Connect to share and comment

Moldovans calmly throw out Communists

The Communists narrowly lose to the opposition, who will now try to elect a president.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly held a press conference July 30, 2009, the day following parliamentary elections in Moldova, where they assessed the electoral proceedings. Iurie Ciocan, a member of Moldova's Central Election Commission, reacts to journalists’ questions about voting irregularities. (Robert A. Reeder/GlobalPost)

CHISINAU, Moldova — Europe’s only Communist government was toppled from power this week by a collection of pro-Western forces, after a bitter parliamentary election that both sides portrayed as crucial in determining the country’s future. 

Officials from the winning four-party coalition hailed their victory in the July 29 contest. Together, they seized 53 of the legislature’s 101 seats, or some 50 percent of the vote. 

Moldova matters little in U.S. foreign policy, but plays a role that outstrips its diminutive size — just over 4 million citizens — in European politics. It is viewed as a potential source of instability on Europe’s periphery and is wedged between two major players, Ukraine and Romania. Its breakaway region of Trans-Dniester — a “frozen conflict” in official parlance — is also a potential source of black market goods and narcotics, since it possesses no officially recognized borders. 

Some commentators compared this election to other popular uprisings, the so-called “color revolutions,” in which questions about election returns eventually dislodged entrenched political elites.

In the Moldovan case, more than 10,000 people gathered after parliamentary elections on April 5 to challenge official results, which showed the Communists storming to a massive majority that would allow them to choose the country’s president. (The president is elected by parliament and not by a direct vote.) The predominantly younger crowd was partially called to the streets by internet social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter — providing a vivid glimpse into the generational divide, in addition to the ethnic and urban-rural divides, that polarize Moldovan society.


“[Wednesday's election] was an Orange Revolution — a quiet Orange Revolution,” said Arcadie Barbarosie, executive director of the Institute for Public Policy, a Chisinau think tank. “April was a manifestation of a large frustration in society, which was hidden but then exploded.”


But the protests drew unexpected attention for another reason: Protesters broke into and ransacked parliament and the presidential palace. Opposition leaders claimed that agent provocateurs were among the throngs, but the sheer numbers involved in the violence indicated that many regular demonstrators participated, regardless of who the instigators were.


After the protests, the opposition closed ranks in parliament and denied the Communists the single vote that they needed to elect their designated candidate outright. After two failed attempts, new elections were called for July 29.


The second round of campaigning was as vicious as they come. Vladimir Voronin, the Communists’ charismatic leader who was stepping down as president after eight years, but who was widely expected to keep hold of the reigns of power, portrayed the contest as a struggle for Moldova’s very existence.