Moldova’s pro-EU Communists set to sweep polls
Chisinau -- Moldova's dominant Communists are set to win parliamentary elections on Sunday as they tread a fine line between promoting EU integration and friendly Moscow ties for Europe's poorest country.
The party, the first self-described Communist group to have won power in the former Soviet Union, is well ahead in opinion polls for the new parliament, which will choose a successor to outgoing President Vladimir Voronin.
The country of 4.3 million people wedged between Ukraine and Romania is the poorest in Europe measured by per capita income and is heavily dependent on the remittances of its citizens working abroad, a quarter of its active population.
The Moldovan Communist Party (PCRM) is promising stability amid the global economic crisis but has also been criticised by observers for using its control of state airwaves to promote itself at the expense of the opposition.
"Moldova Europeana O Construim Impreuna!" reads one of its main campaign slogans in Romanian, the country’s official language, meaning: "We Will Construct a European Moldova Together."
Playing on the eight-year rule of Voronin, the country’s Communist president, another slogan says "Vote for Stability."
According to pre-vote opinion polls, the PCRM has over 36.2 percent of the vote, well ahead of the opposition Liberal Democrats (8.3 percent), the Liberal Party (8.2 percent) and Our Moldova (5.4 percent).
The liberal opposition could be ready to form a coalition and along with the Communists could be the only faction to win the minimum six percent required to win parliamentary seats.
If the Communists do not win an outright majority of 52 seats, they will have to form a coalition with one of the smaller parties.
Voronin, a local Communist Party official under Soviet rule, has almost served out the maximum two terms allowed by the constitution and parliament will have to choose a new president between April 8 and June 8.
He has employed a so-called "multi-vector" foreign policy which has seen Moldova increase cooperation with the European Union while still maintaining strong ties with Moscow.
But its support has been on the wane compared to the 46.1 percent of the vote it polled in the parliamentary 2005 elections, a trend analysts put down to the country’s ongoing poverty.
According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), 25 percent of the active working population is employed abroad, mostly in the construction sector where they can earn far more than the average 253-dollar monthly wage at home.
The richly fertile country, which remains predominantly agricultural, has few natural resources of its own and is entirely dependent on foreign exporters, especially Russia, for its energy supplies.
"It is difficult to find differences in the programmes of the parties," said Arcadie Barbarosie of the Invisible College, a Chisinau-based think tank.
He said the Communists had turned towards the European Union in 2005, after previously looking solely to Moscow for support, for "pretty pragmatic reasons" to benefit from economic development aid.
The Communists still proudly display the hammer-and-sickle on their party literature but it is combined with pictures of young women urging voters’ support and slick images of renewal.
Wolfgang Behrendt, a European Commission representative to Moldova who has overseen democracy development projects in the country, said the "main problem" is the domination by the Communists in television and radio coverage.
"The Communists have used more administrative resources than in the previous election," said Barbarosie.
Moldova — part of Romania in the interwar-period before being annexed by the Soviet Union in World War II — won its independence in 1991 but the government still does not control the self-declared republic of Transdniestr.
This sliver of land between the Dniestr River and Ukraine broke free of Chisinau after a brief civil war in the early 1990s but its pro-Russian separatist government is not recognised internationally.