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TURKMEN GAS EXPORTS FALL IN JANUARY-FEBRUARY. Turkmenistan's natural gas exports recorded a 12 percent year-on-year drop in January-February 2005, Prime-TASS reported on 9 March, citing data from Turkmenistan's Ministry of Oil and Gas. The leading buyers of Turkmen gas for the period were Ukraine and Iran, with purchases of 6.6 billion cubic meters and 1.5 billion cubic meters, respectively. A price dispute between Turkmenistan and Russia's Gazprom has temporarily halted gas shipments from Turkmenistan to Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 and 22 February 2005). DK

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT PROMISES 'DIFFERENT UKRAINE' IN BUNDESTAG... Viktor Yushchenko promised in a speech to the German Bundestag on 9 March that the world will soon see a "different Ukraine," international news agencies reported. Yushchenko specified that this country is going to become stronger, healthier, economically robust, democratic, and free of corruption. Yushchenko also told German lawmakers that he sees Ukraine in a unified Europe in the "not-too-distant future." He expressed his hope that Germany will soon recognize the "European prospect" of his country. Yushchenko also advocated more liberal EU visa regulations for his compatriots, mentioning specifically such categories of Ukrainians as adolescents, students, artists, journalists, and businesspeople. JM

...AS GERMAN CHANCELLOR PLEDGES 'NEW DYNAMISM' IN BILATERAL RELATIONS. Gerhard Schroeder told a news conference in Berlin on 9 March that Germany will offer support to Ukraine in restructuring the country on the basis of democracy and market economy and bring "new dynamism" into bilateral relations, international media reported. Schroeder was speaking after a meeting with Ukrainian President Yushchenko earlier the same day. Schroeder also pledged to help Ukraine on its path toward "the Western community of states" and toward establishing "closer relations with the Euro-Atlantic organizations," ddp reported. The German chancellor said he agreed with Yushchenko on forming a bilateral group to work out important joint economic projects and ensure their implementation. JM

EX-UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT TO BE QUESTIONED IN MURDERED JOURNALIST CASE. The Ukrainian Prosecutor-General's Office will interrogate former President Leonid Kuchma regarding the kidnapping and murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze in 2000, Interfax reported, quoting Prosecutor-General's Office spokesman Vyacheslav Astapov. "He [Kuchma] will be interrogated without fail, particularly since he himself has expressed such a wish," Astapov said but did not specify any date. The so-called Melnychenko tapes implicate Kuchma and former Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko in the abduction of Gongadze (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 6 March 2005). According to a February poll by the Razumkov Center, 64 percent of Ukrainians have a "negative attitude" toward Kuchma, while 35 percent believe that Kuchma should be "held accountable" for his past deeds. JM

...AND DECRIES INTERNATIONAL DOUBLE STANDARDS... Russia has also decried what it called a "double standard" among international election observers who called Moldova's election free and fair, Interfax reported on 10 March. "A significant number of Moldovan citizens staying abroad were in effect deprived of the chance to realize their electoral rights.... Of the hundreds of thousands of Moldovans who were in Russia at the time of the election, only about 3,000 were able to vote," a Russian Foreign Ministry statement posted on its website on 9 March said. "Unfortunately, facts of this nature were for some reason overlooked by the international observers working in Moldavia. What we see here is the same practice of double standards, which should be eradicated through drawing up common criteria for monitoring the election process, wherever it takes place," the commentary said. The Russian statement was an apparent reference to international condemnation of elections in Ukraine last year. BW

REPORT: MOLDOVA CHARGES TWO RUSSIAN CAMPAIGN WORKERS WITH MONEY LAUNDERING Moldova's Prosecutor-General's Office has charged two Russian women with money laundering in connection with their activities in the country's parliamentary election campaign, RIA-Novosti reported on 10 March. According to RIA-Novosti, the two sisters, identified by their last name Romaschenko, were detained in February for illegal campaigning. The two, who had been working with a group of Russian, Ukrainian, and Kazakh citizens, were charged with illegally taking $500,000 into the country. BW

Although the outcome of the 6 March parliamentary elections in Moldova deprived the opposition of a reason to stage massive street protests, it, nonetheless opened an alternative route for the transfer of power in the country. The failure of the ruling Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) to regain a constitutional majority of at least 61 seats offers the opposition the chance to boycott the presidential vote and secure a new parliamentary poll. New elections will be called if the opposition succeeds in blocking parliament's election of a new president three times.

According to preliminary results, the PCM stands as the clear winner with 46 percent of the vote, followed by the Democratic Moldova Bloc (BMD) with 29 percent, and the Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) with 9 percent. Only these three groups managed to pass the hurdle of 6 percent for representation in parliament.

The Communists' share of the vote translates into 56 seats out of the total of 101. This is a comfortable majority, enough to allow them to form a government and elect the parliamentary speaker. But they fell short of the 61 votes necessary to elect the president, so they will need to find some support among the opposition.

However, both BMD leader Serafim Urechean and PPCD leader Iurie Rosca said on 8 March they intend to boycott the vote in parliament in order to force new parliamentary elections. "We will not participate in parliament's vote for the president. That will trigger an early parliamentary election," Reuters quoted Urechean as saying on 8 March. Yet the boycott scenario depends on the two leaders' ability to enforce party discipline during the secret voting in parliament, as well as the certainty that a repeat vote would yield a more favorable outcome for a united opposition.

Neither of these conditions actually hold. A united opposition remains just a dream due to Urechean's questionable ability to control such a loose coalition of coalitions as the BMD. Similarly problematic is the anticipated solidarity between Urechean and Rosca. Rosca's most vicious attacks during the election campaign were directed at Urechean as they competed for the same right-of-center electorate. Also, their foreign-policy priorities are irreconcilable, with the PPCD vowing to curb Russia's political influence in Moldova, while the BMD supports stronger ties with Russia.

There is also great uncertainty as to whether a repeat poll would increase the opposition's showing. Rosca's PPCD has a stable backing of about 10 percent, but the BMD could actually lose ground, which would only help the Communists regain their constitutional majority.

Urechean's popularity has been greatly damaged because of his links to Moscow and the Transdniestrian separatists. Despite intense propaganda by separatist leader Igor Smirnov in favor of Urechean, the BMD only managed to do slightly better than the PCM in the small town of Varnitsa where Moldovans from Bender and Tiraspol cast their ballots. It is also quite unlikely that smaller parties that failed to pass the 6 percent barrier to make it into parliament will unite under Urechean's banner, let alone under Rosca's, to forge a single anti-Communist front.

Rather, such an uncompromising position reveals the opposition's intention to extract as many concessions as possible from acting President and PCM head Vladimir Voronin in exchange for those six necessary votes. A simple communist majority is enough for them form a government and elect the parliamentary speaker. For this reason, the opposition's support for Voronin's reelection would be just a one-time alliance. Nevertheless, it grants Rosca and Urechean great bargaining leverage.

At his first postelection press conference, Voronin reiterated the PCM's intent to seek support from among the rank-and-file members of the opposition, not their leaders. To this end, the Communists boast a rich experience of co-optation from the previous parliament. More than half of the deputies elected in 2001 from the Braghis Alliance, which is now part of the BMD, defected to the PCM, while occasionally an entire opposition parliamentary faction voted with the Communists. In an interview with France's "Le Figaro" on 9 March, Voronin revealed the possibility of collaborating with deputies from the Social Liberal Party and the Democratic Party -- both of which are part of the BMD -- to select the president and avoid early elections. The Communists could possibly offer the position of deputy speaker, cabinet portfolios, or, even diplomatic positions.

The fact that Voronin has not yet made public his intention to run for a second term points to the possibility of him dropping out in favor of an independent candidate favored by the opposition. Instead, Voronin could become speaker and move the center of power to parliament, consistent with Moldova's parliamentary republic. Another option to overcome the present deadlock would be to muster the two-thirds majority for modifying the constitution to reintroduce direct elections of the president. But, again, this would benefit Voronin and would also hinge on co-opting opposition deputies.

Moldova lacks the culture of compromise characteristic of Western politics, and its experience with a four-party coalition (Alliance for Democracy and Reforms) in 1998-2001 proved detrimental to effective governance. Policy reforms and their implementation were often compromised by interminable squabbles among the coalition's partners over the distribution of key portfolios. Such lack of solidarity would be especially undesirable now, when the new government faces the task of successfully enforcing the Action Plan it signed with the EU on 22 February to pave the way for Moldova's potential accession.

The Communist's victory in the 6 March election, although predictable, turned the logic of the transfer of power in the region upside-down. Voronin wholeheartedly embraced the slogans of victorious opposition forces in Romania, Georgia, and, Ukraine, in order to avoid a similar popular revolution in his own country. Conversely, Russia was compelled to seek partners among the Moldovan opposition.

A major challenge for Moldova's Communists remains staying firmly on course for European integration and securing concessions from Russia on restoring the country's territorial integrity. The new government should continue pressing for a broadening of the current five-party format for settling the Transdniester conflict to include the EU, United States, and, Romania. Such a change seems more likely in light of the international community's growing awareness of the serious security risks that Transdniester poses for Southeastern Europe.

The current elections also demonstrated the pragmatic approach of the West with regard to the ideological label of the ruling party. Policy stability, effective governance, and respect of the democratic rules of the game ranked higher on Western concerns than anticommunism. However, changing the party's name to reflect its social-democratic orientation is necessary to reflect its intended modernization. Voronin, for his part, reiterated at his first postelection press conference his desire to change the party's name.

In 2001, the PCM won the parliamentary vote by a wider margin, but that was largely a protest vote against the center-right coalition's failure in government. The 2005 electoral success, although short of an absolute majority, constitutes a confidence vote for the Communists' social, economic, and foreign-policy accomplishments during the past four years. The ruling party passed the minimum test for democracy, as foreign observers declared the elections consistent with international standards. But democratic institutions in the country are in urgent need of being strengthened and consolidated, hence the main objective for the renewed popular mandate.

The behind-the-scenes bargaining among the three winners of elections is well under way in Moldova. So far, the boycott scenario is just as unrealistic as an Orange Revolution. Reasonable compromises, and not early elections, are in the best interest of all parties.

Ilian Cashu is a Ph.D. student in political science at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University specializing in postcommunist social policy.