Moldova's Democratic Pangs

by Forrest Barnum // Published August 5, 2009
Recent elections in Moldova provide some broad lessons about maturing democratic states while illuminating the complex internal and external dynamics that influence Eastern European nations particularly. Moldova is often pulled about by larger regional powers intent on promoting their aims. In particular, Russia has always taken an intense proprietary interest in Moldovan affairs; once part of the USSR, this small nation is strategically located between Romania and Ukraine - the fault line of Russian and Western spheres of influence. Russia has found many ways to project itself into the region, most obviously by deploying troops in Transnistria, an ethnically Russian breakaway region bordering Ukraine. Ongoing efforts to solve the Transnistrian dispute have become entangled in these hegemonic powerplays and complicated by the recent economic downturn.

The two recent election contested in Moldova were informed by this historical background. In April, the pro-Russian Communist Party of Moldova, which has ruled the country since elections began in 2001, failed to earn the three-fifths parliamentary majority necessary to elect a president. The pro-western opposition parties refused to vote for the Communist presidential candidate; the deadlock forced a new election. This election, which took place late last month, did not produce a clear winner. While the Communists remain the largest party, the opposition has won a majority of the seats in parliament. It will be impossible for the Communists or the pro-western opposition to elect a president alone, the deadlock can only be broken through a compromise which respects the views of the Communists.

Coalitions and compromise are in fact the hallmarks of the list system of proportional representation that Moldova utilizes. The fact that one party can no longer command a super-majority in parliament should be a healthy development for Moldovan democracy. With luck, the complex regional concerns that play such an important role in this nascent democracy will allow these encouraging developments to continue.