Two disquieting elections in the news. Two challenging election results.
In Moldova, pro-European parties outpolled pro-Russian parties.
In Taiwan’s capital, Taipei, the pro-independence candidate beat the pro-China candidate.
The Republic of Moldova, formerly the Moldovian Soviet Socialist Republic, declared its independence at the collapse of the USSR. It comprises much of the former Russian and once Romanian province of Bessarabia. (Full disclosure: My father was born in Bessarabia when it was part of Romania and emigrated to the USA in 1921 with a Romanian passport. His family had decided that emigrating was preferable to starving to death.)
Shortly after declaring its independence, a narrow strip of Moldova, to the east of the Dnister River, declared its independence form Moldova and calls itself the Transnistrian Republic. Moldova tried to assert its authority over the territory but the Russian military base on the strip prevented any such Moldovan efforts.
To this day, Moldova remains the poorest country in Europe and relies on remittances from a vast swath of its population who illegally emigrated to Europe after independence. In fact, Moldova generates some 40% of its GDP from remittances, the second highest in the world after Tajikistan.
Nonetheless, the country has managed to hold hotly contested parliamentary elections every four years. The most recent elections on November 30 saw 25 parties, groups, or individuals on the ballot. Pro-European parties won 56 seats in the 101 seat parliament while pro-Russian parties won 45 seats.
In June 2014, Moldova signed an Association Agreement with the European Union. Russia then banned the import of Moldova’s most important exports. The next step would be for Moldova to seek EU membership. But the Ukrainian precedent – what Putin now does to former Soviet Republics seeking to distance themselves from Russia – is an all too powerful and still shocking memory.
Despite the not so veiled warnings from Russian leaders, the pro-EU majority in parliament shows no sign of backing down on its commitment to joining the EU.
Local elections throughout Taiwan on November 29 resulted in a decisive defeat for the ruling pro-China KMT party. The KMT even lost the capital, Taipei, to a pro-independence candidate. The dominant issue in the KMT’s loss was voter anger at the slowdown in economic growth and not relations with the mainland. But voters seem to have rejected closer ties with China.
The pro-independence party understands reality. The reality is that China has openly declared its intention to invade Taiwan were it to declare independence. No pro-independence Taiwanese political party will make any such moves anytime soon, nor did the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party when it ruled the island from 2000-2008.
But while Eastern Europe is embroiled in Russian – EU tensions, East Asia, despite Taiwanese restraint, will move in the direction of Chinese – Western tensions.
Marvin Zonis is Professor Emeritus at the Booth School of Business, the University of Chicago.