Moldova's Pro-Europe Parties Set to Win Majority in New Parliament

(R-L) Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Moldovan Prime Minister Iurie Leanca and Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski pose for a picture during a meeting in Chisinau, November 20, 2014. Mikhail Palinchak/Reuters

Moldova's three main pro-Europe parties appeared on Monday to be able to form a new coalition with most of the vote from an election on Sunday counted, despite the pro-Moscow Socialist Party taking first place.

With 87 percent of the vote counted, according to the election authorities, the three parties - the Liberal Democrats, the Liberals and the Democrats - had a combined vote of 44 percent - enough to win a majority in the 101-seat parliament.

This was in spite of the pro-Russia Socialist Party taking a surprise lead with 21.5 percent of the vote and the communists, who wish to revise part of a trade deal with the European Union, taking third place with 17.8 percent.

A three-party coalition, led by Prime Minister Iurie Leanca's Liberal Democrats, has piloted one of Europe's smallest and poorest countries along a course of integration with mainstream Europe since 2009, culminating in the ratification of a landmark association agreement with the EU this year.

Sunday's vote took place in the shadow of a separatist war in neighboring Ukraine triggered by it following similar pro-Europe policies that set it on a collision course with Moscow.

Pre-election surveys showed deep division over whether ex-Soviet Moldova should stick to the pro-Europe path pursued for the past five years or move back into Russia's orbit.

This, together with the coalition's poor record of fighting corruption and conducting deep reform, as well as Russian pressure on Moldova to change course, had raised questions over the coalition's ability to hold on to power.

"The three (coalition) parties, whose strategic aim is European integration, will have no difficulty in forming a ruling majority even without the help of the parties of the left," said analyst Oazu Nantoi, director of the Institute of Public Policies political research center.

He predicted they would be able to muster 54 seats in the new parliament, a comfortable majority in the assembly.

Figures released by election authorities, with 87 percent of the vote counted, gave the Liberal Democrats 19.2 percent of the vote, the Democratic Party 15.8 percent and the Liberal Party 9.4 percent.

The strong vote for the socialists, whose leader Igor Dodon is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, reflected a deep reluctance among many to diminish the close, historic relationship with Russia, the main supplier of energy - and also a fear of the consequences.

They had campaigned against the westward movement of Moldova and in favor of the Russia-led Customs Unioneconomic bloc.

Moldova's breakaway pro-Russian enclave of Transdniestria gives Russia a potential springboard for action in the landlocked country of 3.5 million, wedged between war-torn Ukraine and EU member Romania.

Moscow though has so far shown no readiness to intervene. But it has shown its displeasure by banning imports of wines, vegetables and meat from an economy which relies on agricultural exports.

Many analysts say that with Moldova already gaining from the EU deal - its citizens can travel visa-free to Western Europe - the pro-European drive will be difficult to reverse.

Prime Minister Leanca has said he wants full European Union membership for Moldova by 2020.

The Communist Party had been expected to recover its old position as the dominant force of the left, but the Socialists appeared to have made inroads into its vote.

"The communists changed their position too much in relation to the European Union and the Customs Union, whereas the socialists positioned themselves as the one pro-Russian party," said political analyst Vitalie Andrievschii.