CHISINAU -- Moldovans are cautiously optimistic that the July 11 elections that handed a powerful mandate to the center-right party founded by President Maia Sandu could mark a new, more productive stage in the impoverished country’s post-Soviet development.
Over the country’s 10 parliamentary elections since independence in 1991, no pro-European party has ever secured a result as convincing as the nearly 53 percent garnered by the Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS). That showing is projected to give the party 63 mandates in the 101-seat parliament.
“This result stems from the very clear demand from society to implement -- and most importantly, complete -- a radical transformation,” wrote journalist Natalia Morari on Facebook on July 12. “And this is where the big challenge begins. The PAS must understand that it now faces the hardest four years of its political life, and that it will have to answer for all the sins of all the governments that have come before it.”
Vladimir Socor, an analyst with the Jamestown Foundation think tank in Washington, told RFE/RL’s Moldovan Service that the landmark elections mark the end of Moldova’s “coalition nightmare.”
“This nightmare has haunted all the governments of Moldova since 2009 and made any reforms impossible because politicians were constantly dealing with division and the redistribution of power instead of with reforms and the formulation of strategies,” he said. “And this has largely discredited democracy in the Republic of Moldova.
“Now we have gotten rid of the nightmare of coalitions and will have a continuous government for at least four years,” Socor added. “This continuity of governance will allow for long-term strategic planning and the implementation of reforms.”
Sandu, 49, is a former World Bank economist who won a decisive victory over incumbent pro-Russia President Igor Dodon last November, on a platform of fighting corruption, implementing systemic reforms, and European integration.
Sandu created PAS in 2016 when Moldova was rocked by an unprecedented bank-fraud scandal that saw the embezzlement of $1 billion -- the equivalent of 12 percent of the country’s GDP at the time.
The shock of the crisis and the exposure of the extent of state capture by an entrenched oligarchy created the political conditions for overcoming chronic divisions in Moldova, analyst Igor Botan, head of the Chisinau-based Association for Participatory Democracy, argued.
“This underscores what the citizens of Moldova wanted when they offered this vote of confidence in the party created by Maia Sandu,” he told RFE/RL, adding that the July 11 elections were “a clear message” by Moldovans that “the path of European integration is the right one for this society.”
“The citizens of Moldova are tired of instability and want power concentrated in the hands of a political force led by a personality they trust,” he said, adding that it was important that PAS had been “formed from scratch by very young and inexperienced people” without political baggage.
“That was the formula for their success,” Botan said.
But electoral success is only the beginning, said actor and PAS supporter Boris Cremene, who returned to Moldova from Portugal to vote in his native country.
“In order to sail this ship of victory, they have to choose the right pilots,” Cremene said. “Otherwise, it will sink. They have to choose a perfect government because now they have all the levers in their hands.
“I do not want a repeat of the mistakes of 2009,” he said, referring to a popular uprising that ultimately ousted communist President Vladimir Voronin. “Then, we were excited. Our people came back [to Moldova] and faced profound disappointment. If the same thing happens again this time, the diaspora will turn its back forever.
“Disappointment hurts a lot, and Moldovans are very sensitive to disappointment,” he concluded. “You have to bring in people with a different mentality, educated people who have good relations abroad. We have to stop begging and create a normal country. We have to participate in European civilization and not just walk around with our hands out.”
Preliminary results showed that PAS won a vast majority of diaspora ballots, as expected. More that 212,000 Moldovans -- almost half of them under 40 -- voted abroad.
Vadim Pristrinciuc, a former parliamentarian and director of the Chisinau-based Institute for Strategic Studies, told RFE/RL that public expectations for a PAS government are high and that it must act quickly and decisively.
“Don’t try to wait,” he advised the incoming government. “Don’t form working groups and devise various strategies. Don’t make that mistake.
“I am not looking at the next four years,” he said. “I’m looking at the first six months. If the first six months do not hit hard in everything about the kleptocratic system, do not land a knockout punch against it, then this system will not be destroyed.
“This fight has been going on for years and the circles of resistance must be broken,” Pristrinciuc added. “These networks must be broken and retrograde institutions must be liquidated…. If they do not do this in the first six months, then they will go into decline and public dissatisfaction will be greater than it was with the Socialists.”
At the same time, analyst Socor said, PAS needs to reckon with the strong influence of Russia. He praised the party for rejecting “geopolitical slogans” during the election campaign.
“They are obliged to take into account the limited but real interests that Moldova has in Russia -- access to the Russian market…, the interests of Moldovans working in Russia, and the expectations of a large part of the electorate that relations with Russia will be good,” Socor said. “Even those who voted for PAS, for the most part, do not want strained relations with Russia.”
Moldovan society must also rise to the occasion, added analyst Botan, primarily by developing a productive opposition.
“We, the citizens, must understand there are still dangers, that Moldovan democracy is fragile, and that there is a danger of slipping back into all sorts of reprehensible practices,” he said. “That is why civil society will have to organize and keep an eye on things going forward.”
“After concentrating power in the hands of a single political party, we must all think about how to oppose it in a decent, competent, and constructive way,” Botan said. “I don’t want to use the phrase ‘constructive opposition’ because it has been devalued. But caution is needed and a very strong message that society is keeping an eye on this party that won the elections.”