02/03/2009 - Analysis
On 2nd February last the Moldovan Parliament announced that the next general elections would take place on 5th April 2009. In Moldova this election is of dual importance since the Constitution stipulates that the Head of State is elected by the Members of Parliament within 45 days following the general elections. To be elected the President has to win a 2/3 majority of the vote of the 101 members in the Assembly i.e. at least 61 votes. The main issue in this election will be whether the Communist Party (PRCM) manages to retain the three key positions in the Moldovan political arena i.e. that of Prime Minister, Head of State and President of the Parliament.
A controversy has arisen about Moldovans living abroad, i.e. around 30% of the population. Indeed they can only fulfil their civic duty in a country where Moldova has a diplomatic representation. Hence 100,000 Moldovans living in Spain cannot vote there and have to travel to Rome or Paris if they want to elect their parliamentary representatives. The Liberal Democratic Party (PLDM) specifically asked, in vain, for an improvement in voting conditions for Moldovans living abroad.
The political parties have until 4th March to register with the Electoral Commission in view of the general elections.
The Political System
The Moldovan Parliament is mono-cameral and comprises 101 members, elected by proportional vote for a four year period within one national constituency. The electoral threshold to be represented in Parliament, previously established at 4% of the votes cast, was raised in December 2007 and now lies at 6%. Likewise the constitution of any pre-electoral alliance is prohibited and anyone who is subject to legal proceedings or who has dual citizenship can no longer stand in the general elections. Finally a 50% minimum turn out is required for the general election to be deemed valid.
The raising of the electoral threshold can mainly be explained by the results achieved by the Communist Party (PCRM) during the local elections in June 2007. Indeed this election witnessed the decline of the ruling party which won 34% of the vote i.e. -12 points less and only won an absolute majority in 2 of the 34 districts in the country. However the PCRM undertook a tough campaign (incidentally the opposition denounced the intimidation of the media and its candidates who were threatened with legal action) and announced some social measures just before the election, notably a 20% rise in retirement pensions on 1st April 2007. As for the opposition, the Our Moldova Alliance won 155 town halls, the Democratic Party (PDM) 78, the Christian Democratic Party (PPCD) 62, the Social Democratic Party (PSDM) 25.
If the new electoral threshold had been applied to the local elections of June 2007 only three parties would be able to sit in Parliament: the Communist Party, Our Moldova Alliance and the People's Christian Democratic Party. The raising of the electoral threshold led to the merging of the Social Democracy Party led by former Prime Minister (1999-2001) Dumitru Braghis and the Social Democratic Party led by Ion Musuc. Rallying under the Social-Democratic banner both parties can hope to win 7% of the vote.
5 political parties are represented in the present Moldavian Parliament:
- the Communist Party (PRCM), the party of the President of the Republic Vladimir Voronin and Prime Minister Zinaida Greceanii, has 56 MPs, i.e. the absolute majority;
- Our Moldova Alliance (AMN), an opposition party led by former Mayor of Chisinau, Serafim Urechean, has 22 seats;
- the People's Christian Democratic Party, a centre-right opposition party led by Iurie Rosca has 11 MPs;
- the Democratic Party (PDM), opposition party of former President of Parliament Dumitru Diacov, has 8 MPs;
- the Liberal Social Party (PSL), an opposition party led by Oleg Serebrian, has 4 seats.
Issues included in the Electoral Campaign
Vladimir Voronin, the outgoing President, in office since 2001, cannot stand for a third mandate. However he is the central figure of his party's electoral campaign. "Moldova is a country of civil stability and conciliation on the road to European integration," repeats the Head of State who is campaigning on the results he has achieved during the two terms in office as head of Moldova. "In 2001, salaries lay at 400 lei and retirement pensions 150, both have increased over the last eight years. Likewise more than a hundred criminal gangs have been arrested," declares Vladimir Voronin.
The PCRM "is going to develop its national gas distribution network, provide drinking water to each town and build at least 1000 km of European standard roads by the end of 2010," promises the outgoing President. "We are confident of our abilities and the possibility of turning a new page in Moldovan history. We have prepared well for this stage. We have proved our competence; we did not have such advantages in 2001. Europe is the main issue in our electoral programme and of our work," he indicated.
Moldova has signed a partnership agreement with the EU. In 2005 both parties already agreed on an action plan that was due to put Moldova on the road to the EU within three years. A new co-operation agreement is due to be set out "when the country is ready to take on the effects of total liberalisation of its trade with the European Union." "Brussels and Chisinau might sign a new agreement after the general elections," declared Wolfgang Berendt, head of the policy and economic department of the European Commission's delegation on 16th October 2008. The pace and quality of the reforms implemented in the country will define the nature and pace of its rapprochement with the EU. Short term Moldova hopes that visa obligations will be relaxed for Moldovans who want to travel to the EU (a procedure facilitation agreement for the delivery of visas has existed since 2007).
"2009 will be an important year for Moldova on its road to Europe. We are on the verge of launching new negotiations with the EU which will define new perspectives for Moldova," stressed President Voronin. "We announced our European integration strategy and we have reformed our health system as well as the education system; we achieved a fiscal amnesty and abolished the tax on profits. The most recent measures – the implementation of legislation with regard to a legal system according to European standards – are systemic in nature.
Moldova's integration into the EU is the source of consensus within the Moldovan political arena with the exception of the Rodina (Motherland) led by Boris Muravschvili who would like to see the country turn towards Russia. Whatever the result of the election on 5th April, the resulting Parliament will progress towards a rapprochement with Brussels.
Moldova experienced a high growth rate of its GDP in 2008 (7.3%) but the economic crisis may cause it to drop to 2% in 2009. Inflation which reached 17.1% last May, decreased to rest at 8.5% in November 2008. Moldova is still a poor country (29% of the population lives below the poverty line) whose working population is leaving en masse (officially the country has 343,000 migrants out of 3.4 million inhabitants but in reality the figure may be 500,000 emigrants). The country lost around 1 million inhabitants between 1991, the year of the country's independence and 2004, date of the last census. Remittances sent by emigrants represent more than a third of the Moldovan GDP. An agricultural country (30% of the population works in the sector) Moldova is extremely dependent on Russia for its energy supplies, notably with regard to gas, likewise for its agricultural exports.
Just one month before the general election speculation is rife about the future of the outgoing Head of State. "Vladimir Voronin is an ambitious man and my feeling is that he will become President of Parliament," declares Igor Botan, a member of the think-tank Adept. The outgoing President has said that he would "stay at the heart of political life." Marian Lupu, the present President of Parliament is considered the favourite to succeed Vladimir Voronin.
The Moldovan opposition is diverse. Three parties, the Our Moldova Alliance, the Liberal-Democratic Party (PLDM) and the Liberal Party (PL) have now said they will not work with the PCRM. The Our Moldova Alliance leader, Serafim Urechean, has called on voters to mobilise for these general elections qualifying Vladimir Voronin's power a "dictatorship". "I have to free my countrymen, provide my country with democracy and build a responsible State system," he declared.
At the beginning of the year the Justice Minister refused to register former Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev (2001-2008, he was replaced by Zinaida Greceanii) as leader of the Centrist Union because the party had provided an incomplete list of its members and also because Vasile Tarlev had been appointed for the first time on 23rd September during a public vote then a second time on 13th December by secret ballot. Finally Chiril Lucinschi, son of the former President of the Republic (1996-2001) Petru Lucinschi, will be running in the general elections on the Democratic Party lists chaired by former President of Parliament Dumitru Diacov where he will occupy an eligible position.
13 political parties and 12 media signed an ethics code in view of the election on 5th April. The National Liberal Party leader (PNL) Vitalia Pavlicenco refused to sign because the PCRM and the media, in her opinion, who control everything, ratified the document. The chair of the Liberal Democratic Party, Vlad Filat, noted that the state channel Moldova1TV did not sign the document and did not think it necessary to mention it.
The Transnistrian Conflict
Transnistria is an eastern region of Moldova that escapes the control of the government in Chisinau and is under Russian military occupation. The region unilaterally proclaimed independence in 1992 after a conflict that led to the death of several hundred people. In spite of an international agreement whereby Moscow promised to withdraw its troops before 31st December 2002, 2 000 soldiers of the 14th Russian Army, transformed into an operational group of Russian forces in 1994, are still stationed in Transnistria.
In 1940, Moldova, which lies to the east of Romania, was cut in two by the USSR which annexed the eastern part which lies beyond the River Dniester. To recover the territory Romania allied itself with the Nazis and in 1941 managed to push the Soviet soldiers out of Moldova. However in 1944 Moldova, whose capital was then Tiraspol, was annexed with an extra part (Transnistria) which then belonged to the Ukraine to the Soviet Socialist Republic of Moldova; Kishinev (Chisinau) then became the new capital. The Soviet authorities then prohibited the Romanian language and fostered the establishment of a Russian and Ukrainian population at the expense of the Moldovans. Hence until the fall of the Communist regimes at the end of the 1980's most leaders in the Communist Party and the Moldovan Republic were from Transnistria. Between 1940 and 1989 not one First Secretary of the Communist Party came from the western part of the country. During the second half of the 20th century Transnistria experienced major industrial development whilst the rest of Moldova remained agricultural. At the beginning of the 1990's the region comprised one third of the country's industrial potential.
In June 1990, Parliament approved a declaration of sovereignty establishing the primacy of the Moldovan Constitution over the entire territory, including Transnistria. Parliament's adoption of Moldovan as the official language caused great tension between the two communities since the inhabitants of Transnistria only speak Russian or Ukrainian. In December 1991 the latter voted by referendum in favour of the independence of their territory. The following year a conflict broke out between the armed forces and the population which had the support of the 14th Russian army comprising 6,000 men at the time. Transnistria, including Tiraspol which has become the capital of the region, asked to be annexed to Russia. In autumn 1992, the Moldovan, Mircea Snegur and Russian, Boris Yeltsin signed an agreement whereby Russia would stop supporting Transnistria if Moldova granted the region a political status that guaranteed its autonomy. Moldova was also to promise that it would not request its own annexation to Romania. In March 1995 81% of the inhabitants of Transnistria voted in favour of the new independent Constitution. On the same day 93.3% of the population (that includes 40% of Moldovans) voted in favour of maintaining Russian troops in Transnistria. The separatist region of Transnistria has its own Constitution, its own anthem, a President (Igor Smirnov – re-elected on 10th December 2006 with 82% of the vote), its own government, parliament, army, currency (the Transnistrian rouble or souvoriki) but no country, not even Russia has acknowledged it. On 17th September 2006 97.7% of Transnistrians voted in favour of independence via referendum.
Since 1992, five parties (Moldova, the Moldovan region of Transnistria, Russia, the Ukraine, and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe – OSCE) have been trying to settle the conflict that has been on-going for the last fifteen years – Brussels and Washington have observer status. The Liberal Party is requesting the EU and the USA be included in the negotiations.
In 2003, the Kozak plan, named after the Russian expert and diplomat who supervised its writing, was supposed to provide a rapid solution to the conflict enabling the creation of a reunited Moldovan state and allowing the deployment of Russian military forces in Transnistria. This plan was due to be signed in Chisinau by the Moldovan president and the head of the Transnistrian administration together with Russian President Vladimir Putin on 25th November 2003; but the Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin refused to sign the document at the last minute, saying that "it had been written without consulting the EU which Moldova intends to join". Six years later the situation is still in stalemate. Igor Smirnov and Vladimir Voronin met twice in 2008. No result came of the meetings. The next meeting may take place before the general elections on 5th April.
As during the previous elections the inhabitants of Transnistria are not due to take part in the Moldovan general elections. 400,000 of them are voters. In 2005 10 polling stations were opened in the region. According to Igor Smirnov the Moldovan Electoral Commission has not asked the "authorities" permission to organise general elections in the region. Around 125,000 Transnistrians have Russian nationality.
According to the most recent opinion poll undertaken in February the PCRM is due to win the election on 5th April with 22.9% of the vote, ahead of Our Moldova Alliance which is due to win 19%; the Liberal Party 15.7% and the Liberal Democratic Party, 10.4%. The Centrist Union, the Democratic Party and the People's Christian Democratic Party are due to win 5% each; the Social Democratic Party and the National Liberal Party, 4% each. Three quarters of those interviewed (77%) said they would turn out to vote.
Source: Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe