Propagandistic explosions featuring the chief of state as lead character took place in the mid-July, immediately after it came out that representatives of the ruling party have been elected as chairmen of less than 1/3 of districts. District councillors elected on June 3 on behalf of the ruling party and on behalf of approximately five or six opposition parties have obstructed each other for about one month and a half while electing the chairmen of district executives. This explains the apparent delay of the propagandistic wave launched to libel the opposition and to threat citizens directly or indirectly for making a “wrong” choice on June 3.
Neither the ruling party nor the “aggregated opposition” hold at least 2/3 of mandates of councillors in approximately 3/4 of districts, so that under the law on local public administration the sittings became deliberative through a simple majority only by the third meeting. The aggregated opposition heads approximately 2/3 of districts after negotiating a coalition. The games of mutual blockage exceeded the limit after the third sitting in the district of Rezina was invalidated again, so that the district council will be dissolved and new elections will take place in two months.
The chief of state has acknowledged an absolutely new political situation in Moldova has emerged as a result of the elections of chairmen of districts. In the view of this new situation he has declared the end of the “political partnership” with the “constructive opposition” which plotted with the “intransigent opposition” against the Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova (PCRM). However, the PCRM leader avoided explanations why these opposition entities made the pact and which purpose the “political partnership” declared defunct was to serve?
Detailed answers to these questions may be found in election monitoring reports by the OSCE Mission, which signalled an unprecedented harassment of opposition candidates by administrations led by PCRM representatives. In this respect, the conclusion made in diplomatic terms in the preliminary report is quintessential: “The electoral legislation of the Republic of Moldova ensures an adequate basis for democratic elections to the degree in which it is applied with good will”. Obviously, the “good will” lacked, and this lack became fatal for maintaining the “political partnership” which was declared in 2005 for the purpose of “the European integration of the Republic of Moldova.” A credible “European integration” process is impossible when the opposition is harassed and the mass media is manipulated, according to facts stated in the report.
In principle, the PCRM does not have reasons for dissatisfaction. Its representatives have gained leadership offices in 1/3 of districts, and this result perfectly correlates with the number of votes garnered by this party nationwide — 34.2 percent. It gained these votes in conditions of a total control over the administrative resources and a quasi-total control of national audiovisual outlets. Thus, this is not an artificial injustice for the PCRM. However, it is the victory of the Our Moldova Alliance (OMA) that amplifies the feeling of loss by the PCRM in two thirds of districts. OMA leader Serafim Urechean has become the dedicated “political enemy” of President Voronin after being harassed in the past five years. The concern and anger of the chief of state are linked to the disproportion of OMA’s success — 17 percent of the votes of electors versus more than 40 percent of the posts of district chairmen.
From the perspective of the 2009 parliamentary elections, the capacity of attraction of OMA is growing due to the impression of ascension produced by results of election of district chairmen. This happens on background of dramatic decline of the PCRM, which continues to excel in making “political enemies” only. To obtain this result, it was worth for Serafim Urechean to declare after the June 3 elections that “the options of the voters demand that the approaches set by the 4 April 2005 act be left to history”.
If the OMA has reconfirmed its capacity of becoming the nucleus of a strong liberal pole, the statement delivered after elections regarding the coalition between the Party of Social Democracy of Moldova (PSDM), the Social Democratic Party of Moldova (SDPM) and the Centrist Union of Moldova (CUM) to create a social-democratic coalition which would merge in a single party before the 2009 parliamentary elections is a clear pretence to building a new social-democratic pole. It would have an unpredictable influence on the process or erosion of the PCRM, which is declining and is very late with reforming and modernising itself.
Given the results of the recent local elections, the new social-democratic party would enjoy a minimum electoral potential of more than 10 percent at the beginning. The existence of some known leaders, including the most experienced one, Dumitru Braghis, former prime minister, is another incontestable advantage. The fact that the leaders of the social-democratic coalition have not been observed to share anti-Russian attitudes and rhetoric would make credible by 2009 their pretence to want to replace the PCRM in the role the latter has assumed lately, that of improving the relations with Russia. While the PCRM leader claims that he wants to repair the deteriorated relations with Russia, leaders of the social-democratic coalition could invoke the privilege of relations unaffected by participation in previous conflicts such as the “Kozak memorandum”, economic embargoes, etc. Another important fact is that the social-democratic coalition has the largest potential for creating a social-democratic pole of attraction for those disappointed with the PCRM policies.
The fact that the elements of the social-democratic coalition have been left out of the majoritay coalition in the Chisinau municipality council, the favourite target of the PCRM propaganda, places it outside the epicentre of propagandistic clashes and battles. This circumstance allows the social-democratic coalition to seek the role of the “third force.”
The defeat of the PCRM in local elections has brought back to the fore the problem of modernisation of this party. The plenary of the Central Committee decided on July 7, 2007 to convoke the 6th congress on March 15, 2008 to amend the statute and political programme of the party. Nothing surprising. Such announcements have been made periodically after the May 2002 plenary sitting. However, plenary sittings, party conferences and even the December 2004 5th congress made cosmetic changes only.
Until the recent local elections the refusal to modernise the PCRM were explained through the fact that the unreformed party enjoys broad popular support anyway. Now that the PCRM has lost the 3 June local elections, this argument is not valid any longer. In fact, the party should have modernised a long time ago. The difference between “before and after elections” is that if the PCRM was reformed before the elections, then its orthodox members would have invoked the reform as the cause of defeat. Now after the actual defeat in elections some PCRM reformists invoke the belated modernisation as its cause.
The latter are right: one thing is to modernise a successful party in order to fuel and develop its success and another thing is to modernise a party with the purpose to rescue it. But this remark is not good for the PCRM because “reformed” or unreformed it would maintain the same essence as long as Vladimir Voronin leads it. He is the main pillar of the PCRM and his behaviour and nature cardinally mark the party and cannot be changed or reformed. It may be said that Voronin’s charisma has ensured the success of the party, but now it has become the main obstacle in changing its essence. Voronin will be some kind of Taras Bulba for the PCRM that he has masterminded, irrespective of whether the communist doctrine will be changed by a socialist one or not.
In this regard, the reformation of PCRM may be reduced to the editing of the status and programme. Indeed, it cannot be postponed any longer after President Voronin proclaimed the “liberal revolution” in April 2007 while the party’s programme stipulates in particular that “the supreme goal of PCRM is to build a communist society.” Articles I (6) and II (20) from statute of PCRM explicitly stipulate sanctions, including the expulsion from party “for actions running counter to the programme.”
The most significant fact is that although there is a consensus to modify the status and the programme of PCRM, there is no consensus on changing its name. President Voronin has constantly resisted to the change of the party’s name in the past two years, though he promised to the “constructive opposition” doing so when seeking its vote for the second presidential mandate. At the same time, all media outlets affiliated to the PCRM and personally to Voronin did not report the viewpoint expressed at a recent news conference by Speaker Marian Lupu regarding the necessity of changing the name of PCRM and the transformation of this party into a European left-wing party.
The probability of an eventual schism of PCRM as a result of its failure in local elections and disagreements on the need of changing the name of this party is exaggerated, but not negligible. These discussions are supported by the mass media affiliated with the opposition parties interested in the collapse of PCRM. The party led by Vladimir Voronin had faced only one scandalous schism back in 1996, when the “piece” that had cut out from it later disappeared from political scene. An eventual split would render little credibility the groups breaking up with the PCRM at such a late stage. Therefore intestine wrangles are most likely. By all means, during the preparations for the March 2008 a series of out of ordinary developments of large resonance may take place.
The talks on an eventual rapid settlement of the Transnistrian conflict supported by statements by President Voronin that he is ready to stop his presidential mandate, if this would be a condition for speeding up the resolution, fuelled the allegations about preparation of early parliamentary elections. Another argument in favour of early elections is that the collapse of the PCRM at local elections was so sudden and the trends have become so suggestive that the PCRM is interested to organise early elections as soon as possible, and this secure the support it still has to avoid a total collapse at the 2009 elections.
There are several factors that make early parliamentary elections unlikely. Firstly, it is hard to believe that the PCRM may want early elections before the March 2008 reformation congress. After the congress, early elections may be provoked through artificial ways in the long term, so they are held in the autumn, half a year before they are due. Secondly, the Transnistrian conflict has such a big force of inertia that to believe in a rapid resolution is somewhat naive. However willing Russia could be to support a rapid resolution, it will insist on three principles, which it has invoked constantly and on numerous occasions: recognition of equality between the sides involved; respect for existing agreements between the sides; direct negotiations between the sides and adoption of mutual decisions supported by mediators. In addition, the conflict settlement negotiations cannot be withdrawn from a general context no matter how often Presidents Putin and Voronin meet “in secret” or “separately”. For this reason, the schemes of organisation of early parliamentary elections to offer representation to Transnistrians, followed by awarding of high- administrative posts, etc., before adoption of a mutually accepted document of principle describing in details the consecutiveness of every action based on plenary respect for previous regulations and guarantees, are inconsistent.
As the rating of PCRM has declined down to 34 percent, the party will probably seek ordinary parliamentary elections, which must take place in March 2009. The synchronisation of parliamentary and presidential elections is the main trump of the PCRM. In these circumstances the PCRM may set itself the minimal task. The statements by President Voronin have already set the maximal task — that of revenge and regaining of position lost in the local elections. The minimal task is much more realistic — focusing efforts on at least maintaining the rating at the level of the 3 June local elections.
An elementary calculation shows that if political parties gain the same number of votes at the 2009 parliamentary elections as they garnered in districts in 2007, the PCRM would win exactly 41 mandates, the minimum number of deputy votes necessary to block the election of the president. The constitutional norm stipulates the election of the chief of state with three fifths of the votes of parliamentarians. After two failed attempts the Parliament is dissolved by the incumbent President. PCRM has already enjoyed twice this constitutional norm — in 2001 and 2005, when it has won the elections and convinced part of the opposition to re-elect Vladimir Voronin to the office of the president. The synchronisation of parliamentary and presidential elections suggests the “package” resolution of election of the chief of state, chairman of the Parliament and appointment of the Government. This could help PCRM to stay afloat and even to influence the further events.
So, one can conclude that President Voronin is the proponent of maximum task having announced the death of the “political partnership” to revenge. On the other hand, Speaker Marian Lupu is the proponent of the continuation of the “political partnership”, indicating that the minimum task is much more realistic. This approach allows at least for the prevention of political destabilisation of large proportion. The autumn barometer of public opinion will show which of the two leaders is right.
As the “political partnership” was built “for the European integration”, by declaring its death President Voronin may make others think that the European integration is not a strategic goal any longer. In this respect, the attitude of the ruling party toward the opposition, the method of conduct of elections, freedom of justice and mass media, etc. — attitudes incompatible with the EU standards - is suggestive. Thus, the PCRM clearly stresses that self-preservation at the rule of the country is more important for them than the European integration.
The statement by President Voronin regarding the reasons for the coalition of the opposition against the PCRM, i.e. the fear of an eventual settlement of the Transnistrian conflict, is part of the propaganda arsenal. In the Gagauz region, political forces have consolidated to beat the PCRM in the local elections and before the national ones. It is to be noted that the Gagauz political forces have a very weak relationship with the ones at national level, and may not be suspected of seeking same interests. By all means, Gagauz elites may not have any fears of an eventual settlement of the Transnistrian conflict. On the contrary, for certain reasons they are looking forward to it. All the same, in the past two years the rating of the PCRM in Gagauzia has fallen from 80% to 13%, and the party was excluded from the rule of the region. The reasons for all sorts of coalitions against the PCRM rule are of a completely different nature, they reside in the behaviour of the representatives of this formation.
The intensity of the propagandistic campaign of revenge launched by mass media affiliated to President Voronin reveals a concern following the effects of coalition of opposition. Talks on failure of PCRM would be meaningless without a coalition. Insisting that the ruling party is on one side and all opposition is on the other side after the local elections, the PCRM leader stresses the 1:2 loss at local elections.
The aggregated opposition is still heterogenic in terms of doctrines, interests and compatibility of leaders, etc. The merit of having strengthened it belongs to the PCRM alone, as this party has launched during the electoral campaign and after elections (when the creation of majorities in councils was negotiated) unprecedented pressures and harassments capable to prevent any post-electoral partnership with elements of the opposition.
The opposition will be capable to stay consolidated further only under the threat that the PCRM may regain its rating and restart pressures and harassments under various forms. The present rating of PCRM — one third of voter support — allows for the party to be perceived as one still capable to recover and come-back strong, and on the other hand still too weak to be defeated by a consolidated opposition and eliminated from governance definitively at the 2009 parliamentary elections.
The Liberal Party (LP) will remain a distinct subject of the political scene. The surprising success of LP at local elections in the Chisinau municipality is still promising. However, there are several factors that hinder the consolidation of LP success and its capacity to act a as a leader in the 2009 parliamentary elections: a) the way in which the LP has influenced the creation of a majority in the Chisinau Municipal Council and the distribution of posts reveals an inclination toward a groundless maximalism. Announcing severe principles at the very beginning and forgetting them later under the burden of circumstances reveals an inflexibility and an easy long-expected exposure to the PCRM propaganda and astonishing critical targeting; b) the lack of own staff requires the support of OMA members in the Chisinau City Hall and this fact strengthens the positions and attractiveness of OMA on background of gaining more than 40 percent of posts of district chairmen. In the current configuration of the Chisinau municipality the LP is the one to hold most of the responsibility, the OMA the one to hold most leverages of influence, and the PCRM is the one to express the most vehement criticism; c) as a favourite target of PCRM propaganda in the Chisinau municipality, the LP will have few chances to focus on building the party in the rest of the country.
An eventual success of Mayor Dorin Chirtoaca in at least one field of public interest in the capital city would be exceptionally useful to remove the negative effects of the factors mentioned above. Of course, Dorin Chirtoaca has all the skills needed to become a successful administrator and politician. But circumstances and relations with coalition partners will have a decisive impact.
The political scene will undergo predictable reconfigurations before the 2009 parliamentary elections, suggested by results of recent local elections. PCRM and OMA will remain the main political forces, whose conduct will be marked by antagonisms between leaders of the two parties. The PCRM will unlikely be able to make political allies, except for 2–3 small parties with a rating under 1 percent. OMA has a high coalition potential, both on both doctrine and results of result of local elections, of basically all liberal formations, including the LP. The social-democratic coalition will be able to become a pole of electoral attraction only in the event of keeping the promises of merger of member parties and prevention of leadership-related scandals. The relatively stable electorate used to unusual actions of DP and CDPP leaders ensures the largest field of manoeuvre to these parties depending on circumstances. The eventual and insistently discussed split of DP would likely have a negative impact on dissociated sides, strengthening the positions of the social-democratic coalition. The role of small parties will grow much due to the importance of proportional redistribution of mandates at the expense of parties incapable to succeed the electoral threshold. Of course, the PCRM could be the main beneficiary of participation of small parties in elections. Strong opposition parties will have to seek possibilities to incorporate the small political groups, maybe via coalitions.