MonitoringPoliticsCommentaries

Pre-election configuration

|print version||
Igor Botan / May 30, 2004
ADEPT logo
The configuration of the main electoral contestants in the upcoming elections has become quite clear in May. The main parties represented in Parliament, namely Communist Party and Christian-Democratic People’s Party already held plenary assembly (the former) and the congress (the second).

At the same time, two political blocs have been established: Citizens’ Union “Patria — Rodina” (CUPR) founded by two socialist parties and several informal political organisations declaring themselves in opposition to the Party of Communists; and secondly Democratic Moldova Bloc (DMB) founded by Moldova Noastra Alliance, Democratic Party and Social Liberal Party setting themselves as a centrist force also in opposition to the ruling party.

Social Democratic Party that declined the offer to join DMB has also made public the key points of its political program entitled “Towards a democratic and strong state”. Apparently, those five players would set the rules for the 2005 electoral race. The other 12 political parties registered with the Ministry of Justice apparently having a minor weight stand no chances whatsoever in upcoming elections. Therefore, let’s consider the five players from the right to the left.

Christian-Democratic Peoples’ Party

On May 16 the VIIIth party congress was held outdoors on the Great National Assembly square in Chisinau. The unusual location enabled the party to grab public attention as well as to put the blame on the authorities for not allowing a more suitable location for about 2,000 delegates.

Besides changes in the bylaws and election of the party governing bodies of special interest were the congress resolutions and the Proclamation on the party’s electoral strategy swearing allegiance to: fighting corruption, economic recovery, restoring country’s territorial integrity, ending Republic of Moldova’s membership in CIS, and accession to EU and NATO. For each of the aforesaid tasks concrete solutions and recommendations were provided.

Christian-Democrats believe those tasks might be only achieved if Communists were ousted from power in the upcoming elections. The Congress resolution also blames Communist leaders for corruption, undermining state democratic institutions, poor economy and poor welfare system. Noteworthy, the Congress was held amidst Christian-Democrats on-going blocking of the legislature sessions on the grounds they were denied access to Court of Accounts findings on the public funds spending, as well as amidst agile campaign aimed at drawing public attention to murky bargains struck by Communist moguls and their families.

Still, Christian-Democrats believe the next parliamentary ruling coalition would be a transition one, which would have to dispose of Communist ruling aftermath, i.e. “de-communising” that would lay the grounds for full-fledged democratization and economic recovery in the Republic of Moldova.

Moreover, Christian-Democrats made public their intention to “fiercely criticise” DMB, whose founding parties had refused to establish a single opposition anti-communist electoral bloc. BMD leaders are also suspected of surreptitious ties with Tiraspol separatist regime and even of seeking Russian Federation’s support in defeating Communists in elections. In addition, Christian-Democrats viewed BMD’s refusal to establish a single anti-communist electoral bloc as a clear sign of its intention to rather form a post-election alliance with Communists than with them.

Democratic Moldova Bloc (DMB)

Meanwhile on May 18 leaders of Moldova Noastra Alliance, Democratic Party and Social-Liberal Party reconfirmed during a press conference that the bloc announced on May 8 was really established. Its founding declaration reads that DMB’s goal is to “put an end to the tendencies pushing the country to the brink of collapse”. In this respect DMB set the following tasks: poverty eradication by boosting a functioning market economy; ending moral degradation of the society; building a rule of law state underpinned by consensus and cooperation with civil society; bringing Moldovan legislation in line with European standards; ensuring citizens’ access to education and medical services guaranteed by the state; peaceful reintegration of the country by means of democratization, demilitarization and decriminalization of the Transdnistrian region; getting Moldova closer to reaching its strategic objective, i.e. accession to EU; restoring good ties with Romania and Ukraine; establishing mutually beneficial relations with EU, US, and Russia.

From the beginning DMB was quite optimistic with regard to its chances in election and of securing a majority in legislature that would enable it to form the Government. That optimism runs counter to the scepticism among political analysts, who cite long and onerous negotiations on establishing the bloc. In the eyes of many, DMB’s main weakness remains to be the heterogeneousness of its constituent parts that results in inconsistent messages on the major problems Moldova is facing and most importantly, distrust among its leaders. This specifically refers to the Democratic Party’s refusal to end its post-electoral alliance (after 2003 local elections) with the Communist party in a number of rayon council; different visions on settling Transdnistrian conflict shared by founding parties, as well as on ways of achieving key foreign policy objectives. If things go on like this, many of the bloc’s would-be voters would be scared away.

Another DMB’s major weakness refers to its positioning on the political spectrum. It represents, so to say a bumper between Christian-Democrats and Communists, two antagonist and irreconcilable parties. At this stage already, DMB is buffeted by criticism both from the right and left, which only fuels the scepticism of many with regard to the capacity of this amorphous and fragile alliance to withstand such a pressure. If it indeed manages to withstand and runs in elections as a united electoral bloc, than its chances would increase significantly. However, in that case also, there are high chances that the bloc would break apart after elections, even into different formations than the founding ones.

To increase its chances in elections, bloc leaders would have to reach a consensus on certain things. For a start, their minimal goal should be preventing Communist Party from wining a majority in legislature, which opinion polls indicate they could still secure. That would set DMB in a quite advantageous position as neither of the contestants would be able to secure a majority without their participation. That is why, DMB’s electoral program should resemble a centre left one and be targeted at the great bulk of electorate sharing moderate views, but who for one reason or another had voted for Communists in the past elections. In fact, this very same thing was suggested to DMB by Christian Democrats. And the way the basic principles were laid down indicates that DMB has been perfectly aware of this.

Finally, to defy criticism from either left or right, DMB may want to sent a clear message that it would accept to form a post-electoral coalition with the party that was the least aggressive towards it during the electoral campaign. Christian-Democrats were jolted into realising it as its leaders after making clear that they would harshly criticize BMD, went back to calls for co-operation and refraining from forming a post-election alliance with Communists. On the other hand, state-run media affiliated to the Communist Party continue the “flak” against BMD, arguing that the recent opinion polls point to Communists’ landslide victory in upcoming elections. In fact, official propaganda would find it quite difficult to restructure its aggressive stance towards BMD once it happily revealed that prosecution recently completed a raft of investigations against BMD leaders.

Social Democratic Party (SDP)

During a press conference on May 18 SDP announced its National Council’s decision to launch three initiatives: on society consolidation; state organization; and conception of the new social-economic policy. SDP intends to initiate public debates on those initiatives that would become official party documents at the IX party congress due in November. Out of the three initiatives only the one, on state organization, was made public. It envisages a wide scale modification of the Constitution so as to ensure society control over state power. The gist of the initiative is to introduce new eligible positions in the local public administration and judiciary, change the electoral system and procedure of electing the President, ensure transparency of public spending, etc. As usual, SDP initiatives are quite interesting, however it remains to be seen in how far voters would understand and endorse them by casting their ballot.

Since the first parliamentary elections in 1994 SDP has had about 3% in all the elections. In the last two parliamentary elections SDP preferred to run on its own, which is likely to be the case in next parliamentary elections. If the Social Democrats manage to assess electorate’s feedback to their initiatives, then it is not excluded they may want to join one of the parties standing real chances of being represented in the legislature. This refers specifically to DMB. Undoubtedly, both parties would benefit of such a move, the gains being directly proportional to the formations’ rating.

Party of Communists

So far, Communists stand high chances of a landslide victory in the forthcoming elections. An illustration to this are the recent opinion polls. Strong Communists’ rating stems from two factors: President Voronin’s charisma and the party name, which is still associated by great many with social-oriented polices targeted at vulnerable strata of the society.

Moreover, being in power Communists have a wide range of administrative resources to choose from in order to keep their positions. This refers specifically to access to funds directly, or disguised as charitable initiatives supported by businessmen that “do not want troubles with state bodies”. That is why more and more often state-run media features Communist moguls together with businessmen on charity missions, etc. Total control over state-run written and electronic media having a nation-wide or partial coverage, which most of the time praises Communists and denigrates its political foes, has so far proved to be decisive in propelling Communists’ high rating. The experience of partial local elections and regional ones in Gagauz-Yeri showed far too well how “power vertical” jolts state institutions and local public administration into serving the interests of the Party of Communists. Moreover, the latter secured control over much of the trade unions and the so-called GONG (NGOs inspired and controlled by the government) by means of which they may efficiently shape electorate’s preferences.

Still there are several factors pointing to the effect that Communists’ victory should not be taken for granted. First of all, opinion polls signal a constant decrease in confidence to the President Voronin from 45% in March 2002, to 29% in May 2004. Secondly, Communists’ rating and that of the opposition parties in May 2004 are practically identical to those of May 2003 on the eve of the local elections. This alone enables us to identify a certain “correction factor” so as to assess the real rating of the electoral contestants. In this respect, it is still questionable whether Communists would secure a landslide victory in the forthcoming elections, given that in the past local elections they scored below 50%. Thirdly, Communists’ abuses in employing “administrative resources” during regional elections in Gagauz-Yeri as well as during last year local elections have drawn international organizations’ attention to the electoral process in Moldova, which in its turn emboldened opposition parties to start fighting against those administrative resources right now. In this respect, Christian-Democrats came up with a raft of amendments aimed at decreasing state control over media outlets, and judiciary, etc. If Communist moguls objected level playing field for all electoral contestants, then most definitely they would face increasing pressure both at home and from abroad. For now, it’s not clear what would be the likely outcome of such a pressure, but most certainly it wouldn’t be favourable to the Party of Communists. Having said that, in the eyes of some opposition members Party of Communists reached its heyday and the only thing left is for it to roll back where it started! This alone should be a quite encouraging thing for opposition.

Within the party, the situation does not look too ideal as well and this because of teetering policies promoted by the President, going against the party program and bylaws. On May 15 the Party of Communists convened on a plenary sessions and decided to hold its V-th Congress on December 11 this year. The party bylaws and its program are to be revised during the congress. Interestingly, the Congress was scheduled on the eve of winter holidays, when the political life is standstill for almost one month and a half. Most likely, end of winter holidays would coincide with launching of the electoral campaign. Therefore, adjourning the congress for December may be only explained by Communist leaders’ wish to soften somehow the effects of party documents’ amendment. The thing is that orthodox Communists unhappy with the would-be amendment of the party program and bylaws would be confronted with the fait accompli, without actually having time to regroup for an electoral counteroffensive.

Evidence to the fact that those suppositions are really grounded is the stance of some Communist moguls towards eclectic post-modern policies promoted by President Voronin, which are said to be inspired by his advisor Mark Tkaciuc. Thus, one of the orthodox ideologists of the Communist Party Ivan Grec published a number of articles in official press on the one hand praising the President and showing off his loyalty; and on the other pointing to the fact that the economic and foreign policies promoted by the President were faulty. On top of that, Communist ideologist started justifying the party’s failures, which per se is indicative of the congress’ likely leitmotif. Another illustration is the stance of the leader of the Communist faction in the Chisinau Municipal Council, Valerii Garev, who recently stated that any amendment to the party program or bylaws should not impair the party’s ultimate goal — building Communism. All of this reveals Party of Communists’ ideological disorientation, which is exactly what any party striving to keep “Communist party” label should avoid. The internal cocktail of opinions has enough explosive ingredients to have serious repercussions on each of the electoral contestants.

Citizens’ Union “Patria — Rodina” (Motherland) (CUPR)

Once launched CUPR positioned itself in left opposition to the Party of Communists, which was blamed for betraying left wing Communist ideals. The Steering Committee of the party issued a declaration on May 21 “clarifying its position”, namely: CUPR is a left wing party, but not of social-democratic orientation (which only disguises a purely capitalist gist); univocally and radically anti-Western; of pro-Eastern (Russian) orientation. At the same time CUPR leaders did not exclude any post-election cooperation with centrist parties, but only with those that anti-Communist.

For now, CUPR’s chances are quiet slim, however it is believed it might steal several percentages from Communists’ electorate. CUPR’s weaknesses are quite obvious: amorphous structure made up of two socialist parties each having less than 1% rating and several informal radical left groups; lack of credible and well-known leader; lack of financial resources and access to nation-wide media. CUPR leaders are well aware of those shortcomings, still they hope to address them prior to elections.

For a start, to gain grounds CUPR capitalizes on the promises made by the Party of Communists but never achieved, such as: getting on good terms with Transdnistria and settling the conflict by establishing a federative “joint state”; Republic of Moldova’s integration in the Eurasian area, more specifically in the Single Economic Area set by Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine. Secondly, to address the lack of a strong leader, Komersant Plus newspaper came up with Grigore Maracuta candidacy, who is the Speaker of the self-proclaimed, secessionist Moldovan Dniestrian Republic’s Parliament. If so, then Maracuta would follow the example of the former separatist leader of Ajara, Aslan Abashidze, who topped the candidate lists of the Revival Party and helped it gain seats in Parliament, but never attended any of its sessions.

This scenario should not be taken seriously, especially knowing how Abashidze ended. Still, Kommersant Plus suggestion coincided with Maracuta’s quite strange initiatives, namely to raise the status of “Moldovan language” in Transdnistria, which dispels the myth of linguistic harmony in the region. Further, a raft of articles followed in the Transdnistrian official press claiming that the regions’ elite had a special interest in the forthcoming polls in Moldovan legislature. Moreover, recently the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the secessionist region indicated they had clear signs that nobody would ever recognize Transdnistria’s independence and therefore building a “joint state” with Republic of Moldova was the only possible solution. The latter was probably meant to justify Transdnistrian interest to interfere in the upcoming parliamentary electoral race in the Republic of Moldova.

Indeed, if Transdnistrian leaders choose to seriously influence election results in the Republic of Moldova, they would do so by means of CUPR, which in turn would stand greater chances in elections. This could be done by means of financial and informational support, opening up polling stations in Transdnistria, etc. If so, then support from certain political forces in Russian Federation is also to be expected. However, past experience shows that these scenarios are very unlikely and are more of a source for speculations against the ruling party.

Moldovan civil society Supreme Security Council