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2003 political year

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Igor Botan / December 14, 2003
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The following events have had a major impact on the political scenery of the Republic of Moldova: May general local elections, efforts to federalise Republic of Moldova; joining EU campaign; governing’s campaign promoting Moldovan nationalism, etc. A snapshot of 2003 events and processes would indicated that this year was full of curiosities and political confusions.

Local elections

Indeed, local elections were by far the most important event of the year. As a result of the elections the “vertical of power” was built. OSCE final report released in August reviews the practices employed by the ruling party in elections. The report was accompanied by a note, entitled “Negative trend observed during Moldova’s local elections must be reversed”. This negative trend observed in the electoral process has been a source of lingering concern for OSCE Observation Mission, especially given the considerable progress made in the previous elections. Deputy Director of OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights called on Moldovan authorities to undertake every effort to correct the negative trend. Moldovan authorities have damaged the image Republic of Moldova projects abroad in one of the most sensible fields, i.e. promoting democracy. The curiosity is that it happened in the context of a campaign “to improve the image of the Republic of Moldova”, launched by the President and Prime Minister in the state controlled media. It seems that the image of the country is of little significance when it comes to controlling local government via the “vertical of power”. It is all-to-clear that it might become one of the most efficient mechanisms in employing “administrative levers” in view of parliamentary elections of 2005.

We have seen in the Russian parliamentary elections how might administrative resource in the stock of “power vertical” be used. OSCE short-term mission observed quite a few irregularities in the polling stations on the election day. However, OSCE preliminary report drawn on the findings of the long-term observers stated quite clearly that the violations which had the greatest impact included administrative pressure and manipulation of state controlled media. For this reason Russia failed to meet OSCE standards on free and fair elections. That this is so, proved also the observers delegated by the Communist Party of the Russian Federation — the most important partner of the Republic of Moldova’s ruling party.

The same thing holds true in the case of the recent elections to the Gagauz-Yeri People’s Assembly, where again the “power vertical” was put to a test. The thing is, that the ruling party did not fully trusted the “power vertical”, and to secure its victory in the Gagauz elections it promised to grant the region the status of federation subject in the eventual Moldovan federation, which obviously does not fall in any kind of “power vertical”.

Joining EU campaign

Degrading electoral process in the Republic of Moldova has run counter to the joining EU campaign launched by the President. In February President Voronin convened the diplomats accredited in Chisinau to inform them that joining EU was a strategic goal of the Republic of Moldova. First and foremost, the evolution of the “strategy” of EU accession is quite curious in itself, as it ended being a simple “conception”. Secondly, public debates on the conception were postponed at least three times. In the end it was submitted to Brussels for consultation before Moldovan citizens had a chance to read the document. This in itself is an evidence to the fact that EU accession is nothing but a propaganda move. For instance, during the recent campaign for local elections, National TV permanently informed its audience that “Republic of Moldova has only to fill in the application”. On the other hand, so far the major state institution, the Parliament, has not adopted a single official document confirming that EU accession was a strategic goal for the Republic of Moldova. Moreover, the latest trends in economy and democratisation point to the fact that Moldova is distancing itself rather than approaching to EU standards.

Efforts to federalise Republic of Moldova

“Kozak plan” envisaging Republic of Moldova’s federalisation that was made public in mid-November has rightly raised eyebrows. Authors claim the federation formula they came up with, provides the framework for settling Transdnistrian conflict. Indeed, the fact that it was chosen for Chisinau and Tiraspol to jointly develop and sign the Memorandum, based on which a common Constitution was to be developed later on, indicates that Tiraspol’s desire to establish a “contractual federation” was fully fulfilled. On the other hand, the would-be federation has an outstanding asymmetric character, as President Voronin insisted on. At a first glance it may seem that a compromise was reached, however it proved to be that the asymmetry was in Tiraspol’s favour, as it had its statehood recognised and gained the right to absolute veto on legislation, promotion of governmental figures to the federal level, as well as on foreign policy of the Republic of Moldova.

President Voronin informed public opinion at home and abroad that he would sign the Memorandum, he even gathered diplomatic corps in this respect. During their meeting with President Voronin, foreign diplomats found that the Memorandum was worked out “behind the back of Europe”, which Republic Moldova hopes to join. Probably, after this meeting it was made clear to Voronin that the West would not accept a “Moldovan Pristina” variant, i.e. being confronted with a fait accompli without being able to interfere in due course. The thing is that by accepting the “Kozak plan”, Republic of Moldova would have had to give up any hopes of joining EU. We could only imagine the reactions foreign diplomats would have had in this case, considering that over the year they kept informing their governments about the EU accession intentions of the Moldovan authorities.

Under those circumstances, the President had to back off and announce that he adjourned Memorandum signing until after Maastricht Summit. Now he claims another document is being drafted. Such a behaviour does no good to Republic of Moldova, especially in its relations with the West and Russia for that matter, fact confirmed by the Maastricht Ministerial Meeting. As for the domestic environment, his behaviour led to wide-scale opposition protest rallies and radicalisation of Transdnistrian position.

Economic growth

We should not forget about the achievements on the economy front in 2003. Official statistics reports a considerable economic growth (around 7%) for three years in a row. Indeed, ruling party assumes all the merits for such a performance. Sceptics, however point that the existing economic growth is mainly due to the regional growth and soaring consumer spending that is sustained by the money wired into the country by Moldovan citizens working abroad. One way or another, economic growth does not lead to better living standards. Firstly, during the three years of Communist ruling Moldova has been the poorest country in Europe. It may be well said that it is poorly governed. UNDP’s “2003 Human Development Index Reveals Development Crisis” reads that “the decline of human development index was quite severe in the Republic of Moldova…”. Although several parameters and methods are employed in assessing the country index, the report clearly states that in the case of the Republic of Moldova the index decline is mainly due to a decrease in income per capita. Ordinary people are aware of this without any statistics, as they experience the effects of skyrocketed prices on their pockets day by day. Moreover, how could living standards improve if the governors undermine the country’s investment climate as they lack their own resources? Threatening foreign investors has become a common thing in the Republic of Moldova. An illustration in this respect is the recent nationalisation of the “Dacia” hotel, which is to be listed for another privatisation round. Given the lack of investments, skilled labour cannot be capitalised at home, therefore it flees the country in the search of a job.

Human rights

In 2003 human rights violations had their own peculiarities, especially in as far as elections are concerned. Topping curiosities is probably President Voronin’s address to the electorate — “as the President of the Republic of Moldova I call you not to vote for …” There are no words to describe the interference of the most prestigious state institution in a political campaign against its main political rival. Not to speak of the arrest of electoral contestants and their representatives, and their release immediately after elections, facts confirmed by OSCE report.

Another violation — journalists were intimidated and persecuted and on top of that their materials censored. Citizens’ right to information was simply ignored, information being replaced with propaganda. We have already mentioned above how were citizens informed on the conception of European integration, on the elaboration of “Kozak plan” etc. On the other hand, in its intention to portray the President as invincible, state-controlled media put him in rather comic situations. For instance, President was praised for his courage and wisdom when undertaking an action. The funny thing is, that the very same adjectives were attributed to the President when he had to back off from the initiative he was praised for. The same thing happened with “Kozak plan” and “telephonic war” with Transdnistria.

And on this background Republic of Moldova intends to join EU.

“Kozak plan” Implications Would CEC preserve its independence?