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Moldova: Voters Back Communists -- But Which Communists?

President Voronin's Communists seem to be stuck between East and West The Party of Moldovan Communists has retained its parliamentary majority following the country’s legislative elections yesterday. It is clear that the party's position has weakened. What is less clear is what the result means for the topsy-turvy world of Moldovan politics.

Prague, 7 March 2005 (RFE/RL) – The Moldovan political landscape, following yesterday’s vote, is unlike any other within the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). For that matter, it is unlike any political arena in Europe.

The Communists, who have controlled Moldovan politics since 2001, have seen their mandate reconfirmed by yesterday’s elections. They won 46 percent of the vote, which will translate into some 59 seats in the 101-seat parliament.

But these Communists, led by President Vladimir Voronin, insist they are a different party from the one they were just a few years ago.

Once allied with Moscow, Moldova’s Communists campaigned in these elections on an anti-Russia, pro-Western platform. The strategy won them some unusual supporters. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who led a Rose Revolution that toppled the old guard in his country in late 2003, was in Chisinau just before the Moldovan poll. Saakashvili lent his support to Voronin. Moldova’s Communists also courted Ukraine's recently elected reformer and the leader of that country's Orange Revolution, President Viktor Yushchenko.

"The difficulty and strangeness of the situation comes from the fact that the Communists have taken up the coattails of the Orange Revolution," RFE/RL’s Chisinau bureau chief, Vasile Botnaru, reported. "The day before the election they became friends with Saakashvili and Yushchenko and, in this way, covered themselves with the aura of the Orange and Rose revolutions. That took away votes from the centrists and the right-wing parties. But this gives us a very mixed paradigm now."

The impetus for the Communists’ swing away from Moscow came in 2003, when Russia proposed a plan to federalize Moldova as a way of resolving the long-standing problem of the separatist Transdniester region. That plan would have included a long-term Russian military presence in the region, which Moldova rejected out of hand.
In Moldova, critics say Voronin's style of government is hardly "Western."

In terms of foreign policy, this propelled Voronin’s Communists westward -- and they began to court Brussels and Washington.

But at home, critics say Voronin’s style of government is hardly "Western." They argue that Moldova is still a long way from resembling a liberal democracy. In economic and social terms, Voronin has a large left-wing electorate to satisfy that has resisted market reforms and appears confused by significant policy changes. His pro-Western rhetoric appears to have cost him their support in these elections.

The Communists, who previously controlled 71 seats in the legislature, appear to have fallen short this time of even the required 61 seats needed to reelect the president. That suggests they will be forced to form outside alliances if Voronin wants to keep his job.

While losing some support from his traditional electorate and incurring the wrath of Moscow, Voronin’s campaign to gain friends in the West has also met with a mixed response. He was criticized for the way in which the government tried to muzzle NGO groups during the campaign and by his monopolization of state media air time.

That leaves Voronin in an unusual position to say the least, according to Oana Serafim, head of RFE/RL’s Romania-Moldova Service. "Throughout this last year, there have been many contradictions between the internal policies and foreign policies of Mr. Voronin and of his government," she said. "And I think that, in a way, he is losing both parts -- taking into account all the warnings that came from the European Union, from the Council of Europe, from the [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE], from the United States, and the concerns expressed by Moscow. In this way, he remains [stuck in the middle]."

Voronin's Communists have offered few signals as to where they might look to strike a deal to reelect him. That decision could help determine whether Moldovan foreign policy veers toward the EU and the West, or toward Russia.

OSCE observers who monitored the balloting issued a statement today saying the election generally complied with international standards. But the observers faulted what they called unequal campaign conditions and constrained media coverage, which they said have "no place in a democracy." Istvan Gyarmati, head of the OSCE observer mission, said restrictive regulations on the campaign and media made it difficult for voters to get basic information about the candidates.

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