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Two Years in Government — Political Achievements

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Igor Botan / April 16, 2003
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This April it has been two years since the Chairman of the Communist Party of Moldova (CPM) Vladimir Voronin was elected President of the Republic of Moldova and the Tarlev Cabinet was approved. These two events were the follow up of the new constitutional provisions and the absolute victory of the CPM in the parliamentary elections of 25 February 2001. To mark the anniversary, but probably also due to the start of the campaign for the forthcoming local elections, the press supporting the governing party has published a series of analyses and reports about the fulfilment of the electoral promises that the CPM made two years ago.

The representatives of the governing party are insisting upon the fact that they have kept their electoral promises fully and that if a different, non-communist government had accomplished as much as the current communist government did, then the opposition press, the independent media and the so-called “external forces” would have praised it enormously. There might be a share of truth to what the communists say. One can sense a subtle reproach to the opposition and independent press, which allegedly looks only at the failures of the current government and completely overlooks their achievements.

There is nothing special in this sort of approach. One can say that the behaviour of the media affiliated with the government party and the state one have prompted a similar reaction in the opposition press. Thus, the governmental media, which hold the utmost capacity for informational coverage of the country, in the past two years have praised the current government to the level of a cult, presenting it as almost faultless. Even when issues are acknowledged to exist, these are presented as the legacy of the previous so-called “democratic governments”. There even have been reports that President Voronin is the “envoy of the Fortune” who was sent to save the Moldovan people from the current conundrum.

In fact, the actual state of things is somewhere in-between; obviously except the statements about the “providential role” of President Voronin, there can be no compromise about it: he was either sent by Fortune or not!

As for the actual political achievements of the communist government during the past two years, a major impact on them has had the establishment of the “vertical power axis”, a prerequisite set in 2001 by President Voronin for accomplishing other objectives, such as the resolution of the Transdnistrian conflict, fighting corruption and poverty reduction.

It is the establishment of the “vertical axis of power” that was supposed to provide the necessary tools for these three objectives. Although through the constitutional amendments of July 2000 the President was endowed with powers relatively well balanced by those of the Parliament and Government, the President of the country and of the ruling party has succeeded in ensuring his access to all leverages of state power.

There are a number of explications for this. Firstly, President Voronin has excellent leadership skills, which helped him bring 71 out of 100 deputies on the CPM list to Parliament and thus gain a comfortable parliamentary majority enough to change the Constitution. There is no other CPM leader to match Vladimir Voronin. Apparently, his party mates, once deputies in Parliament, are still deeply grateful for the performance of their leader. These assumptions could explain the phenomenon of unity of the party and of the apparent lack of internal conflict, even though the policies promoted by the leader do not totally fit into the programme of the party.

Secondly, it appears that the model of the hierarchical structure inside the party was extrapolated onto the activity of state power bodies. This phenomenon is fully consonant with the communist tradition founded on the principle of “democratic centralism”. This model also allows President Voronin to keep control of and influence the direction of the economic and political development of the country.

The opposition has criticised on different occasions the decision making practices which are first taken within party forums and structures, and then promoted to the level of public officials. Yet, from the juridical point of view, one can reproach nothing. Even though President Voronin’s hold on the Moldovan political life is utterly disproportionate with his constitutional powers, this is a consequence of the personnel policy that he promotes and of which the parliamentary majority of his party seems to approve.

In this sense, President Voronin has succeeded to promote in key posts in Parliament and Government personalities that, according to all appearances, do not have any political ambitions of their own, distinct from those of the President. Instead, just like the communist deputies, they seem to be grateful for being promoted to the top of state power hierarchy. For comparison, one can think of the feelings of gratitude that the current Russian President Putin might have towards Boris Yeltsin.

The experience of CPM two years in government has shown that practically all the legislative proposals and the ones related to the personnel policy (Cabinet reshuffles) of the President have been approved and implemented without any objections. Thus, the model of “vertical axis” has proved a functional and applicable one. Its efficiency is yet to be discussed, though, given President Voronin’s talk about the shortage of qualified personnel.

To build a stable foundation for the “vertical axis of state power”, the model was extended to law enforcement bodies. The laws on the status of judges and the Supreme Council of Magistrates were amended to enable the head of state to control the appointments of judges. Recently, the President informed the citizens that, during his two years in office, a significant number of judges, prosecutors and high ranking police officers were fired as a result of the fight against corruption.

The opposition believes that this has been nothing but a banal cleansing of the personnel who was not convenient for the current government and an obstacle for the establishment of an authoritarian regime. Indeed, only two or three prosecutors, from the province, were brought to court and found guilty of corruption, all other law enforcement representatives being fired for other reasons. Instead, paradoxically, during the past two years, key CPM figures have featured in newspapers ever more often as involved in big corruption scandals. Therefore, one might think that the model of “vertical axis of state power” has had side effects. Moreover, it could prove that there is truth to the famous saying that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Anyhow, a number of experts believe that the positive outcome of this model is that it helps achieve political stability and hence creates the necessary conditions for promoting coherent state policies. To a certain extent this is true. Yet, it was during the very period of promoting the doctrine of “vertical axis” that the most serious ever social conflict that lasted four months took place in Moldova. We refer to the street protests, which were held non-stop in January-February 2002. We needed two Resolutions of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to resolve the conflict between the power and the opposition, as a result of which the Round Table with Permanent Status was set up at the recommendation of the Council of Europe. Although the official propaganda says that the functioning of the Round Table is a good indicator of democratic accomplishment, it is in fact evidence to the lingering political conflict between the government and the opposition. The government does follow the recommendations of the Council of Europe intended to fix a number of problems in the activity of democratic institutions in Moldova to some extent. In response, the Council of Europe has had a positive reaction and the Republic of Moldova is to take over the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers in May 2003.

Also, it is clear that the concentration of the decision making power in the presidential branch may cause serious political blocks. There have been serious problems. A notorious case is the conflict that emerged in autumn 2001 with regard to the Concept of Foreign Policy of the Republic of Moldova between the presidential apparatus and the employees of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Although the presidential advisers published the outline of their proposal of the Concept and the Ministry published a draft six months later, to date the Parliament has not put to vote a revised Concept of Foreign Policy. The Parliament should have done this for two reasons. The first reasons is that without a clear concept of foreign policy the behaviour of our authorities who fluctuate between plans for joining the Russia-Belarus Union and all sort of Eurasian customs unions, on the one hand, and the long-term plans for joining the European Union (EU), on the other hand, causes incertitude and tension. An example in this sense is the opposition initiative to hold a referendum on joining the EU, which was, strangely, blocked by the authorities.

The second reason is the fact that the current authorities, whose key objective has been the resolution of the Transdnistrian conflict, have decided to solve the conflict by internationalising it, although they had been vehemently opposed to such a solution before. Especially so as the federalist model of solving the conflict is being pushed from outside. It seems, though, that the lack of a clear foreign policy conception also prompts tension in the country and hesitation/anxiety on the part of the mediating countries and organisations. It is thus difficult to understand why Moldova cannot solve its problems with the help of its strategic partner, Russia, whose citizens are in control of a significant part of Moldovan territory.

The fluctuating behaviour has showed in other fields too, including in economy and in relations with the international financial organisations. The curious thing about the latter is that after a significant waste of time and opportunities, in the end the Moldovan authorities have to abide by their requirements. An example of how they explain this could be found in the Parliament Speaker’s words: “At present, our party is a ruling party and therefore things have to be seen under a different angle of view… The Parliament has to abide by the requirements set forth in the memoranda signed with various international financial organisations. If we do not do it, then we could lose power in just a few months.”

This example shows the extent to which the pyramid of the “vertical axis” has moved from the Marxist-Leninist principles lying at the foundation of the CPM political programme to the economic liberalism imposed by the international financial organisations.

Clearly, in order to generate coherent policies in the political, economic and social policies, the “vertical axis” should rely primarily on a stable ideological foundation. One year ago, the CPM Chairman, Vladimir Voronin, announced that the party was to revise its political programme. This has not be done yet, and it is obvious that the principles of functioning of the EU, whose joining has been named Moldova’s priority during the Athens EU Summit in April 2003, are very different from the Marxist-Leninist principles fixed in the party programme. From this perspective, modernising the ruling party is ever more urgent given that Vladimir Ilyich Lenin in his work About the Slogan “The United States of Europe” argued that such union was reactionary by nature and never possible.

In any event, a government based on the “power axis” doctrine is a government where the political will behind any aspect of the economic and socio-political lives resides in only one pole — the presidency.

The Referendum in Transdnistria The 2003 Electoral Campaign