Voters in Moldova are to elect a new parliament Sunday, in an election President Bush said will allow the country to demonstrate its democratic capabilities. The election will be watched closely in Europe and abroad as the new 101-seat parliament will elect Moldova's president later this year.
Moldova's ruling Communists are expected to dominate Sunday's election. But there are signs of wariness surrounding the poll, especially given the recent election upheaval in neighboring Ukraine.
Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin has acknowledged a failure to fulfill his election program during the past four years. But he said he was confident the Communists had succeeded in creating some sense of democratic and economic normalcy in Moldova.
Political analyst Yevgeni Volk, Director of the Heritage Foundation in Moscow, disagrees. Mr. Volk told VOA that Moldova's Communists do not truly adhere to the values and interests of democratic, civilized society. He says they are seeking to use Western interests in democracy building to further their own gains.
"I would say that quite recently [President] Voronin and the Communists understood that it would be silly to put all eggs only into the Moscow basket," he said. "So, they now play both a game with Moscow and a game with the European Union, trying to attract political and economic aid - also from the West. The problem is the Communists want to exploit Western assistance, some pro-Western slogans, in order to maintain power."
Mr. Volk says the Moldovan people's poverty, coupled with their political inexperience, plays into the Communist's hands. He says another factor contributing to the Communists' virtual lock on power is the fact that the political opposition in Moldova remains divided.
With eight parties, two blocs and 12 independent candidates set to take on the Communists, Mr. Volk says it is no wonder latest opinion polls give the ruling party more than 50 percent of the vote.
Only two other parties are given a chance for possible success - the nationalist Popular Christian Democratic Party, which promises to stage a Ukraine-style revolution in Moldova, and the main opposition party, the Centrist Bloc for Democratic Moldova.
Analyst Volk says the question facing voters at the polls this Sunday echoes that already answered by voters in Georgia and Ukraine.
"The problem for Moldova is what way to choose, either to remain a backward country which relies upon supplies from Russia - foreign aid - or it should develop dynamically towards the new roots toward the new way of free market, democratic society," he said. "Unfortunately, I do not really believe it can be easily solved for Moldova at present time."
Mr. Volk says another key consideration behind the scenes is Russia's role in the upcoming elections.
"Of course, Russia has very deep interests in Moldova and what is really going on now is an active play under carpet [indirectly], so to speak, actively intriguing in the background," he said. "And the fact that Moldova has recently asked to withdraw some Russian representatives from Moldova, who were there illegally, I believe it is a very serious sign that [the] Moldovan leadership feels this Russian interference."
Tensions between Russia and Moldova have been on the rise the past two years due to an unsettled dispute over the Russian-speaking breakaway province of Transdniester.
The relationship suffered another setback earlier this month, after Moldova refused to invite observers from the Commonwealth of Independent States to monitor the upcoming elections, while allowing monitors from Europe's leading election watchdog, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Russia threatened to retaliate by imposing political and economic sanctions. But Moscow has not imposed any such actions against Moldova.
The State Department has expressed concern that the fairness of Moldova's upcoming elections might be spoiled by what it says is biased media coverage and police harassment of opposition candidates.