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Electoral race begins in Transnistria

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Igor Botan / June 14, 2006
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Indicators of the start of electoral race

Two social-political movements in Transnistria have recently turned into parties. They are the so-called international corporation “Proriv”, created a year ago with the direct participation and support of a high-ranking Kremlin functionary and transformed into the People’s Democratic Party, and the movement “Obnovlenye”, created before the December 2005 elections in the Supreme Soviet. The fact that these movements have turned into political parties at the same time marks the start of the presidential electoral campaign in the region scheduled for next December.

The visit in the same period of separatist leader Igor Smirnov to the Ribnita-based metallurgical plant, which contributes with more than 50 percent to the budget of the breakaway enclave, is another indicator of the start of the electoral race. This visit launches tries to remake the relations of Smirnov with business from the region. The interdiction introduced by the separatist leader against entrepreneurs based in the region to register their firms with the State Registration Chamber of Moldova in order to undertake import-export operations after the implementation of a new customs regime in the Transnistrian section of the Moldovan-Ukrainian border had a negative impact on attitude of business toward the Smirnov regime.

On the contrary, Evghenii Shevciuk, elected as head of the “Supreme Soviet” in January 2006 who has founded the social-political movement “Obnovlenye”, which won the legislative elections in the breakaway enclave, has affirmed himself as exponent of local business and holds chances to be its favourite for an eventual participation in elections. Shevciuk threw the glove to Smirnov a year ago by initiating the modification of constitution in order to limit the competences of the separatist leader. The cause of changes was that the administration of Smirnov has led the privatisation process in the region to a direction that favoured his friends from Russia in the detriment of circles from the region. Political and business circles from Russia have become the main political allies of Smirnov then, while the local business in Transnistria is regarded as the ally of Shevciuk. As the setting up and maintenance of the Transnistrian regime is the work of certain circles from Russia, it is easy to presume who of the two leaders may enjoy more support. However, Shevciuk and his movement “Obnovlenye” won last December from the movement “Republica” supported by Smirnov.

But the conduct of any electoral campaign requires financial resources and support of local groups of influence. That’s why Smirnov had to allow the registration of the Transnistria-based enterprises in compliance with Moldova’s legislation after nearly three months. Of course, electoral campaigns are not held on own money, while the money of business blocked by Smirnov’s voluntary policy could be used to get rid of such a policy. For this reason, the visit of the separatist leader to the Ribnita-based metallurgical giant was mediated as a sign of care for resumption of activity of local business. However, it may be presumed that Smirnov’s visit aimed to persuade the big business that he is also capable to remedy the situation and guarantee conditions for its development.

The third indicator of the start of the electoral race is related to the specific outbreak of the propaganda machinery whose main target is to assure the residents of the breakaway region that the economy of Moldova, its financial system are about to fall down after the exportation to the Russian market was restricted, while the next blows on Chisinau will be linked to higher gas prices and introduction of visa regime by Russia. Of course, the Transnistrian propaganda does not forget to note that Russia punishes Moldova through these measures for its attitude toward the separatist regime, while the fall of the acting Chisinau government is the expected effect. It is insinuated that certain political forces from Moldova would like to see this scenario applied and they even participate in its staging. The conclusion for those who launch such messages is clear.

Whom will the Russian Federation support?

The fact that the separatist regime strictly controls the political life in the Transnistrian region through its repressive bodies and propaganda must not be demonstrated. Officials and informal structures of the Russian Federation ensure the other ways of protection of the regime, including through the Russian military presence in the region. Russian political technologists close to the Kremlin administration have made public their recommendations to promote the interests of pro-Russia separatist enclaves. The most important thing envisages the legalisation of the separatist regimes in eyes of the international public opinion through elections and apparently pluralistic and democratic and controllable evolutions, but they should be at least comparable with those from constitutional and recognised regimes. This approach is needed to invoke the arguments: how could some regimes, even separatist and unrecognised, be forced to return to the constitutional bottom of recognised states that they have left if the latter are less democratic than the unrecognised ones?

The creation of the “Proryv” corporation by the Kremlin administration and the appearance of the movement “Obnovleny” perfectly fit the scenario of “ad hoc building of civil society” and many parties before the December 2005 legislative elections. But at the same time, the dangerous developments related to the modification of constitution last summer have been annihilated after a visit of Modest Kolerov, adviser for Russian President Vladimir Putin. Also, the eventual conflict linked to the election of the Supreme Soviet chairperson after the movement “Obnovlenye” has defeated the movement “Republica”, created with the direct support of Smirnov, was also settled in Moscow, visited by the two contestants, Shevciuk and Maracutsa, in order to be heard and conciliated.

It should be acknowledged that these actions have been efficient enough because the information potential of Russia is immeasurable compared with the potential of Moldova. But one more fact should be also taken into consideration. If President Vladimir Putin has imposed a “directed democracy” in Russia, it is easy to understand the level of direction of “democracies inoculated” on imperial mother plant.

Thus, designers of the separatist regime may be very interested in staging a real political battle, which would take place in controllable limits. Smirnov remains the person who nominally controls Transnistria and interested Russian circles did not identify yet a proper candidate to replace him. At the same time, it seems that the team of Smirnov regards speaker Shevciuk as the main potential rival, a supposition confirmed in a recent open letter of the social-political movement “Republica” to Evghenii Shevciuk.

It may be said without any details that Shevciuk and his party “Obnovlenye” represents the soft line, while Smirnov and “Republica” represents the severe line. The difference between them is that unlike Smirnov, Shevciuk proposes to cross a path of Kosovo or Montenegro, that means to follow some precedents with the participation of international institutions such as the United Nations, etc., which would finally repeat the way to independence of the two provinces of former Yugoslavia through some intermediary states and apparently legal tools such as referendums.

The severe version of Smirnov is very short — an independence referendum under the auspices of the Russian Federation. Smirnov wants this referendum because he does not need political manoeuvres in relations with Chisinau and his credibility as potential adept of reunification of Moldova is null.

Of course, the version of Shevciuk is much delicate; it leaves room for manoeuvres to certain political forces from Moldova to cooperate in this process. Also, it leaves room for some intermediary compromises to business in Transnistria and the final goal is the same.

As regards the preferences of Russian influent circles for a candidate, it should be mentioned that it is important for them that the Transnistrian region remains under the Russian Federation’s control, no matter if Smirnov or somebody else will rule the enclave. It was mentioned that it is important for Russia and its propaganda-making machinery at this stage to demonstrate to the international public opinion that Transnistria has a “democratic regime” like Moldova. That’s why Russian officials and political technologists will never say clearly whom they support. Unquestionably, the direct support will come closer to elections, when the eventual pressure of the West will become clearer and the effects of Russia’s economic pressures on Moldova will be deeper. Perhaps these circumstances will determine Russia to rely on the severe or soft line.

However, Smirnov holds much bigger chances. He may use the support of the Russian Federation for survival of the “economic blockade” imposed by Moldova and Ukraine. It had an effect of consolidation of population from Transnistria. Smirnov controls the militia, security and defence bodies of the secessionist region, as well as the customs, the providing of the region with gas, with the help of his two sons. Even more, the “civil society” from Transnistria gathered in the anti-strike committee created by Smirnov supports the separatist leader. But things and preferences may change in dependence of conjuncture.

But for Moldova, both Smirnov and Shevciuk are the heads of the same dragon which grow from the same body of interests of the Russian Federation in this region, a country which controls the eastern districts of Moldova over Ukraine’s territory.

What conclusions Moldova may draw

The Moldovan authorities must clarify some issues. But what is clear is linked to the fact that:

  1. The conduct of the Transnistrian authorities and of the Russian Federation in the last year was capable to confirm the justice of conclusions drawn from the ECHR judgment on the case “Ilascu vs. the Russian Federation and the Republic of Moldova.” In other terms, it was confirmed in new details that the separatist regime is completely controlled and supported by the Russian Federation. That’s why Russia indicated the “depoliticising of ECHR” as one of its priorities when it took over the chairmanship in the Council of Europe.

  2. The Transnistrian authorities have drawn some lessons from criticism taken against the separatist regime during the 2005 legislative elections. One of the most sensitive criticisms was related to the lack of political parties in the region. Indeed, there are parties in the region formally, but the political battle was held between political-administrative and economic clans. That’s why the transformation of movements “Proriv” and “Obnivlenye” into political parties aims to demonstrate the “evolution of democracy and many parties” which will be used in further propagandistic battles.

  3. The Moldovan authorities should elaborate a strategy on eventual presidential elections in Transnistria. The most important thing that they should do in this regard is to eliminate the deficiencies of democracy on the right bank of the Dniester river as soon as possible (or at least to demonstrate firmly that they follow this way).

  4. Secondly, the Moldovan authorities should strongly hint that any winner of elections in Transnistria will have to negotiate the comeback to the constitutional space of Moldova. Residents of Transnistria and the local business know for sure that at least an eventual candidate will not be accepted for negotiations, while the lasting “humanitarian aid” of Russia will have degrading effects both on business and on common citizens. They should suggest very clearly that the trends of this interior, but especially foreign policy of Moldova are those that they officially invoke.

  5. There are actions that the Moldovan authorities should avoid. Firstly, they should not publicly support a temperate candidate, but this does not exclude an eventual unsaid support. There are at least three arguments for such an attitude: a) the Moldovan authorities do not recognise the legality of elections in Transnistria and, therefore, they cannot support a candidate; b) the propagandistic brain-laundry machine controlled by separatist regime has more influence in the region and that’s why the competition with it must be very specific. c) the experience of the 2001 elections has demonstrated that a campaign of the Moldovan authorities against one of candidates weakens the eventually accepted competitor.

  6. The strategy of the Moldovan authorities for elections in Transnistria will depend on condition and conduct of Ukraine. But it does not mean that the Ukrainian authorities will be asked to hold a certain information campaign. This will be the conviction, not a warning that the Transnistrian separatist regime represents the highest danger for Ukraine’s territorial integrity. It is interested to get rid of the danger. The Republic of Moldova had lost Transnistria in 1992 after the military conflict with the participation of Russia, a fact mentioned in the ECHR judgment (Moldova signed the 1992 ceasefire agreement with Russia). Moldova is just trying to regain Transnistria since then. The separatist nightmare may restart for Ukraine and corruption and illicit trafficking generated by existence of the separatist regime will seem insignificant.
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