In Europe - East

By Olga Tanas, Bloomberg News, Nov 29, 2014

Moldovans vote in parliamentary elections today after a campaign dominated by the issue of relations with Russia. The country of 3.6 million people has been snared in the escalating confrontation between Russia, the U.S. and the European Union over the crisis in Ukraine.

Wedged between Ukraine and EU member Romania, Moldova has a breakaway region, Transnistria, which appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin for recognition in April. The government joined Ukraine and Georgia in signing association agreements with the EU in June.

Moldova’s Communist Party, which favors closer ties with Russia, had a lead smaller than the margin of error over Prime Minister Iurie Leanca’s Liberal Democratic Party, Infotag news service reported Nov. 24, citing a survey by polling company IMAS. The Communists had 19.6 percent and the Liberal Democrats 17.2 percent, with a margin of error of three percentage points.

Three other parties were polling above the 6 percent threshold for parliamentary representation, according to the survey, including Patria, which has been barred from the contest over allegations of foreign financing.

“Moldova’s model of development is at stake in this election, whether Moldovans will choose the European model or the post-Soviet one,” Vitaly Andrievsky, a political analyst in Chisinau, the capital, said by phone Nov. 28.

German chancellor on ‘our values’

Moldova was among countries highlighted by German Chancellor Angela Merkel when she suggested the EU needs to stand up to Russian influence in former Soviet republics and the Balkans, recalling how the Soviet Union held sway in eastern Europe.

“I didn’t want to get back into that situation,” Merkel said in a speech in Sydney on Nov. 17. “This is not only Ukraine, this is also about Moldova — maybe even Serbia and the western Balkans, the Baltics. This cannot be reconciled with our values.”

Aside from navigating the geopolitical challenges, the next government has to tackle economic risks including an 8 percent decline in the Moldovan leu in the past six months, the fourth-worst performance in the Commonwealth of Independent States, a loose grouping of former Soviet republics, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

With the Communists and Liberal Democrats neck-and-neck without either having a shot at an outright majority, their ability to build alliances may determine the direction of the next government Their options may include the Democratic Party, polling at 14.2 percent and the Liberals, with 8.5 percent. Patria had 8.7 percent backing before being dropped from the race. The Socialist party was below the threshold at 5.3 percent in the IMAS poll. Russian Exports

Patria leader Renato Usatii left Chisinau Nov. 28 because of arrest threats against him and party members, he said before his flight to Moscow, according to Russian state-run news agency TASS.

“We’re accused of terrorism, extremism, espionage, contraband and other crimes,” Usatii said as cited by TASS. “I declare with all responsibility that I never, under no circumstances, called Moldova citizens to go to the main square with guns.”

The Communists, Socialists and Patria advocate closer links to Russia, one of the main destinations for Moldovan goods and workers. Exports to Russia reached $631.9 million in 2013, or about a quarter of the total, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. That compares with $1.1 billion of goods sent to the EU, Moldova’s biggest trade partner.

Russia imposed bans on Moldova’s wine, fruit and meat, decisions for which no “convincing arguments” were given, Moldovan President Nicolae Timofti told Putin at a CIS meeting on Oct. 10 in Minsk, Belarus. The economy grew 3.9 percent in the first six months from a year earlier.

“The new government will have to create jobs, attract investment and find an understanding with Russia,” Andrievsky said. “The latter would not only bring peace, but would also help the economy.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Olga Tanas in Moscow at [email protected]

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