- - Monday, March 11, 2019

Moldova held parliamentary elections last month, but the political fate of this Eastern European nation remains unsettled.

Most of the Feb. 24 vote split among three parties, resulting in a hung parliament. The pro-Russian Socialist Party won a narrow plurality, taking 35 of Parliament’s 101 seats. The pro-European Democratic Party won 30 seats, and the new ACUM (meaning “now” in Romanian) Party won 26 seats.

None of the parties is pleased with the result. Both pro-Russian and pro-European leaders have accused the ruling Democratic Party of voter fraud, and Socialist leaders have threatened street protests over suspected vote-buying.

The Democratic Party likely would prefer to repeat its 2014 success in cobbling together a ruling coalition, but its prospects are not bright. Its old coalition partner, the Liberal Democratic Party, did not participate in last month’s elections.

While the ACUM Party is, like the Democratic Party, pro-European, it has explicitly stated that it will not enter into a coalition with either the Socialists or the Democrats. ACUM made combatting corruption a central plank of its party platform and believes the elections were neither free nor democratic. It therefore has no interest in legitimatizing its results.

Moldovan politics were complicated enough before this last election. While the ruling coalition leaned in favor of further alignment with the West, President Igor Dodon and the Parliamentary opposition were — and remain — pro-Russian.

Naturally, this split hindered efforts to move the former Soviet republic toward Euro-Atlantic integration. Nevertheless, the Democratic Party achieved some modest success in improving trade ties with the European Union, setting up a successful “Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area.” It has also made some banking and other economic reforms at the urging of the EU.

Still, progress has been slow, hampered in no small part by endemic corruption. Moldova remains one of Europe’s poorest nations, its economy dependent on agricultural production and emigrants’ remittances.

It also remains vulnerable to economic and military pressure from Moscow and faces a pro-Russian secessionist movement in its Transnistria region. Moscow last year conducted the third annual joint military exercise with separatist troops in Transnistria and has about 1,000 troops stationed there.

The breakaway region also managed to complicate last month’s vote. Unlike in the previous election, Transnistrians were allowed to cross the occupation line to cast ballots in the 2019 elections. They accounted for little over 1 percent of the vote, but pro-Westerners worry that many more could turn out for the next election.

That election could come as soon as next month. Lawmakers have only 45 days to put together a governing coalition. If they can’t, the president is required to dissolve Parliament and schedule a new vote.

The political situation in Moldova is as murky and unpredictable as it is tumultuous. Its citizens, having been stuck under the shadow of the former Soviet Union for so long, cherish the right to self-determination, and the U.S. should do everything in its power to support this.

No, Mr. Dodon is not the president of American dreams. He would much prefer to strengthen Moldova’s Russian ties than its ties to the West. But it is up to Moldova as a nation to determine its alliances and future, whether they be pro-European or pro-Russian.

If Moldova seeks to align itself with the Euro-Atlantic community, Washington should help in any way it can. Meanwhile, it should stay as engaged as possible.

Moldova occupies a strategic spot in Europe. In addition to bordering NATO-member Romania, it shares a 759-mile border with U.S. ally and NATO-aspirant Ukraine. If the U.S. disengages from Moldova, Russian interference there could quickly get out of hand, destabilizing the area and placing additional stress on America’s European alliances.

Whatever form the new Moldovan government takes, its leaders will face tremendous domestic challenges. In Washington, the goal will be to keep those challenges from morphing into an international crisis.

Alexis Mrachek is a research assistant in The Heritage Foundation’s Allison Center for Foreign Policy.

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