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2003 electoral year

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January 9, 2003
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General local elections are due in 2003. The 4-year mandate of the local bodies expires on May 23 consequently elections are to be held in May. It would be very interesting to examine the relationships between the ruling party and opposition in this context.

It seems much tension would surround elections and there are enough grounds for such gloomy forecasts. Firstly, the Communist Party holding the majority in Parliament amended the legal framework regulating local public administration and administrative-territorial division of the country. Recently, they have also amended the Law on Political Parties, and soon are to amend the Electoral Code as well, in particular provisions referring to the election of city and village mayors, at least they claim to do so during the meetings with the citizens of the country. Noteworthy, opposition rejected all the aforesaid amendments and contested them via different procedures. Opposition claims Communist Party is laying the grounds for an authoritarian regime, enabling it to stay in power as long as possible.

During the last December session of the Permanent Round Table (PRT) leaders of opposition parties called on joining the forces against Communist Party intentions to change the rules of the game on the eve of elections. They cited Council of Europe (CE) standards providing that six months prior to elections, electoral law may not be amended. However, there are indications that the Permanent Round Table mechanism established in view of fostering the dialogue between opposition and ruling party is not functioning. One indication is that ruling party is deliberately disregarding Permanent Round Table. On the other hand the major opposition party, Christian-Democratic Peoples’ Party, as well other opposition parties stated on numerous occasions that PRT was useless as long as the ruling party was not attending. And last but not least, CE delegation headed by Jorgen Grunet, special representative of the CE General Secretary, Walter Schimmer, disapproved the attempts to turn PRT into a mechanism of opposition unification. He insisted on identifying a limited set of issues of paramount importance for the Republic of Moldova, which are to be solved by the ruling party via a dialogue with opposition. Consequently the only mechanism allowing opposition parties to coordinate their activities is inoperable. Indeed opposition is wasting the scarce resource still in its possession. Social Democratic Alliance (SDA), Liberal Party (LP) as well as few other small parties are the only ones insisting on settling disputes via PRT. The Social Democratic Party, Democratic Party, and Social Liberal Party share Christian-Democrats’ believe that PRT is useless as long as Communists do not attend. Social-Democratic Party believes it’s much more efficient to ask Council of Europe not to allow Republic of Moldova to overtake the Presidency of the CE Ministerial Council until CE and OSCE standards are met with respect to 2003 local elections. Christian-Democrats have already announced that they would resume the protest rallies unless Communists comply with PACE Resolutions. Furthermore, the two socialist parties hosted a press conference in December 2002 and severely criticized the ruling party for its social policies, however they refrained from positioning themselves in opposition to the ruling party.

In general, wasting of opposition resources is extremely advantageous for the ruling party. Communist Party disregarded opposition in the past and continues to do so. The 71% majority allows Communists to pursue their interests and consolidate their positions. It was only the 4-months protest rallies staged by the Christian Democrats commencing 9 January 2002 that tempered Communists. And this only after PACE interfered and adopted two resolutions on the functioning of democratic institutions in the Republic of Moldova. Also CE was the one to recommend the establishment of a PRT as a conflict settlement mechanism. Now that opposition has proved its inability to unite its forces, Communists have all the reasons to point CE that opposition is in fact dispersed and unable to reach common ground and there is nobody for them to talk to. Indeed, there are some initiatives undertaken by opposition parties, which fail to gain the support of the rest of opposition parties. For instance, Social-Democratic Alliance launched the idea of a referendum on changing the electoral system without any prior consultation of other opposition parties. As a result the initiative enjoyed the support of only few parties, among others of the Liberal Party. Another illustration is the draft on the Republic of Moldova federalization viewed totally different by opposition parties, consequently once again it would not consolidate opposition forces. Needless to say opposition viewed Communists’ invitation to debate the federalization draft as a challenge and an attempt to split the opposition. And finally the last example, last year Christian-Democrats initiated the modification of the Law on Political Parties in view of raising the number of members required for party registration from 5,000 to 15,000. The rest of opposition parties severely criticized the initiative. It seems the only consolidating idea might be Christian-Democrats’ initiative to hold a referendum on joining EU, however the idea to subject the issue of joining NATO to the referendum left some opposition parties reluctant.

As for the Communist Party, it adopted an extremely efficient tactics in relations with opposition and CE. They pushed their interests to the limit and then were called upon by CE. Then followed a long period of resolution implementation, when in fact minor and insignificant concessions were made. Those concessions did not affect party interests as far as property redistribution or shaping public opinion is concerned. Of course there was always the temptation to see what happens if the resolutions were ignored or only partially implemented. There is the example of Russia, which was repeatedly warned with regard to human rights violations in Chechnya, nevertheless no serious sanctions were imposed. Once convinced that there is no external pressure if they mock the resolutions’ enforcement, Communists have resumed their policy of edifying an authoritarian regime. There is no domestic pressure too, as the party controls public opinion via state controlled mass media, especially state TV, and the Communist Party has no intention to ever give up on it. Thus, step by step Communist Party is achieving its goals and acquiring valuable political experience, enabling the party to surpass even further the opposition. For instance, Communists have practically achieved their goal to establish the vertical power, a goal set immediately after elections. Staff cleansing among the law enforcement forces, especially among judges and prosecutors, legal and even constitutional modifications have allowed President Voronin to assume the prerogatives of a prosecutor or even a judge. Only last year, three Cabinet members were ousted after being accused of corruption by the President of the country. Facts related to the investigation were never made public, however later on the same officials were assigned to other high-rank positions.

It seems the Communist Party didn’t have a specially devised strategy or plan in this respect. The only strategy they had was probably that of “minimum effort”, i.e. reacting to the challenges. Under favorable foreign conjuncture this strategy may prove to be highly efficient. Indeed, EU and NATO extension resulted in a favorable environment opening new opportunities for the Republic of Moldova, and Communists took a full advantage thereof, ostentatiously defying their party doctrines and principles. And the only justification provided was that the new conjuncture might be exploited for the welfare of the Republic of Moldova.

Under those circumstances, opposition criticizes in vain international organizations and western countries for their relations with the Communist ruling. Opposition was told on several occasions to consolidate its forces in order to be an equal match to the ruling party, but it never followed the advice. There is no room for idle talk, and that is why foreign organizations and states work with those forces controlling the socio-political situation and ensuring the stability in the country. In conclusion 2003 electoral year would be a very difficult year for the opposition parties. They would be exhausted by the recent amendments to the Law on Parties obliging them to yearly confirm the existence of at least 5,000 members. Furthermore, ruling party threatened CEC for being unbiased in electoral matters. This is how Communist Party rewards CEC for the praises Republic of Moldova got in Washington, namely ensuring free and fair elections, which in fact brought Communists to power.

Overview of year 2002 Undermining the integrity of the electoral process