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Moldova still stuck in a rut

Without a president, eastern European country will have trouble luring investment.

Moldova election
A child helps his father cast his ballot at a polling station in Chisinau, Moldova on Nov. 28, 2010. (Vadim Denisov/AFP/Getty Images)

KIEV, Ukraine — Almost one week after voters in the former Soviet state of Moldova went to the polls in the hopes of bringing clarity to the country’s ongoing political confusion, no resolution is in sight.

Moldova still lacks a clear political course. In a parliamentary vote in summer last year, four parties defeated the ruling communist party by pooling their votes and forming the Alliance for European Integration — a coalition that pushed for strengthening ties to the European Union.

The Alliance had won enough seats in the 108-member legislature to elect a speaker and prime minister, which require a simple majority. But they couldn’t elect a president and cement their hold on power. Moldova’s constitution stipulates that the country’s leader must be chosen by the legislature, and not the general public, by a two-thirds majority.

Parliamentary elections, held last Sunday to break the deadlock, failed. Although the Alliance once again came out on top, preliminary results show that the coalition (now down to three parties) is still two votes short of the 61 votes needed to elect a president outright.

And so, the country’s political class has entered into a period of intense horse trading. The communists once again are the party with the largest number of votes overall, but they dropped six seats nonetheless. In second place is the Liberal Democratic party, led by the present prime minister, Vlad Filat.

All eyes are focused on Marian Lupu, whose Democratic Party came in third place and at the moment is playing the role of kingmaker. Lupu is a former communist, but broke with the party’s autocratic leader, Vladimir Voronin, to form his own party.

“We can’t predict what is going to happen, because the Moldovans don’t even know what is going to happen,” said a foreign official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The negotiation process is also complicated by the fact that many of the party leaders openly loathe one another. The WikiLeaks revelations this week included a supposed 2009 cable from the United States embassy in Chisinau. The alleged cable says that Lupu said that Voronin had offered him $10 million to join him in a coalition after last year’s elections.

“Lupu told the Ambassador that he had whispered this story to his wife, and that the two had been shocked that Voronin would think that Lupu could be purchased that way,” the WikiLeaks document says.

(The cable also says: “Though we have often heard stories of bribery and influence peddling … , Lupu's claim that Voronin offered him USD ten million to cut a power-sharing deal is the most brazen tale to date.” The communists have denied that they made any offer of money in exchange for a power-sharing agreement.)

Without a president and stable government, Moldova will survive, but not extract itself from its economic morass. The country is considered by some measures to be the poorest in Europe; a significant portion of its GDP comes from Moldovans working abroad. If the pro-Europe coalition succeeds in retaining power, loans from the European Union and the United States will probably continue, which will help the government keep itself afloat. Foreign investment, which it also desperately needs, will probably stay away however.

The elections also revealed that the country remains significantly divided. According to a piece published this week by the Expert Group, an independent Chisinau think tank, one of the surprises of the election was that parliamentary mandates did not change significantly after a year’s rule under the Alliance for European Integration.

“[This] shows that these dividing lines are deeply rooted and cannot be eliminated by changes in political environment and PR, at least in the short-term perspective,” Alex Oprunenco, the paper’s author, wrote.

“Thus, future political stability and societal cohesion will require dialogue between ruling alliance and opposition whatever parties are on each side,” he added.

The good news, however, is that predicted instability and, possibly, violence following these elections have not happened. The communists, for example, have said that they polled 10 percent more votes than they officially received, and will challenge the results. But so far they are not planning any mass demonstrations.

“No one feels blatantly robbed enough to create unrest,” said the foreign official. “Everyone is more or less satisfied with what they got.”

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/europe/101203/moldova-parliamentary-election