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Parlamentswahlen 2014 in der Republik Moldau
Image: Dan Guțu

Moldova at crossroads

Vitalie Calugareanu / bk
November 28, 2014

Moldova is electing a new parliament on Sunday. The election will decide whether the tiny republic will continue on its pro-European course - or move closer to Russia.

https://p.dw.com/p/1DvZv

The Republic of Moldova is set to move closer to the European Union - or at least that is the declared aim of the pro-Western ruling coalition that has been governing in Chisinau for the past five years. The results of this policy are fairly clear: this past summer, Moldova signed a free trade and political association agreement with the EU, and ever since April this year, Moldovans are allowed to enter the Schengen area without a visa.

This path has of course met with tough criticism from Russia. As far as Moscow is concerned, the former Soviet republic, independent since 1991, still belongs to the Russian Federation's sphere of influence. In response to the deals with the EU, Chisinau was slapped with a trade embargo - stopping the import of Moldova's wine, fruit, vegetables, and meat products.

Mihai Ghimpu
Ghimpu is determined to take Moldova closer to the EUImage: DW/Cristian Ștefănescu

Moldova is one of the poorest countries in Europe. During its dramatic history, it has belonged variously to the Russian tsarist empire, to Romania after 1918, and then to the Soviet Union following the Second World War. The Moldovan population has various ethnic roots: over 70 percent are Romanian, while around 10 percent are either Ukrainian or Russian. The official language is Romanian, though a large proportion of the population also speaks Russian. Russian is also more commonly spoken in the pro-Russian separatist republic of Transnistria and the autonomous region of Gagauzia, both inside Moldova's borders.

Neck and neck

In the current opinion polls, the pro-European liberal-democratic alliance is caught in a neck-and-neck race with the Moscow-orientated Communists and Socialists. The population is split down the middle, with 44 percent of the population favoring a Western orientation, and 43 percent hoping for closer ties with Russia.

The Communist Party of former President Vladimir Voronin is the biggest, but, in the event of an election victory, would be dependent on the Socialists and other pro-Russian splinter parties in order to put together a majority in the new parliament.

The biggest critics of the EU association agreement are the Socialists, whose leader, Igor Dodon, used to belong to Voronin's Communist Party. He has already declared that he will cancel the agreement immediately should he win the election. For Dodon, Moldova's prospects are closely bound up with the Eurasian project within the Russian-dominated Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

Risk of political frustration

A decisive factor of this election will be turnout. Many Moldovans are undecided and many are disillusioned by the poverty and the many corruption scandals that have ruined the country. The president of the country's constitutional court Alexandru Tanase made a personal appeal to the population to go and vote.

Weinberg in Purcari
Moldova's famous wines can't be exported to RussiaImage: DW/S. Ciochina

"In the Republic of Moldova, elections are not political, but geopolitical," he said. While there was no ideal government or ideal parties, the senior judge said he hoped that "Moldova would not be led by politicians who are happy about the Russian embargo" - an implicit reference to Dodon's position.

Leaning to the EU

The former interim president and parliamentary leader, Mihai Ghimpu, head of the Liberal Party, confirmed to DW that if the government coalition won re-election, it would continue its partnership and solidarity with the EU.

Meanwhile, when it came to Russia's role in the current Ukraine crisis, Ghimpu underlined that the clear position adopted by Chancellor Angela Merkel had been "an important message" for his country. Merkel recently criticized President Vladimir Putin's policies and warned of a new conflict in Europe that could eventually draw in places like Moldova, Georgia, and the western Balkans.

The votes of expat Moldovans could turn out to be crucial on Sunday. Of the four million Moldovans, around 500,000 work as guest workers in Russia, while an equal number - mostly young and educated - study and work in the EU. Not only that, more than half a million have Romanian citizenship and so are also already in the EU, even though their country is still a long way from becoming a member. They too could tip the balance in the election. If they turn out to vote, Moldova's European prospects still have a chance. Moldovan President Nicolae Timofti said as much in a recent address to the nation on TV.

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