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Moldova Politics - 2014-2016

Moldova voted in parliamentary elections 30 November 2014 which were widely seen as a contest between parties aiming for membership in the European Union and those backing closer ties with Russia. More than 3.2 million Moldovans elected deputies to serve four-year terms in the 101-seat parliament. No party was expected to gain an outright majority.

Just two days before the vote, the electoral commission disqualified Patria a party led by Renato Usatii, a pro-Moscow politician for receiving nearly $500,000 in donations from outside the country. The Russia-based Usatii, a virtual unknown only two months ago, rose to prominence by staging a series of concerts by prominent Russian pop stars. Usatii, whose party was predicted to obtain up to 15 percent of the vote enough to give him the decisive role in forming a coalition promptly fled to Moscow before he could be arrested. Russias Foreign Ministry condemned Usatiis prosecution as politically motivated.

Surveys gave the three pro-European parties up to 43 percent of the vote. Prime Minister Iurie Leanca's Liberal Democratic Party and the Democratic Party were part of the ruling coalition. The Liberals left the coalition and went into opposition in 2013. The Democrat, Liberal, and Liberal Democrat parties took a combined 44 percent of ballots counted from the election. That gave them enough support to take more than half of the 101 seats in parliament, if they can agree on a coalition. The pro-Russia Socialist party won a surprising 21 percent of votes, the most of any single party. It wants Moldova to reverse course on a European Union Association Agreement in favor of a trade deal with Russia's Customs Union. Communists, who favor a middle-road approach, won about 17 percent of ballots.

By 18 February 2015 the tiny country finally had a new government in place. Chiril Gaburici, a 38-year-old businessman with no political experience, was approved as the head of a minority government. The three pro-Western parties were unable to come together to form a government that would have been backed by the parliamentary majority they control. Instead, the Liberal Democratic Party and the Democratic Party, needed the support of deputies from the Communist Party in order to get the necessary majority in parliament.

But the installation of a minority government -- even one that seemed committed to the pro-European policies of the previous government -- was an ambiguous victory at best. Dependent for support on Moldova's notoriously fickle Communist Party, the new government could collapse at any time -- and that could trigger yet another national parliamentary election and further erode public enthusiasm for democracy.

Prime Minister Chiril Gaburici announced his resignation on June 12, a day after prosecutors questioned him about his high-school and university degrees. Gaburici said he regretted that questions about his studies had become "an instrument of political games." He made no comment on the substance of the allegations. Gaburici said he was a manager and not a politician, and that the country needed to change its political system. Foreign Minister Natalia Gherman was appointed interim prime minister on June 22 after Chiril Gaburici resigned.

Ahead of the vote on 14 June 2015, opinion polls indicated the majority of regional seats would be won by leftist parties that support Moldovan membership of the Moscow-led Customs Union. That would boost wine and food exports to a free-trade zone made up of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. At just under 49 percent, turnout was lower than for the 2011 local elections. About 2.8 million voters were eligible to choose mayors and local councils.

Moldova's pro-European and pro-Russian parties took roughly equal shares of the vote in local elections on June 14, upsetting forecasts of a big win for the pro-Moscow camp. Chisinau's pro-European Mayor Dorin Chirtoaca was slightly ahead but without enough votes to win outright. With 98.79 percent of the vote counted, Chirtoaca had 37.39 percent of the vote and pro-Russian challenger Zinaida Greceanai had 35.95 percent. In the first round of voting, pro-European parties won outright in 348 cities, towns, and villages, while pro-Russian parties won in 56 others, and independent candidates in 34. The vote held on June 28 was in 458 other places where no candidate secured more than 50 percent of the vote.

Moldova's parliament voted in legislator and businessman Valeriu Strelet as prime minister by the slimmest of margins on 30 July 2015 and approved his pro-Europe government after he pledged to try to extricate the country from financial crisis. A three-party, pro-European Union alliance, which held a slender majority in the 101-seat assembly, mustered the 52 votes needed to secure Strelet's approval in the 101-seat assembly.

Ties within the ruling coalition were poisoned by the 15 October 2015 arrest of former Prime Minister Vlad Filat, a Liberal-Democrat, who was accused of corruption and of accepting a bribe worth some $260 million. Filat, one of five prime ministers in three years, was implicated, handcuffed live on TV in parliament and later imprisoned. The bribe was allegedly part of a bank fraud in which up to $1.5 billion vanished from three Moldovan banks ahead of the 2014 elections.

On 29 October 2015, the parliament of Moldova held a vote of non-confidence against the pro-EU government amid popular protests demanding the resignation of the Moldovan president and the prime minister, as well as calling for early parliamentary elections and legal action on corruption. A total of 65 deputies in the 101-seat legislature voted in favor of no-confidence motion against Strelet's government. This was the second government forced to resign this year. The Strelet government was formed only three months ago, following the resignation of Liberal Democratic Party Prime Minister Chiril Gaburici in June, after the Prosecutor General's Office began a criminal investigation into the falsification of his school diplomas.

The protests in Moldova broke out over the largest known incident of fraud in Moldovan history, namely, the disappearance of over $1 billion, or the equivalent of about 15 percent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP), from three Moldovan banks in 2014. The incident negatively affected the country's banking system and led to a depreciation of the national currency. Plunged further into political crisis, some analysts suggested that this may mark the end of the country's march toward European integration. The government's resignation could be considered a major victory for the anti-EU Left. Polls show the 2015 banking crisis sapped many Moldovans' enthusiasm for European integration. It also prompted the European Union and the International Monetary Fund to suspend financial aid, though the fund recently said it would resume its program.

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