Although oppositions’ efforts in establishing a single electoral coalition do not inspire much confidence, this did not stop ruling party from engaging in a large-scale campaign aimed at denigrating and breaking it apart. And this because, weak and shattered as it is, opposition claims it seeks to seize the power amidst worsening social and economic conditions, largely due to sharp price hike on energy and food. What makes things even worse is that public funds are wasted to keep a soaring bureaucratic apparatus brought by the incumbent governance led administrative-territorial revision.
Also, ruling party’s economic policies tarnish the image the country is projecting abroad, as well as its investment climate. As if to underline this point, 10 Ambassadors including USA, EU together with heads of international monetary institutions and Council of Europe had publicly expressed their lingering concerns with regard to authorities’ attempts to strangle businesses in Moldova. Moreover, diplomats’ act followed shortly after Presidency’s attacks on OSCE Head of Mission in Moldova.
Relations with major foreign partners, including Russia, worsened as well. Recently Vladimir Putin chose to talk ways of settling Transdnistrian conflict with separatist leader Igor Smirnov rather than President Voronin.
All of the aforesaid emerged after last year local elections that showed a slight decrease in Communists’ rating and that amidst better economic and political climate than today. If things go on like this, Communists run the risk of falling short of votes so as to control the entire state machine. Under those circumstance there are two things that could secure Communists a landslide victory: resorting to administrative levers and keeping opposition shattered and frustrated.
Accordingly, those were the goals that Communists set for themselves. President Voronin made them public during one of the Communist Party plenary sessions last summer. Back then, referring to Moldova Noastra Alliance (Our Moldova) President said: “It would be inexcusable for us to sit and wait until our political foes start fighting. Only naives in politics may underestimate their ability to unite together upon crisis; though political naiveness has been always liable”. Recently President Voronin was more explicit when saying that Christian Democratic Peoples’ Party “is to be neutralised”.
Those words were in fact calls for action. In this sense, Moldovan situation is very much reminiscent to that of China when on the eve of Communist plenary in 1996 Great Helmsman Mao called for “Fire on headquarters!” Afterwards the so-called squads of “hunveibins” armed with Mao’s quotations proceeded to settling scores with his political foes. As a result only in the Communist Party Central Committee 90 out of the total 170 members were “neutralised”.
Propagandists of Moldovan state-run media or that affiliated to ruling party acts like “hunveibins”, thereby triggering backlashes, especially as the state-run media supposedly should not engage in the information war between power and opposition. On the contrary, one may find that state-run media attacks on opposition are methodist and well co-ordinated so as to secure a maximal impact in ridiculing, denigrating and disorienting it.
For instance after Communist majority faction withdrew the parliamentary immunity and started the criminal investigation on the Christian-Democrat leaders, state-run media has systematically set upon them featuring them as an extremist group just because they protest against Russia’s failure to comply with its obligation to withdraw munitions and troops from the soil of Transdnistria, which is separate from Moldova and is controlled by citizens of Russia. What is striking is the discrepancy between Russia’s supportive attitude towards its citizens, leaders of the breakaway Transdnestrian regime, who usurped the power on a portion of Republic of Moldova territory, and Moldovan authorities’ attitude towards its citizens who protest against such a state of affairs. As a result Christian-Democrats accused of extremism have a tighter berth for manoeuvres in coalition building.
As for Moldova Noastra Alliance (MNA), the goal is to disunite its leaders by having a differentiate approach to each of them. Thus, Co-Chair Veceaslav Untila is mocked by the very same state-run media for issuing irrelevant declarations, or for serving previously in road police. Other Co-chair, Dumitru Braghis, albeit ridiculed for statements made four years ago, has been made a generous offer to share his social-democratic aspirations in the state-run media, in the hope that it would reveal lack of cohesiveness in Moldova Noastra leaders’ ideas. Preferential treatment Braghis has enjoyed lately and the declaration made by one of the MN’s moguls to the effect that social-democratic wing headed by Braghis might leave the Alliance, have generated rumours that Braghis was made a proposition to replace Vasile Tarlev as a Prime Minister. Such rumours greatly undermine MN capacity to become a stable unifying centre for an eventual electoral bloc. The buzz is backed up by Braghis’ previous intention to keep Prime Minister seat expressed on numerous occasions after Communists’ victory in 2001 elections.
And yet the third MNA Co-chair, Serafim Urechean, is also permanently under fire. Those systematic and well co-ordinated attacks started two years ago. Back then, once early local elections were announced (later on cancelled by a Constitutional Court ruling) state-run media featured a denigrating article on Mayor Urechean accusing him of corruption and many other murky affairs. In parallel, state TV reported on street kids and again accused the mayor of ignoring their problems, in contrast to Russian President Putin (?!), who at that time engaged in solving their problems in his own country. On top of that, Urechean was presented as rather conservative, not even appreciating such a popular band as “Zdop si Zdup”, whom President Voronin himself awarded state orders.
That was the first sign for Serafim Urechean that ruling party was not on his side and in fact sought to step him down, albeit until that very moment he had been spoiled by state-run media and in fact surreptitiously employed it throughout his 1999 campaign. And that despite Urechean’s openness to collaborate with the ruling party at the very beginning. One year later Urechean claimed that back then President offered him an Ambassador position in exchange for not running for Chisinau Mayoralty.
Henceforth, Chisinau Mayor has been a target of political flak, with state-run media insistently working towards discrediting Urechean’s image and his managerial skills. Most recently it was announced that several criminal investigations against Mayor Urechean are almost completed. Moreover, based on preliminary investigation of a special commission, governmental press alleged that “Wheat Mafia” seeking to undermine the incumbent ruling by increasing the price on breadstuffs, which was uncovered by President Voronin himself during a recent Supreme Security Council session, was after all headed by Serafim Urechean.
On top of that, Urechean regularly faces all kinds of administrative barriers. The recent announcement by the Communist faction in the Municipal Council that it would be in intransigent opposition to the Mayor would only further the ongoing backfire between ruling party and MNA leader.
Having in mind authorities’ actions in the previous electoral campaign when several candidates running for mayoralty had been arrested and released immediately after elections, similar actions are to be expected in the upcoming elections. For example if opposition managed to build a coalition that would pose a threat to ruling party, criminal investigations against Christian-Democrats and Serafim Urechean would be resumed so as to, let’s say, convict them and suspend the sentence on probation. This way, opposition would be decapitated right on the eve of elections by prohibiting their names to be included in the candidate lists.
When under fire opposition leaders are tensed and suspicious of each other. Moreover, amidst those growing concerns, they would hardly engage in party building or effective dialogue with smaller parties, i.e. potential partners, in view of forming electoral coalitions.
Leaving aside harassment by governors, the actions of MNA leaders raised a few eyebrows. To establish the much-publicised coalition under the auspices of MNA it was simply enough to launch a dialogue on one simple condition, parties at the negotiation table should not make any public statements until the end of negotiations or until they decide to leave the negotiation table for good. Normally, basic principles and algorithm for building the coalition were to be worked out in the course of negotiations. However, MNA set some conditions right from the beginning as to what algorithm should be used in drawing the candidate lists, including such criteria as number of parties that merged before. Thereby, they have drawn authorities’ attention to the way MNA itself was established. In fact it was discovered that the merger wasn’t completed yet, although almost one year passed. After this incident, would-be coalition partners may want to give another thought as to MNA’ organisational potential.
Nor do the actions undertaken by MNA’ potential allies inspire much optimism. They rant about the conditions set by MNA at press conferences, saying that a coalition would not be possible. And this per se is a visible evidence to the efficiency of the “fire on headquarters” strategy. Moreover, opposition runs the risk of engaging itself in a “backlash”, an illustration to this effect are the media outlets affiliated to Christian Democrats and to MNA. This backlash serves the best interests of the ruling party.
The concluding point to be made is that it remains to be seen yet what regroupings are likely to happen. For now, opposition runs out of time in managing to regroup, build a coalition and go public as an organised and competitive force.