CHISINAU -- The political system in Moldova looks increasingly dysfunctional. And the big winner from that might end up being Russia.
More than two months after legislative elections in Moldova gave a narrow victory to parties favoring European-integration policies, the tiny country finally has a new government in place.
But the installation of a minority government -- even one that seems committed to the pro-European policies of the previous government -- is an ambiguous victory at best. Dependent for support on Moldova's notoriously fickle Communist Party, the new government could collapse at any time -- and that could trigger yet another national parliamentary election and further erode public enthusiasm for democracy.
And that would be good news for Moscow, which has actively sought to deflect Chisinau from its European-integration agenda and to draw it into the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union.
"What we have seen in recent years is a process similar to what happened in Russia under [President Boris] Yeltsin," says Vladimir Socor of the Jamestown Foundation. "The fact that his system was presented to the public as a democracy discredited the very concept of democracy in the eyes of many Russian voters."
He adds that the current situation in parliament "requires new combinations on a daily basis" to maintain "ad hoc majorities that can change rapidly and without warning."
Journalist Natalia Morari adopted a similar view in a recent blog post. "Our country is falling apart," she wrote on February 17. "More and more people are realizing this, and fewer attempts are being made to combat it."
On February 18, Chiril Gaburici, a 38-year-old businessman with no political experience, was approved as the head of a minority government. Deputies from the two parties represented in the government, the Liberal Democratic Party and the Democratic Party, needed the support of deputies from the Communist Party in order to get the necessary majority in parliament.
It was a patchwork solution after the three pro-Western parties were unable to come together to form a government that would have been backed by the parliamentary majority they control. In the end, one of those three parties, the Liberal Party, walked out of the talks and did not vote for the Gaburici government.
It remains unclear how the little-known Gaburici's name was thrown into the mix, but Communist leader Vladimir Voronin did say publicly in late January that the prime minister should be "a businessman" who will "serve the country and not be on his knees in front of the political parties." Other observers argue that a further mixing of business and politics is exactly what the notoriously corrupt Moldovan political system does not need.
Outgoing Prime Minister Iurie Leanca -- Moldova's most popular politician, whose bid to form another government was rejected by the Communists -- said he knew and respected Gaburici, but refused to vote for the minority government, saying a tactical alliance between the liberal parties and the communists cannot work.
"I am firmly convinced that a minority government will not be able to function because it will be entirely dependent on the position of Voronin," Leanca told RFE/RL. "They will only pass what he approves of."
'A Step Backward'
The necessity to court Voronin's support means -- at the very least -- the new government will have to take a slower, more piecemeal approach to European integration, as Voronin's electorate is largely pro-Russian and he cannot afford to lose more voters to the rival, and staunchly pro-Moscow, Socialist Party.
"This will create a brake that will appear whenever parliament must face key questions connected with reforms," says Anatol Tiranu, director of the Politicon analytical center in Chisinau.
In addition, Leanca "had relations and enjoyed credibility with European partners," Roman Chirca, director of Chisinau's Market Economy Institute, told the IPN website. "In comparison with the Leanca government, the Gaburici government is like a step backward."
The failure of Moldova's liberal parties -- which have controlled the government since 2009 -- to present a united front in support of their European-integration agenda continues to present an opening for pro-Russia parties. The openly pro-Russia Socialist Party is the single largest party in parliament, with 25 mandates. The pro-Moscow Patria party was barred from participating in the November elections, but continues to be a political force and hopes to gain ground in upcoming local polls.
Storm Clouds On The Horizon
Analyst Socor sees "two massive dangers" looming for Moldova in the current situation. "[First,] an even more dramatic comeback by the Socialist Party in the local elections that could take place in July, although there is a proposal to postpone them until September," he says. "I also fear the resurgence at the local elections of [Patria, led by businessman] Renato Usatii. That part is a foreign project, a Russian project that runs counter to Moldova's national interests and security."
"The second great danger: snap parliamentary elections," he adds.
Berlin-based political analyst Anneli Ute Gabanyi says that after the two months of bruising negotiations needed to produce the new government, "the image of Moldova's politicians is quite deplorable."
Even if the minority government is able to survive this year and get through the local elections, the parliament will have to elect a new president in 2016 -- a feat that requires 61 of 101 votes and that is a perennial problem for Moldova's deeply divided legislature. Failure to elect a president would also trigger early elections.
Socor says that Moldova's problems are not just a divided electorate, but a "collapsed institutional system." The country has held four parliamentary elections -- including two snap elections -- since April 2009. "The system itself does not work," he says. "And the attempt to describe this system as democratic and pro-European discredits the terms 'democratic' and 'European' in the eyes of many Moldovans.
In the village of Sadova, about 30 kilometers northwest of Chisinau, locals are skeptical and disheartened. "Now we cannot trust anybody," one man told RFE/RL on February 18. "Only in God. In the villages, people have no work. Now people will start breaking into houses to steal."
"I have the feeling that our Moldova is sinking into the mud completely," added another.