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Presidential elections

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Igor Botan / April 7, 2005
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Vladimir Voronin reelected as the President of the Republic of Moldova

Unexpected opposition move overshadowed the re-election on April 4, 2005 of Vladimir Voronin as a President. Configuration of the newly-elected Parliament, where Party of Communist’s (PC) won 56 mandates, Moldova Democrata Bloc (MDB) 34 and Christian Democratic Popular Party (CDPP) 11 left a wide berth for political maneuvers as regards the election of the President by the MPs.

Given that Communists were short of five mandates in order to elect the President (61 needed), several scenarios were possible: a) opposition to boycott the presidential elections so as to trigger early parliamentary elections; b) Communists to secure the support of a part of opposition to endorse their candidate for the Presidency; c) wide consensus to be reached with opposition on a compromise candidate for the Presidency.

In the parliamentary election aftermath, each of the scenarios had different chances, albeit comparable. The situation overturned when the Moldova Democrata Bloc (MDB) had split: Moldova Noastra Alliance (MNA) — 23 deputies, Democratic Party (DP) — 8, and Social-Liberal Party (SLP) — 3. It was obvious right from the beginning that Democratic Party’s decision to leave the MDB would produce the “domino effect”. However, nobody could have predicted that it would reverberate over the election of the President, and this because none of the opposition groups designated their candidate for the presidency. Therefore, Communists designated two of them so as to comply with the Constitutional Court’s requirements (Article 78 of the Constitution providing “at least two candidates should run for the position of the President of the Republic of Moldova”).

The big intrigue of the day was that 56 Communists, 8 deputies of the Democratic Party, 11 Christian-Democrats and 3 Social-Liberals took part in the voting procedure. Eighteen deputies of the MNA faction did not take part in elections, while five deputies of the same faction were absent. Out of the 78 deputies who took part in elections, 75 cast their ballots in favor of Vladimir Voronin, one for his counter candidate Gheorghe Duca, while two ballots were declared invalid. Curiously enough, four years ago, 71 out of 89 deputies voted for Vladimir Voronin. During this campaign Party of Communists got 15 less mandates, while the President four more.

Foreign factor

One may well say that a political compromise was reached as a result of the negotiations held between Communist leader with the leaders of Christian-Democratic Peoples’ Party, Democratic Party and Social-Liberal Party. Analyst Vladimir Socor claimed in the Jamestown’s Eurasia Daily Monitor that “former U. S. Congressman John Conlan (R-AZ) was the indispensable facilitator in negotiations and document drafting among the political leaders and factions in Chisinau over a two-week period”. Intermediary variant was made possible due to “foreign factor”, which certainly was present but is hard to estimate.

Therefore, to a large extend the same thing happened in Moldova as in Ukraine, when the heavy interference of the Russian Federation in the electoral race of 2004 triggered the same reaction from the west. In the case of Moldova, the three resolutions passed by the State Duma threatening with economic sanctions on the grounds it did not approve of RM’s policies towards Transdniestria triggered reactions from important western circles. This time, foreign factor consisted in the mediation of a political consensus between President Voronin and a part of opposition. Christian-Democrat leader Iurie Rosca confirmed that when explaining his support to Vladimir Voronin “we have consulted our foreign partners. I have personally discussed with my friends in Bucharest, Tbilisi, Kiev, Washington and Brussels. I weighted the short time Moldova has to implement Action Plan Moldova — EU. When I have to take a tough political decision I do the following. I carefully consider what my enemy wants to achieve and do the opposite. In the last month I have noted several times that political foes of Moldova want to thwart Voronin’s re-election. Simple logical reasoning, personal responsibility and state interests have led me to the conclusion to endorse Voronin”.

On the other hand, it is not exactly right to talk of a wide consensus, given that Moldova Noastra Alliance boycotted presidential elections.

Terms of negotiations between President Voronin and opposition

In his speech to the Parliament prior to elections, President Voronin acknowledged that in the last four years he committed a series of mistakes brought by high expectations. In the next four years, President pledged to “fulfil national interests based on the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity”. In this respect, he intended to achieve the following during his next mandate: a) implement EU — Moldova Action plan signed on February 22, 2005; b) improve socio-economic situation in line with the Poverty Reduction and Economic Growth Strategy (PREGS) voted on 2.12.2004; c) democratization of society in line with the first Copenhagen criteria (the main area of disagreement with opposition, where consensus was needed); d) settle Transdniestrian conflict with the support of US, EU, Romania, Ukraine and “fully exploiting the potential between Moldovan — Russian bilateral ties”, etc.

President Voronin’s offer to a large extend reiterates the provisions of the “Declaration of political partnership in view of achieving EU accession objective”, unanimously voted by all the deputies during their first session on March 24, 2005. It is all-too-clear that the latter was aimed at testing the compatibility and political aspirations of all parliamentary factions. Unanimous vote showed that there were no strategic disagreements, but rather dissatisfaction with the main candidate to the Presidential seat, especially given his past track record. An illustration of this point is the fact that Moldova Noastra boycotted elections.

Christian-Democrat leader Iurie Rosca also stated after elections “our greatest controversial argument between Power and Opposition that kept us on different positions was the domestic policy of the governors. Our different visions on the functioning of democratic institutions, on the way human rights and freedoms should be ensured”. To overcome those disagreements Christian-Democrats and Social-Liberals had submitted to Voronin a number or propositions, which Voronin pledged to fulfil in four months provided he would get elected. Generally, propositions accepted by Voronin refer to: a) ensuring media’s independence (passing a new Law on Public Broadcaster, creating democratically a new Audiovisual Council, passing a new law on national TV and radio channels that would operate without censorship or political interference); b) ensuring independence of the judiciary by passing a new law on prosecution, amending the Law on Supreme Magistrate Council, Law on the Status of the Judge, Law on Judiciary; c) decentralizing local government, increasing the efficiency of public money spending by adopting a new Law on Accounts Chamber; d) amending Electoral Code to revise the establishment and membership of the Central Electoral Commission so as to depoliticize it and ensure its independence; e) perfecting laws on secret service that would ensure national security, human rights and freedoms and establish society’s control over them by means of Parliament; f) creating a special commission to amend the Constitution in view of consolidation of state institutions by perfecting the procedures of election of the President, establishment of the Government, judiciary, elections of the Prosecutor General and the status of Prosecutor-General’s Office.

Several days earlier Democratic Party set forth similar conditions, in addition asking for: a) passing amendments to the Constitution providing that Presidential position is incompatible with party membership; b) modernizing Party of Communists; c) giving up Orthodox-Marxist dogmas and revising party’s goals in line with European norms and principles.

Are there any guarantees that re-elected President would keep his promises?

Apparently Vladimir Voronin was re-elected as a result of a consensus reached with opposition, still one question remains unanswered: what are the guarantees that President would stick to the promise made? At the first glance, there are no explicit ones. In the end of his speech to the Parliament Voronin just said “I consider each word uttered by me today as an imperative as a pledge”. In the same discourse Voronin underlined “I am ready to discuss … modifications to the legal framework so that the Presidential position would be incompatible with party membership”. Immediately after elections, in an interview offered to mass-media he specified that the issue of compatibility will not be resolved very soon, once modernization of the Party of Communists is completed.

Opposition leaders haven’t put too many hopes that Vladimir Voronin would rapidly fulfill all the negotiated conditions. Christian-Democrat leader stated that the political decision to support Voronin was “a tough one, it is very risky, but most importantly it is responsible”. Social-Liberal leader quoted by Democratia newspaper said, “we only have the word of honor of an officer as a guarantee. We hope that military code hasn’t disappeared yet in this world”.

Still there are some guarantees that President Voronin would keep his promises made to opposition. For this to happen, President and his governing should observe RM laws and international agreements RM signed. Thus PREGS for 2004–2006 provides that “European integration is a key objective for the country development, thereby imposing consistent implementation of democratic norms, economic development model and European living standards”. It is the only law of the RM that clearly outlines the European integration objective. Furthermore on February 22, 2005 Action Plan Moldova — EU was signed in Brussels providing to a large extent the same conditions set forth by opposition.

Indeed, it may happen that the governors would breach the aforesaid laws and international agreements, however in that case other guarantees that Voronin might have given to opposition might as well be breached.

What’s next?

  1. Tasks of the ruling party are more than clear. In the very first half of their mandate the new Government team to be appointed by Communists and their leader President Voronin would have to implement PREGS and Action Plan EU — Moldova. Those are rather complex tasks that might be jeopardized if Russia really delivers the threats it made.

    Firstly, statement made by Aleksandr Reazanov, Deputy Chair of Gazprom that the prices on gas might go up for Moldova, thus reaching European level, coupled with plans by Transdniestrian authorities to set its own enterprise that would import gas thus breaking apart from “Moldova-gaz” — are clear signals of Russia’s plans to set differentiated tariffs for the gas supplied to Chisinau and that supplied to Tiraspol. Consequently, energy challenges would only amplify the economic ones.

    Secondly, GUUAM Summit scheduled for April 22 in Chisinau might infer new dimensions to Moldovan foreign policy and ways of settling Transndniestrian conflict. So far, it is still unclear what solution to Transdniestrian conflict would President Yushenko present. Ukraine’s position is of crucial importance in resolving the conflict, especially if coordinated with EU and US. Russian side already stated it did not want any changes to the negotiations format, while “secessionist international” (Transdniestria, Abkhazia, and South Osetia) supported by Russia threatened to establish a military union. It comes as no surprise then that the provocations from Transdniestrian side are quite often lately.

    Thirdly, it’s hard to predict how would the modernization of the Party of Communists go. So far, President Voronin managed to steer away from any conflicts with the party. For the first time the intention to modernize the party was announced at the Communist Plenary of May 2002, however that wasn’t achieved even at the fifth Congress held in December 2004 and was postponed till after elections. Having said that, it would be quite interesting to know whether President Voronin consulted his faction prior to negotiating with opposition? It would be also interesting to know what were the reactions of the faction members? The mere fact that Christian-Democrats and Social-Liberals kept secret their intention to take part in elections may lead us to suspect that Voronin didn’t consult his faction either. This might be the case if considering that is still uncertain whether the three votes cast against Voronin came from the Communists. If so, that might be the most dangerous indicator of a possible scission. Too dramatic were the changes Party of Communists has gone through. At the fourth Congress of the Party of Communists, on April 22, 2001, its delegates were ready to turn Moldova into “Cuba of the Europe”, thereby setting an example how to revive Communism in the post-soviet countries, which were to form a new federation (a new USSR). Four years later on April 22, 2005 Chisinau would host GUUAM Summit, while three of its members openly committed to join the efforts in view of accession to EU. In fact, those dramatic changes came in response to the challenges posted by NATO and EU enlargement, but more so Russia’s open support to Transdniestria separatist regime.

    Under those circumstances, dramatic changes lie ahead of the ruling party during its next mandate.

  2. Power — Opposition

    After presidential elections the ruling party would have to confront “several oppositions”. Leaders of Christian-Democrats, Democratic Party, Social-Liberals that supported Voronin’s re-election publicly stated they would stay in opposition. Iurie Rosca, leader of Christian-Democrats commented on future relations: “From now on the days of hostility and mistrust between President Voronin and Christian-Democrats are long gone. We decided to establish a constructive dialogue, partnership, cooperation and complementary relations between the power and opposition. In the name of the national interests of the country, in the name of social peace, in the name of the European future of this country”. That does not mean that the relationships between power and so-called “constructive opposition” uniting 22 deputies would be smooth. It would be “constructive opposition’s” role to develop draft laws, on which it insisted, thereby testing the reactions of the governors’ and overseeing the enforcement of PREGS and Action Plan Moldova — EU. A pragmatic relation seeking attainment of the same goals but from different positions would be of mutual benefit to power and opposition. The former could count on non-aggressiveness and cooperation of the latter upon crisis, especially those instigated from abroad. The latter would have only to gain if Party of Communists achieves the strategic goals that coincide with opposition’s ones, and if on top of that Party of Communists modernizes and becomes an European party. Too nice to be true…

    Moldova Noastra has already been labeled “obstructive opposition” for its failure to take part in the presidential elections. There are no strategic reasons that would explain the different actions taken by Moldova Noastra and its former MDB’s partners Democratic Party and Social-Liberal Party. Certainly, we may admit that Moldova Noastra deputies are more principled that their former colleagues. Still, a more plausible explanation is the personal conflict between PC leader Vladimir Voronin and MNA leader Serafim Urechean. Evidence to this is the fact that back in 2001 Serafim Urechean saluted Communists’ victory in elections and declared his readiness to cooperate with the new ruling. One year later, state run media launched a denigration campaign against Urechean accusing him of corruption, albeit it had never been proven in court. That made Urechean Voronin’s top political foe, especially after the former defeated a Communist candidate in the 2003 mayoral race.

    Apparently, for now Communists and Moldova Noastra are not on good terms. During a press conference after presidential elections MNA leader stated it would become “an active and not constructive” opposition that would be “critical of all the ruling coalitions’ mistakes and would draw the attention of international community to its violations”. In a recent interview to “Olvia-press” (Transdnestrian press agency) Urechean indicated that he did not exclude “repressions to start any day soon”. MNA leaders did point the actions they might undertake, initiating referenda on direct election of the president and changing electoral system. Opinion polls show that 70–80% of Moldova citizens favor direct elections of the President as well as election of deputies in uninominal districts. Probably, MNA leaders intend to test Communists readiness to keep their promises to democratize society.

    Most likely, Communists would face confrontations from the extra-parliamentary opposition. Out of the latter only three pro-Russian ones (“Patria-Rodina” Bloc, Labor Union, and Ravnopravie) would continue to gobble up into Communists electorate sharing leftist and pro-Russian visions.

  3. Relations opposition — opposition

    The triumph of the President Voronin, re-elected with the help of the “constructive opposition” has yet another dimension to it. In the near future the so-called “constructive” and “obstructive” oppositions would want to clear things out.

    As it was to be expected the democratic media affiliated to the two oppositions already started a debate to justify the “constructive opposition” on the one hand, and accusations of “betrayal” on the other. MNA is striving to promote the idea that Communists together with the “constructive opposition” represent a governing coalition. The latter refute, claiming the only thing they did was preventing a crisis and that they remained in opposition. In fact, one may not even talk of an alliance between the components of the “constructive opposition”, they are so different that even the risk they assumed when supporting the re-election of Vladimir Voronin are different.

    Democratic party having a 8% rating didn’t risk too much endorsing Voronin as in the last three years it undertook numerous steps to convert Communists to social-democracy by organizing different fora, joint participation in a left and center-left political alliance, or ad-hoc alliances at the local level. The three Social-Liberal deputies bear a risk proportional to the political weight of the party, whose rating does not exceed 3%. Christian-Democrats bear the highest risks as their image of consistent “anti-communist” fighter is at stake. That is why, Iurie Rosca was saying that “From now on the days of hostility and mistrust between President Voronin and Christian Democratic Popular Party are long gone”, not between PC and CDPP. However, one should not exaggerate the risks Christian-Democrats are taking, they made other “unexpected” moves in the past when they entered in coalitions with forces they considered to be their political enemies, or voted key issues with them: endorsing president Mircea Snegur in 1996 presidential elections, forming Alliance for Democracy and Reforms ruling coalition together with Democratic Party in 1998, voting for ousting the so-called democratic “Sturza Government” together with Communists and voting in “Braghis Government” in 1999. Nevertheless their rating grew slowly but steadily. It seems it was the label “opposition forever” or “the party of 9%” that determined Christian-Democrats to take actions and get rid of “nationalist and extremist party” image perpetrated by governmental mass-media. As for the recent decision to endorse Voronin, if Christian-Democrats were wrong, they were wrong in one thing believing in his honesty, given that Voronin and Party of Communists stole Christian Democrats best tunes and not vice versa.

    MNA might know a spectacular evolution, however this depends on whether its leader, Serafim Urechean, would decide to stay as Mayor of Chisinau or move to Parliament. If he goes for the mayoralty this means he is ready to continue confronting Party of Communists and probably “constructive opposition”, while the big fight would be fought in two yeas during elections of the mayor.

    However, for the MNA to survive and develop, its leader would need a facelift to get rid of the image created under the constant pressing of the governors. In the recent election campaign, Urechean had a more hesitating than a decisive message. On the one hand it was in the framework of European accession. On the other hand, his desire to portray himself as moderated politician, able to restore good ties with Russian and Ukraine, resume negotiations with Transdniestrian leaders was obvious. Of course, there is nothing wrong in it, except that he made several mistakes: a) stammering congratulations of Yanukovici after Ukrainian elections; b) interviews in Russian media featuring contradictory statements, and later refutations; c) accusation of bias brought to OSCE Observation Mission and arguments that the West supported Voronin and its Communist because of their anti-Russian rhetoric. This exactly coincided with statements made by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs etc. Governmental media cited the latter as evidence to the fact that Urechean was supported by Russian and Ukrainian circles interested in the survival of the Transdniestrian regime. Other evidences cited include: a) Russian authorities’ provided support in hosting the Congress of “Patria Moldova” in Moscow that called people to vote for MDB; b) calls by Transdniestrian authorities for Moldovan citizens to vote for MDB.

    As a MDB leader, Urechean couldn’t provide his colleagues with a clear scenario in case they failed to become a ruling coalition: a) announcement of participation in protest rallies after parliamentary elections (expected Moldovan version of orange revolution) was made only because he new Christian-Democrats were organizing them, pointing to their interest in protest rallies rather than capacity to stage them; b) media reported that after elections MDB members were kept together only by means of threats; c) one month after elections MDB leader failed to provide a clear answer whether he would stay in mayoralty or move to Parliament; d) MDB failed to designate its own candidate for the presidency, nor was it able to clearly explain why they had boycotted elections.

    The most eloquent illustration of MDB’s inconsistency were the so-called “22 principle conditions” set forth by MDB for electing the President of the RM. To a large extend those conditions are to be found in those of the Democratic Party, Christian-Democratic Party and Social-Liberal Party, in addition they include: a) denouncing the Agreement between the Republic of Moldova and Russian Federation of 1992 on the settlement of the Transdniestrian conflict; b) immediately adopting a law that would outlaw Russian military presence on the soil of the Republic of Moldova in Transdnestria; c) replacing Russian peacemaking troops with international UN, EU, or NATO forces; d) denouncing the Agreement on Founding Commonwealth of Independent States; e) amending Article 13 of the Constitution of the Republic of Moldova so as to change the name of the state language into “Romanian” etc.

    Being asked whether he himself subscribes to those conditions, MNA leader replied those were not conditions but rather questions to the chief of state. Several days later in an interview to the Transdnestrian “Olvia-press” agency Urechean stated: “the so called «22 conditions» were unjustly attributed to us. We have never came up with such a thing”. Later again he claimed those were released by his press service without him being informed.

    The case of “22 conditions” is relevant in the context of lost opportunities. If MN leader had done a simply thing — inviting candidates running for the presidency and other opposition factions to TV debates on Moldova 1 channel, then he would have been an absolute winner, at least morally. And that because: a) President Voronin could not refuse, otherwise MNA would have had an excuse for not taking part in elections, i.e. President declined to have an open dialogue with citizens; b) MNA would have had an excellent opportunity to remind the President Voronin that he had avoided TV debates in a quite arrogant manner during the parliamentary election campaign; c) it would have been an occasion to present Voronin the “22 conditions-questions” within the discussion of his presidential platform; d) it would have been the most eloquent proof of media freedom, which would have left “constructive opposition” speechless.

    As it didn’t do that, MN and its leader left the impression they wanted to defy President Voronin, as they knew far-too-well those “22 conditions” would be unacceptable to him. This behavior does not justify boycotting elections, showing the obstructionism of the said move.

    In fact, Urechean’s actions were quite predictable long time ago. Even before the establishment of MDB in early 2004 he published a programming article in “Moldavskie vedomosti” newspaper (no. 613) entitled “Moldova should have a dream”. He was wondering whether “authorities don’t understand that friendship with Russia is not a result of political or economic conjuncture, but rather a historic choice of Moldova?”. According to him, the strategic goal “alfa and omega of our evolution is Moldova accession to EU”. For “Moldova’s dream” to come true authorities should not titter from West to East, but rather go for the middle way of good relations both with West and East. That would have enabled Moldova to become “Switzerland of the Balkans” by capitalizing on the advantages of its geographic positioning. The “golden middle way” represents for Urechean “Republic of Moldova’s organic integration in the free trade zone of the Southeastern Europe” as well as “in single economic zone of CIS” established by Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus.

    So, one can say that the clash between “strategic goal” and “historic choice”, coupled with the personal conflict between Serafim Urechean and President Voronin, pushed Moldova Democrata to split, resulting in “constructive” and “obstructive” opposition. The stake is quiet high, while the results of the clash depend on President Voronin’s behavior. If he honors his promises, then “constructive” opposition wins enabling it to grab Moldova Noastra’s electorate (roughly estimated at 20%). Conversely, if Voronin doesn’t honor his promises a part of “constructive” opposition would slip into a mere “collaborationist opposition”, while the other would tacitly and humiliated join the “obstructionist” camp, with all the arising consequences.
Chance of democratisation of the Republic of Moldova The GUUAM summit