After 917 days of political gridlock under the sign of the “little March”, the Moldovan Parliament has elected a President. Many leaders, out of exasperation, hastened to congratulate the new head of state, despite the risk of shouting victory too early, most believed the “challenge”, as Martin Schultz (President of the European Parliament – editor’s note) has put it, was over. But spring did not come with just one flower, as the tensions that caused this stalemate are not yet overcome. It remains to be seen how Nicolae Timofti, a long-time judge believed uncorrupted and openly pro-European, is going to deal with internal issues as well as foreign ones, while the Communists are already questioning the election’s legitimacy.
Shouting victory too early
The European Union, among others, should not shout victory too early. Though at first glance Moldova seems to be “a receptive pupil of European democracy-building institutions” (as Vladimir Socor wrote), it is still facing, despite the newly elected president, its biggest challenge: political instability and the dysfunctional state. The latest elections won’t reassure many, since the Communists have called upon the public, on the same afternoon as the election, for civil disobedience in protest of the choice. However, a respite seems to have been declared until May.
If all elections since the country’s independence in 1991 had been qualified by the international community as free and fair, doubts can be brought upon the legitimacy of the one which took place on March 16th. Two reasons can lead us to think this: the conditions of the vote and the constitutional rule.
The Moldovan unicameral Parliament has 101 seats. Following the November 2010 legislative elections, the Communist Party won 42 seats, of which three MPs left the party in November 2011. They qualify themselves as Socialists, though remaining with the pro-Russian views and enjoy Russia’s support. Veronica Abramciuc, a non-affiliated MP and the other 58 seats were united in a democratic and liberal party called the Alliance for European Integration (AEI).
According to the 1994 Constitution, the head of state can only be elected if at least sixty-one MPs are in favour of the candidate. In case there is no success in electing a president in the course of a year, the parliament has to be dissolved. The non-constructive opposition between the AEI and the Communists, but also the perpetual conflicts among the three parties forming the alliance, explain why since April 2009 there were three parliamentary elections, seven presidential election attempts, an aborted constitutional referendum and three interim presidents. This situation also convinced, on one hand, the Socialists “to put an end to the crisis and get down working for the good of the country” and, on the other, the Alliance to accept the Socialists “conditions” so they would be in favour of Timofti. Since their break away from the Communists, this three-person group plus the one independent became a wielder of the balance of power in the parliament.
Taking all this into account, the vote took place on March 16th in the presence of only sixty-two MPs, while the Communists were leading a protest in the center of the capital of Chisinau with thirty thousand protesters. The event was the largest since the post-election protests by the then anti-communist opposition in April 2009. The reason was that a parliamentary election should have been organised since November 2011 as no president had been elected during the previous year.
Nevertheless, the sixty-two MPs elected Nicolae Timofti, a candidate that has no political affiliation, is only a Moldovan citizen and in favour of a language called Moldovan rather than Romanian, as the Socialists demanded. Despite the Communists’ protest, the vote was verified by the Constitutional Court on March 19th. Ironically, it can be seen as more of a victory for the Communists who had systematically boycotted the parliamentary sessions since last autumn in absence of new elections. Timofti was considered “the perfect consensus candidate”, because he was supported by the three defectors from the Communist Party.
Timofti began his four year term on March 23rd. If the epic of electing a president is over, the fight between the two main political forces remains. With limited prerogatives and a stronger opposition from the Communists, Timofti has to play the role of buffer between the two, while trying to move on with the country’s problems.
President Timofti: A better Moldovan soup with an old hen?
The 63-year old judge, head of Moldova’s Supreme Judiciary Council, accepted his nomination for presidency, “out of civic duty” – a noble gesture that so few nowadays tend to make. However, if the role of the head of state is that of an arbiter between legislative and executive powers, the task Timofti will have to accomplish shapes itself as arduous. Will Timofti, who has been a judge since 1976, and is described as “a relatively politically neutral figure”, know how to act as a leader of the state?
On one hand, in his half-hour speech before the vote, Timofti stated his priorities as combating systemic corruption, judicial reform and improving the economic situation, while continuing the current reforms. Even if it is considered poorer than Kosovo, Moldova has, since the AEI government, managed a seven per cent growth in 2011. Exports have also been more oriented toward the European Union for the past three years.
On the other hand, the pretend “architect” of the bridge between the East and West seems to lean very much towards Europe, as Timofti’s first visit shall be to Brussels. Moreover, he has at length spoken about his top priority as European integration. Thus, his first challenge, according to Schultz, will be the deep and comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU, calling upon the new president to accomplish an ambitious European reform agenda. Moldova has already proved itself to be the best student of the neighbourhood policy having begun talks on visa liberalisation in 2010. It has thus obtained from EU a 500 million euro financial aid package.
Concerning its neighbourhood, relations with Ukraine look brighter this year, celebrating on March 10th their 20 years of relations, as some border disputes have been solved and their positions on Transnistria has begun to converge. The relations with Romania, however, are influenced by the issues of granting dual citizenship and the movement in favour of unification. Even if the new President tries to calm down the situation, having said that “none of the parties is ready for such a discussion”, a number of Moldovans celebrated on March 25th Marshal Antonescu, a convicted war criminal, as a hero.
Even if he is not seen as a Russophobe, despite bringing up the topic only shortly in his speech for a strategic partnership, Timofti doesn’t seem to tolerate the presence of Russian troops in Transnistria. The solution to this region’s status is, according to him, international dialogue as it has already been agreed upon and which seems to have already failed last February from its restart. Therefore, Russia has immediately made its position known, taking into account that the alliance was already seen as excessively pro-Romanian and pro-European. There were no congratulations from Russian, in comparison with the West who sent congratulations within hours after the vote. Furthermore, the Russian Security Council granted Transnistria a subsidy of 150 million dollars the same day Timofti was elected.
Therefore, in this complicated multi-vector set-up, there is no spring with only one flower. Even if he is a long-time career man, Timofti has no experience in politics, thus being seen as just a presidential figurehead. It is then difficult to believe that the Moldovan soup will be better with this new, somehow wiser, president.
Horia-Victor Lefter is a freelance journalist and expert specializing in Central and Eastern Europe with a particular interest in Belarus, Eastern Partnership, the European identity and human rights. He is originally Romanian and currently resides in France.