Will There Be a ‘Unirea’ Between Moldovan Unionists?

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The balance of power in the domestic political field of Moldova 6 months before the elections is becoming more stable. Three main political forces are fighting for seats in the parliament: the Democratic Party (PDM), which controls the power in the country, the Socialist Party (PSRM) and the Pro-European Opposition (the coalition of the parties Action and Solidarity, PAS, and the Dignity and Truth Platform, DA). The leader of the Liberal Party of Moldova (LPM) Mihai Ghimpu, a long-time and uncompromising supporter of unconditional unification with Romania, recently announced the readiness for the coalition. The stepping up of this party, fairly ‘beaten up’ in the political clashes, is connected with an attempt to preserve the rapidly melting influence in society. Several political parties compete today for the traditional electoral base of liberals–unionists. The idea of joining Romania is supported by about 20% of Moldovan citizens, while Moldovan unionists have been the most active and radical social group. Support from this highly motivated and stable category of electorate in conditions of obvious political polarization of the Moldovan society can bring a noticeable advantage to those political forces that will successfully master the traditional for Moldova theme of ‘unirea’ with Romania. According to the International Republican Institute (IRI), funded by the US government, socialists enjoy serious electoral support – 36%. The pro-European opposition can receive 25% in aggregate. Democrats can count on a 10% result, although their chances are significantly increased due to the administrative resource and the mixed electoral system. Experts agree that political coalitions are inevitable after the election, since no faction can control the parliament separately. In this regard, small parties that have a traditional stable electorate and are fighting for 10-15% of the vote acquire special importance. As it often happened in Moldovan politics, exactly the Ghimpu’s Liberal Party became the ‘golden’ share following the election, which if added to the general ‘stock’ of its allies allowed to control the parliament. Mihai Ghimpu’s statement about readiness for a political union is not just a reminder of himself, but a testimony of the steady intention of the liberal democrats to continue the long-standing practice of bidding on the Moldovan political market. However, this time the competition on the liberal patch of land is expected to be very tough: the serious rivals of the liberals have grown and become stronger. After leaving the ruling alliance, the Liberal Party began to lose its supporters in the parliament and local authorities. Earlier the Liberal Party was the main political wing of the Moldovan unionists, thanks to which it maintained a stable position in the power structures, today several political forces are hunting for their votes. Created two years ago, the National Unity Party has overtaken many liberals and continues to actively build support among the unionists. Its leaders – former liberal Anatol Salaru and ex-president of Romania Traian Basescu – hope to become the main political spokesmen of supporters of unification with Bucharest. The Liberal Democratic Party (PLDM), which declared the union with Romania one of the fundamental items of its political program, expects to gather under its banners as much pro-Romanian electorate as possible. The jump of the liberal democrats towards unionism is regarded by political scientists as an attempt to stop the disintegration of the party, which over the past few years has experienced a real catastrophe. Of the 23 seats won in 2014, the PLDM left only 5. The rest of the deputies withdrew from the party and joined the Democrats, giving them a dominant position in the parliament. At the moment, the Liberal Democrats are negotiating with the pro-European opposition (PAS and DA) to create a triumvirate. They already spoke together during civil protests provoked by the invalidation of the election of the Chisinau’s mayor, which the leader of the DA, Andrei Nastase, won. It is obvious that the advertised unionism of the PLDM is intended to raise the ‘share price’ and to return the influence lost after the democrats’ blow. The pro-European opposition, for its part, needs to expand its electoral support, but its leaders Maia Sandu and Andrei Nastase are very cautious in their statements when it comes to unification with Romania. The head of the PAS, for example, notes that there are many unionists in her party, but at the same time publicly declares “the impossibility of unification in the near future”. At the same time, Maia Sandu understands the electoral significance of pro-Romanian social groups. During the presidential elections in autumn of 2016, the unionists actively supported it, providing the pro-European candidate with additional votes – only a few percent prevented Sandu from overcompeting Igor Dodon. The fact that PAS and DA are trying to attract unionists to their side during the ongoing electoral race is also evidenced by a cooperation agreement with the National Liberal Party of Romania, which supports the unification of the ‘two Romanian states’ through the integration of Moldova into the EU. However, during the signing of the document on March 28 (dedicated to the celebration of the Unification Day), Moldovan pro-European politicians preferred to disagree about the ‘unirea’. Andrei Nastase limited himself to the phrase that one day two states will live together as part of the EU. Maia Sandu noted only the importance of “rapprochement with Romania through the implementation of specific projects”. Such comments by the leaders of the pro-European opposition indicate the intention to exploit a light version of the concept of rapprochement with Romania, so as not to scare off some of its voters who believe in the concept of the “two Romanian states” under the auspices of the European Union, but without the subordination of Chisinau to Bucharest. The chairman (at that time) of PLDM Viorel Cibotaru, who signed a cooperation agreement with the pro-presidential party of Romania, together with PAS and DA, put quite different emphases. Unlike his partners, he bluntly declared about the unirea with Bucharest. “We want this unity to become a political act, so that we are those who bring the unification (unirea) closer,” he said. It is possible that the creation of the unionist wing in the opposition pro-European faction will strengthen the positions of all its constituent political formations. Andrei Nastase and Maia Sandu will be able to count on the votes of the unionists without openly declaring support for the movement for unification with Romania. The latter will be able to improve their political capital by acting together with opposition pro-European forces against the supremacy of Democrats and Socialists. Joint actions of PAS, DA and PLDM prove that such an alliance is already beginning to take shape. They can be joined by other unionist parties – Liberal Party of Mihai Ghimpu and National Unity of Anatol Salaru. Separately, they risk to fall over the electoral threshold, as warned by representatives of unionist public organizations, calling on politicians to abandon ambitions and run together at the parliamentary elections. Meanwhile Mihai Ghimpu and Anatol Salaru continue to publicly blame each other for corruption, power-hungryness and cooperation with political opponents. It seems that unionist parties have chances to form a united front between PAS, DA and the PLDM that joined them. Another “Alliance for European Integration”, which opposes the ruling democratic party under oligarchic control, seems quite realistic. This is especially so in view of the open dissatisfaction with the Moldovan authorities of Brussels and Washington, which, apparently, intend to support the pro-Western opposition parties as much as possible in the forthcoming parliamentary elections. But the devil, as you know, is in details. The ‘unirea’ topic in the Moldovan realities is very convenient and beneficial as a kind of constantly burning guiding star, such an eternal slogan of the builders of communism. However, time will show whether the liberals will be able to moderate their ambitions and unite their efforts this time.