Moldova’s fin de regime

Moldova’s transfer of power is in full swing, confirming an earlier claim I made that Moldova is the only post-Soviet state (the Baltics aside) where every single transfer of power since 1991 took place through a tortuous, but still uninterrupted, cycle of elections. (Though, to be fair, Ukraine is more pluralistic and is likely to have a transfer of power through elections in Januari 2010.

Voronin’s fin de regime

On 9/11 Vladimir Voronin announced his resignation. Except for Communist party members few ventured to say a good word about Voronin’s eight years in power and except for the pro-Communist TV channels few seemed to regret it. It was also striking just how short and muted the farewell was (see a piece I wrote on that in Romanian). When Eltsin or Shevardandze resigned (in 1999 and 2003 respectively) their departures were historical events that sparked heated discussions in talk-shows, newspapers, or public transportation for days, if not weeks. You could not avoid thinking of their (mixed) historical legacy and you could not avoid a pervasive sense of entering a new epoch.

Nothing of that sort happened in Moldova. I was in Chisinau on the day of Voronin’s resignation. Everyone seemed strikingly uninterested in Voronin. Everyone was much more concerned with the gossips of the future: the formation of a new government by the Alliance for European Integration and whether the Communists will vote for the Alliance’s candidate to the presidency (Marian Lupu – himself until last June a Communist party member), or will provoke new elections by boycotting the election of a new president (the Alliance has 53 votes in the parliament and 61 votes are needed to elect the president). Perhaps this was an indicator that psychologically the country has already moved beyond Voronin even before his formal resignation.

Internally divided rivals?

On Friday 25 Sept Vlad Filat, 40, will be appointed as prime minister. The negotiations on the new government are almost completed. The Alliance has some good candidates for some posts (economy, foreign affairs, justice, finance), but obviously lacked good specialists for some other posts (culture, education, interior, youth etc).

Both the Alliance for European Integration and the Communists seem united, but have some underlying potential fissures. The Alliance’s likely fault line is between the Liberal Democratic Party’s leader Vlad Filat (the current prime-minister) and the leader of the Democratic Party Marian Lupu (the Alliance’s candidate for presidency). Filat’s claims to a strong position in the government stems from the fact that the Lib-Dems are the most popular party in the coalition. Lupu’s claim stems from the fact that the victory of the opposition is owed to his split from the Communist party in June and his decision to join the liberals, rather than the Communists, in a coalition after the July elections.

Future tensions are unavoidable. However, the bigger question is if these tensions will paralyze the country’s modernization like it happened in Ukraine since the Orange Revolution, or Moldova can embark on a more “Central European” type of creative tensions that open up the political system, create checks and balances and make reforms possible (at the end of the day between 1994 and 2004 Latvia had 10 prime-ministers, while Estonia – 7). I guess it will be a combination of the two…

The Communists are quickly learning the role of being an opposition. The Communists start sounding precisely like the former opposition used to just a few months ago (though the Communists have fewer reasons to do so). Back in July one of the Communist party leaders was saying that the main trait of the liberal parties is ‘yelping’ (ныть). Now the Communists accuse the Alliance of being undemocratic, authoritarian, and that they have usurped power. This sounds absurd and not credible…

The Communist party’s biggest problem is the reason for its greatest success: Voronin. Voronin created this party, brought it to power, held it together for a decade and a half but is now unable to let it go. Instead of resigning after loosing the July elections he tries to hang on. The party is also split between roughly two wings: ‘old’ and ‘young’ (some Communist MPs are under 30 and their informal leader is in his early 40s).

Perhaps paradoxically the ‘young wing’ might be more intransigent: they need Voronin for another 1-2 years to strengthen their position in the party against the older generation, and they are mostly ultra-leftist Che Guevara admirers (some of their blogs are here and here). They also sound more intransigent vis-a-vis the Alliance for European Integration. The older guard is very diverse, but many of them might prefer a deal with the new government – voting for a new president in exchange for some (political, economic and personal) guarantees.

The chances for new early elections next year are high. Many communists think that if they don’t vote for a new president in the following few weeks and thereby provoke early elections next year – they might return to power since the population will blame the effects of the economic crisis on the new government. The Alliance at its turn thinks that with IMF, US and EU (and perhaps even Russian) assistance they will be able to manage the crisis. In fact the Alliance argues that an indication of early support from the IMF might help persuade the Communists vote for the Alliance’s president and not provoke early elections next year. The new government also believes that in case of early elections the Communists will gain even fewer votes since they will not control the state aparatus, the state media and the patronage networks that come with incumbency.

Whatever the outcome of the multi-lateral heavy horse trading of the following weeks, all the political actors, including the Communists, are much more concerned with their future than with Vladimir Voronin’s past. And Moldova is now stuck between its third and fourth president.