The Stakes of Parliamentary Elections in February 2019
The parliamentary elections in the Republic of Moldova on 24th February 2019 are even more important than just the proper conducting of elections. As upon this election rests the unblocking of the financial assistance from the European Union, which was frozen following the invalidation of local elections in Chișinău in 2017 and the adoption of controversial laws. At the same time, the vote marks the battle between the pro-European forces and the Party of Socialists, the main pro-Russian political force targeting the parliamentary majority.
For the last nine years, the left forces have never not achieved the majority after the parliamentary elections. This time, pre-election polls place the Party of Socialists (PSRM) with a real chance of achieving this goal, drawn by the head of state, Igor Dodon, the informal leader of the socialists. Here are the results of the latest opinion poll conducted by the International Republican Institute: only four parties would enter Parliament if elections were to take place now.
Moldova has a mixed electoral system. Of the 101 deputies In the Parliament, 51 will be elected on uninominal constituencies and 50 - on party lists. The electoral threshold for parties is 4%, and for electoral blocs - 6%. The ‘Action and Solidarity Party’ and the ‘Dignity and Truth Platform’ already announced the forming of an electoral bloc.
/ © International Republican Institute Poll
Socialists are known for their intention, at least declarative, to denounce the Association Agreement with the European Union. This ‘threat’, which has almost disappeared from the recent socialist political discourse, does not seem to scare the Europeans. The EU Ambassador to Moldova, Peter Michalko, said at the beginning of his term, that the Association Agreement can no longer be denounced, as relations between the EU and the Republic of Moldova have reached a rather advanced level.
However, when it comes to implementing the Association Agreement, things are getting worse. Although much of the legislation has come in line with European standards, the implementation of the Euro-law laws in the Republic of Moldova is quite bad, experts say.
“When it comes to implementation, we figured out that a lot of them were adopted purely just to tick a box in the Association Agreement. Only after that did we understand that these laws don’t work”, said Lilia Carasciuc, the Transparency International Moldova executive director.
Possible post-election coalitions
At the declarative level, all parties with chances to accede to the future Legislative exclude the possibility of creating coalitions between them.
However, finding consensus on several important initiatives (such as changing the electoral system) and the media lynching of Maia Sandu, leader of the opposition party Action and Solidarity in the presidential campaign, has prompted some analysts, as well as opponents, to affirm that Democrats and Socialists collaborate wonderfully when they have a common interest, a statement rejected by them. At the same time, the president, Igor Dodon, recently said that if the PSRM does not get the majority in the future Parliament, it will try to make a coalition with potential independent deputies and, if that fails, it will do its best to trigger new elections.
From a ‘successful story’ to ‘trapped in oligarchic interests’
Formally, the Moldovan authorities implemented the Association Agreement with the European Union. Although having had some achievements in various sectors, the Republic of Moldova is in a democratic decline. The assertion comes from the EU Ambassador to Moldova, Peter Michalko, and was made at the end of October this year. The statement comes after a series of controversial actions by the Moldovan government, which eventually led to the suspension of the 100 million euro financial assistance for Moldova.
July 2017. The Moldovan Parliament voted to modify the electoral system, from proportional to mixed, despite the recommendations of the Venice Commission. While the government claimed that MPs would be closer to the citizens, the opposition said the previous electoral system made it impossible to keep the Democrats, a party with low popularity among the population, in power.
June 2018. The local elections in the Moldovan capital, Chișinău, were invalidated by a decision of the Supreme Court of Justice, which upheld the earlier decisions of the Chișinău Court of Appeal and the Chișinău Court. This has happened despite the fact that the entire network of election observers, the national and international ones, considered them free, democratic and fair. The winner of the poll was Andrei Năstase, the leader of the Dignity and Truth Platform, one of the fiercest political opponents of the Democratic Party leader, Vlad Plahotniuc.
The news of the invalidation of elections in Chișinău was received with consternation by the Western partners, representing the main cause of the suspension of the financial assistance for the Republic of Moldova.
July 2018. The Parliament in Chișinău voted-in the so-called tax amnesty law, which provides the possibility of legalising financial assets and sources not previously declared. Therefore, those who wish to benefit from the tax amnesty will have to pay a 3% tax on the amount they want to legalise. The press will not know the names of the beneficiaries of tax amnesty because it has been excluded from the list of subjects who can access this information.
According to the opposition, the tax amnesty is an open window for legalising the stolen money from the Moldovan banking system - the famous ‘theft of the century’, when one billion dollars were taken out of three banks.
Adoption of the law has generated negative reactions from the US, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.
All this led to the adoption of a critical Resolution of the European Parliament on the situation in the Republic of Moldova. The document makes the release of EU funding conditional on the proper conduct of the parliamentary elections on 24th February 2019 and describes the Republic of Moldova as ‘a state in the captivity of oligarchic interests’. At the same time, the European Parliament stresses that funding for Moldova must go to further the civil society.
“Moldova is trapped by oligarchic interests, economic and political power is in the hands of a small group of people exercising influence over Parliament, government, political parties, state administration, police, judiciary and mass-media” - from the European Parliament resolution on Moldova adopted on 14th November 2018.
During this period, the parliamentary majority in Chișinău attempted to introduce the pro-European development vector into the Constitution, an attempt that failed in the Parliament, as the opposition conditioned the vote with the introduction of the Romanian language instead of the ‘Moldovan language’ into the Constitution. This Democrat Party move did not impress the Europeans. "Only the implementation of the Association Agreement matters for us", the EU Ambassador to Moldova said.
The latest developments in Moldova have led Brussels to change its opinion about the Moldovan democracy. Today, the Republic of Moldova no longer represents the ‘successful history’ of the Eastern Partnership, a status it had a few years ago, when the Association Agreement was signed, which came with the visa-free regime and the Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA).
Far from an application for EU membership
Four years after the signing of the Association Agreement with the EU, the prospect of an application for EU membership is still far away. Authorities admit that by means of the voice of the President of the Parliament, Adrian Candu, who said that an application to apply for EU membership in 2019 has been excluded. Moreover, according to expert Kai-Olaf Lang, “the EU response will probably be quite reluctant” if Moldova unilaterally applies for membership in the foreseeable future.
“Firstly, will there be a speeding-up of economic and political reforms in Moldova? Secondly, will the EU have overcome its inward-looking mode of operation and its crises? And thirdly, will there be a permissive attitude in all the relevant member states for revitalising expansion policy? It is, at the moment, rather difficult to imagine that the answer to all three questions will be positive in the course of the next five years. In short, the application could be frozen for an undefined period”, says Mr. Lang, Doctor of Science and researcher at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP).
However, in their election campaigns, the main pro-European parties – the Dignity and Truth Platform and the Action and Solidarity Party – promised that, should they get into government, they will ensure that all the conditions for applying for EU membership by 2023 are fulfilled.
The parliamentary elections of 24th February 2019 will take place at the same time as a republican referendum, where citizens will be asked about introducing a mechanism to withdraw the mandates of the MPs and reduce the number of MPs from 101 to 61
“We want to leave the door open and we hope the results of the parliamentary elections will be a good start for a good collaboration, but we are not easily fooled”. This seems to be, in summary, the message of the European political elite for Moldova, whose trust in the Moldovan authorities was seriously eroded by the invalidation of the elections in Chișinău.