government’s focus needs to move from foreign policy to domestic policy, underlined Nicu Popescu, a senior analyst at the EU-run Institute for Security Studies of the European Union in Brussels. “The new government should focus on one single issue and should do it convincingly: reduce corruption very significantly.”
"Voters,” he continued, “expected a different Europe and expected firm progress in fighting corruption, improving the business environment.”
So far, most voters, whether pro-EU or pro-Russia, believe that has not happened. Anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International places Moldova solidly in the corrupt category (alongside Mexico, Bolivia and Niger) in its 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Corruption in Moldova assumes many forms, ranging from payoffs for university grades to court rulings – “absolutely all spheres of life,” complained one homemaker to the Russian-language news site Novosti-Moldova.
For now, the National Anti-Corruption Commission, a government agency established in 2013, is the main agency charged with trying to tackle the problem. Both before and after the elections, it has been reviewing alleged discrepancies in high-profile officials’ income statements, including those of five outgoing cabinet ministers (Interior Minister Dorin Rechan, Economy Minister Andrian Candu, Culture Minister Monika Babuk, Labor Minister Valentina Buliga, and Youth Minister Oktavian Bodishtyanu), the head of the border police, Vladimir Chebotar, and President Nicolae Timofti’s spokesperson, Vlad Tsurkanu.
Prime Minister Iurie Leanca has acknowledged voters’ disgruntlement, stating at a December 3 cabinet meeting that the election had given his pro-EU team “one last chance … to start fighting corruption” and “to reform the judiciary system.” (The two problem areas are frequently intertwined, as a recent scandal over Moldovan judges assisting a Russia-based money-laundering scheme shows.)
But so far, no party, whether in the government or opposition, has detailed how it would fight corruption.
The Socialists are expected to play on voters’ frustrations in this area for broader, geopolitical goals. The party’s head, Igor Dodon, has announced that he will push for a referendum on whether or not Moldova should abandon the Association Agreement with the European Union.
Their strategy already has worked with 56-year-old Ghenadie Ciuprin, a resident of the northeastern village of Mihuleni, who said he voted for the Socialists “because those from the government rob our country.”
The Socialists’ status as the top vote getter makes it imperative for the governing coalition “to revise radically” its approach toward fighting corruption, commented political analyst Arcadie Barbarosie, director of the Institute for Public Policy in Chișinău.
Popescu agrees. “The risk is that if Moldova will be governed in the same way for another two or three years, it [the governing coalition] may not enter parliament in another four years.” Parties sympathetic to Russia and skeptical of the EU, however, could “come more forcefully than now.”
Ultimately, noted 76-year-old Russian-language teacher Nia Misail, a supporter of the pro-Western Liberal Party from Stefan-Voda, near the border with Ukraine, the question comes down to holding the government accountable for meeting Moldovans’ expectations.
“Those who govern must first clarify what they want, and if they do not want what want most of the people want – a prosperous and reformed country – then they have no place in government,” Misail said.
Victoria Puiu is a journalist who writes for the weekly newspaper Timpul (Times) in Chișinău, Moldova.