Moldova Elects Pro-Western House Speaker Amid Turmoil

29 August 2009

Moldova's parliament elected Mihai Ghimpu, who has been pushing for closer ties with the European Union, as house speaker
Moldova's parliament elected Mihai Ghimpu, who has been pushing for closer ties with the European Union, as house speaker
The pro-Western coalition of the former Soviet republic of Moldova has won election of their candidate to the key-post of speaker of parliament and also named an ex-Communist as its choice for president of Europe's poorest nation. But Moldova faces political turmoil after the powerful Communist Party boycotted the vote amid concerns over the country's economic future.

Not everyone celebrated when Mihai Ghimpu became the first politician of Moldova's four-party ruling coalition to take office, as parliament speaker: All members of the Communist Party in parliament boycotted the vote and walked out of the legislature.

The 58-year-old Ghimpu and his pro-Western coalition, dubbed the 'Alliance for European Integration', seek closer ties with the European Union and want to take the former Soviet republic out of Russia's sphere of influence.

But critics have accused Ghimpu of seeking re-unification with neighboring Romania, an E.U. member state. Most of Moldova was once part of Romania and about one in five Moldovans, some 800,000 people, have already either secured or applied for Romanian citizenship.

Yet, in comments aired by the European Commission-backed network Euronews, Moldova's leading civil rights activist Natalia Morari, suggests that young people want pro-Western candidates, such as Ghimpu, to take power. "I really know many people who were waiting for these results and they were thinking: if the opposition wins, I will stay in this country and try to continue my business or my studies. But if the Communists win again, I will leave this country at least for the next four years..."

Besides a new house speaker, the coalition has also nominated Marian Lupu, who defected from the Communist Party, for the post of president. Analysts caution that the still influential Communists have a chance to retain the presidency, in any event, because pro-European parties do not have enough votes to choose one of their own. In Moldova, the parliament members vote for president.

Election officials initially declared that the long ruling Communist Party had won re-election in April. That announcement prompted violent street protests by mostly young urban voters.

Shouting anti-Communist slogans, demonstrators stormed the parliament building and the offices of President Vladimir Voronin to protest alleged election fraud.

At least one person reportedly died in the clashes and many more were injured.

However it was the Communists' subsequent failure to secure election of their presidential candidate that prompted a new election in July which brought the pro-western coalition to power.

Should a new deadlock arise over the office of the presidency, the current Communist President Voronin is expected to remain in office until another election is held sometime next year.

But whoever is in power, will grapple with an economic crisis and widespread corruption that has disillusioned young voters, says rights activist Morari. "All young people want to leave this country. This is the poorest (the worst) thing...If your business starts being profitable, Someone will come to your place tomorrow and tell you: "if you want to keep your business give us a part of it, if you do not want to end up in prison." And this someone is usually related to the big family in power," she said.

That's not all. A new government will also have to resolve a 19-year-old rebellion in an eastern break-away region, where Russia has troops and which wants to be annexed by Moscow.