The recent BPO is measuring the impact on the perception of citizens regarding developments above, approximately one year after the 2007 general local elections and one year before the spring 2009 parliamentary elections. In this regard, the findings could be a reference point for political parties which are already preparing themselves for elections.
Criticism by main political parties regarding the survey confirms the utility of BPO. Leaders of the ruling party and of the main opposition party did not warm the findings. That may be a proof that the situation in Moldova is becoming more favourable for other parties which have a certain rating.
The evolution of the perception of citizens regarding the state of things in the country and their welfare had the greatest impact on stability of political life. Trends of the evolution of perceptions, rather than the proper percent are important. Credibility of findings depends directly on correlations between answers to sets of bounded questions. Thus, following the June 2007 general local elections that marked the decline of the ruling party, the discontentment with the economic condition of the country has moderately increased in continuation.
Also, citizens are rather pessimistic over further evolutions. The number of those expecting the economic situation to worse is on the moderate rise.
Origins of discontentment appear in the table bellow. Galloping princes and poverty are main worries of Moldovan citizens. It is necessary to remark that the galloping price rise has succeeded from the sixth to the first worry during the rule of the Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova (PCRM). It progressed from 20 percent in 2001 up to approximately 70 percent in 2008. It is also alarming that after three years of implementation (2004–2007) of the Economic Growth and Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (EGPRSP) and EUMAP (2005–2008), the poverty tops so far the major worries of citizens — 47 percent in 2001 vs. 63 percent in 2008, ceding the record to galloping prices. The positive side is that the fear over crime, war and hunger has decreased much.
The findings above correlate perfectly with perceptions regarding earnings of families. The number of families who earn just to cover the strictly necessary on background of the decline of those earning enough for a decent living has clearly increased in the past two years. The number of families who do not earn enough to cover the strictly necessary is on the rise — approximately 30 percent.
Correlated between them, answers to the questions above are part of the response to a general question about Moldova’s direction; in particular, 60 percent of respondents fear that it goes a wrong way, compared with 27 percent who believe that it goes a right way.
In spite of the increasing discontentment and worries of citizens, the political stability in Moldova does not run any danger. Only 9 percent of respondents would be ready to attend riots in order to protect their interests, while another 17 percent would consider such a necessity. At the same time, the table below reveals that only about 20 percent consider that new governance is needed to improve the situation in country.
Given the previous experience, one may generally conclude that protests would be unlikely held in Moldova. The discontentment of citizens could be eventually raised publicly should institutions in charge with articulating the needs of people — trade unions and political parties, organise people. But these institutions enjoy the lowest confidence of citizens, in particular, trade unions — 20 percent and parties 15 percent.
The decline of confidence towards parties may be particularly linked to the decreased confidence towards the ruling party PCRM. This conclusion comes from trends correlated by the simultaneous decline of the confidence towards chief of state, who also leads the PCRM, as well as declining confidence towards the Government and Parliament controlled by the PCRM. The confidence rating of the presidential institution has decreased by approximately 30 percent in the past six years, from about 65 percent down to 37 percent only. The confidence ratings of the Parliament and Government are equal to the rating of NGOs now, below 30 percent.
However, the ruling party holds the tools needed to attenuate the impact of the increasing discontentment and decreasing confidence towards this party, in particular, cooperation relations with the Orthodox Church, which constantly enjoys the highest confidence of citizens — approximately 70–80 percent and for which the hereafter life is the true life; the effective control on an important segment of the media, which ranks the 2nd place in the top of institutions enjoying the biggest confidence of people — about 50–60 percent. In this context, the mayoralty alone among public and private institutions including the opposition enjoys a relative high confidence. The confidence rating of mayoralties has oscillated between 40 and 50 percent in the past years. In this regard, the confidence rating of local public administration is curiously exceeding categorically and constantly the rating of each of institution of central public administration. This state of things could explain the hostile attitudes of the central government towards local administrations controlled by opposition parties. This is especially evident in the Chisinau municipality.
The political culture of Moldovans is a too complex topic, deserving well-elaborated researches. However, the BPO findings reveal some correlations which signal reactions to intimidations and the “frustration” of citizens. According to BPO, the rate of Moldovan citizens interested in politics is low. Only approximately 20 percent of respondents said that they are interested in politics much or a little. This rate is very close to the number of those who generally trust political parties.
About 30–35 percent of respondents are not much and not less interested in politics. Nearly 50 percent of respondents are not interested in politics and this is in a perfect correlation with the fact that approximately 40–45 percent of respondents do not have an option when they are asked about their political preferences, which means what party they would elect. Perhaps most of them do not believe that elections in Moldova are fair and that the media is free. These perceptions constantly anticipate conclusions by periodical reports on the freedom of the media by Freedom House.
In this context, the following answers are very significant: 44.3 percent of respondents answered that “the participation of citizens in elections” is very important and another 40.3 percent that that it is important. Although this is an answer of “social desirability”, it outlines the formation of the option of vote of about 50 percent of respondents who consider that none of political parties represents their interests but believe that casting ballots is important. This category probably includes the 30–40 percent of respondents who are not interested in politics. This is unquestionably the contingent which is the main target of manipulation. The main manipulation means are well-known. It is worth to note that only approximately 0.1 percent of respondents regard surveys as information sources. Thus, politicians frustrated by findings of polls shall understand that the way the mass media interprets the results of surveys, rather than the polls are a danger of manipulation.
Returning to the political culture of citizens, one may notice that less than 15 percent of respondents read newspapers, while approximately 30 percent read newspapers some times a week and a similar percent do not read newspapers at all. Instead, about 80–85 percent of respondents watch the TV every day and 60 percent listen to the radio daily. That’s why “media holdings” are important. The political culture is also revealed by the fact that by about 10 percent of respondents read books daily or several times a week or a month. But about 50 percent of respondents have not read books in the past three months. Of course, adequate political messages and offers are required for such a level of information and political culture, but not all parties, particularly the opposition, realise this. Instead, the opposition is astonished of how much the pro-PCRM “media holding” is appreciating the political culture of Moldovans when it airs the programme by anonymous authors “Masked Stories”, which mocks of opposition and polish the PCRM’s image. Instead, PCRM leader says that he doesn’t worry cartoon on him in opposition media and promises to organise a cartoon exhibition concerning him. In fact, it would be fair to broadcast subjects of cartoons concerning him during the same programme “Masked Stories”. This would be really parity.
The trend of moderate decline of the rating of PCRM chairman Vladimir Voronin was confirmed by the recent BPO, too. The confidence rating of the PCRM leader has decreased by more than 30 percent in the past five years, from about 70 percent down to 40 percent. This is not a negative result, given the fact that the rating of President Sarkozy has similarly declined in one year, from 65 percent down to 37 percent. The French people could be faster in reacting than Moldovans are. But returning to our “mouton”, one may note that former premier Vasile Tarlev and Speaker Marian Lupu, who was promoted to the PCRM Central Committee at the March 15, 2008 modernisation congress, are constant rivals of Vladimir. Also, BPO reveals that Chisinau Mayor Dorin Chirtoaca is strongly placed in the top of political personalities who enjoy the highest confidence rating. His confidence rating (about 30 percent) follows the rating of the chief of state, chairman of the Parliament and former prime minister. This places the deputy chairman of the Liberal Party (LP), Dorin Chirtoaca, among strong candidates for the role of leader of an eventual unified bloc of liberals.
The question regarding confidence towards politicians comes to strengthen conclusions about trends revealed in the table above. The fact that Dorin Chirtoaca defeats former premier Tarlev in the answers to an open question is a very good signal for the first. It is interesting that the confidence rating of Dorin Chirtoaca is equivalent now to the rating of Serafim Urechean prior to the 2005 parliamentary elections, when the latter has become leader of the consolidated segment of the opposition. Even more, the poll reveals that the confidence towards Chirtoaca is “immune” against harassments by central authorities against the Chisinau City Hall and assaults by the PCRM-affiliated “media holding”. At the same time, other liberal leaders are pretty vulnerable in front of propagandistic assaults by PCRM. An additional argument for the stability of the confidence rating of Chirtoaca is the fact that he did not try to hold any image-making campaigns in the past half a year and he did not have any support of the independent media. On the contrary, the independent media displayed disappointment with administrative performances of Mayor Chirtoaca and it was right. But citizens do not think so, perceiving him probably as a politician rather than an administrator. About 20 percent of respondents are very content with Chirtoaca’s performance as mayor, another approximately 30 percent are satisfied and only 14 percent are discontent.
The rating of other democratic leaders was flanked in traditional limits established in the last seven years. They are credited with chances to gain a traditional score in 2009. But the probability of an extraordinary jump is narrowing once the electoral campaign is closer. In this regard, the conduct of opposition leaders is actually the life buoy of the PCRM.
It seems that the slow decline of President Voronin’s rating is not dramatic for the PCRM. In this regard, it is worth to mention that internal developments aimed at modernisation of PCRM are accompanied by a slow growth of the rating of Speaker Marian Lupu. This is a positive signal. In general, after the loss at the 2007 local elections and anger of President Voronin, the PCRM has demonstrated that it is capable to self-concentrate in order to draw the necessary conclusions, as well as that it is more adroit than the opposition in planning actions with a long-term impact. Thus, starting mid-March 2008, a series of events favouring the PCRM took place in a couple of weeks, in particular:
Each of these developments improves the PCRM image before the 2009 elections. The least the confidence rating of the PCRM has stabilised.
As regards the voting option, the situation of the PCRM has also stabilised. Given the fact that the parliamentary majority has recently modified the electoral legislation, increasing the electoral threshold from 4 percent up to 6 percent and banning pre-electoral blocs, the PCRM wants to raise advantages from a splitting of the opposition as well.
Since answers concerning voting options have troubled leaders of political parties the most, recent results of BPO shall be compared with findings of the “Omnimas” research carried out by IMAS half a year ago.
The comparison is useful both to demonstrate that polls conducted by various institutions and under different aegis reveal close results, as well as to find explanations: from and where sympathies of people migrate to. Unfortunately, changes that took place half a year ago are just perceptible. One may observe that the Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova (LDPM) has joined the Top-7 parties credited with real chances to succeed to the next Parliament. Also, the support for the PCRM, OMA and LP has just declined; the support for the Democratic Party of Moldova (DPM) and Christian Democratic People’s Party (CDPP) has just increased; the situation of the SDPM did not change. But variances fit the error margin of the survey.
Thus, mergers of social-democratic and social-liberal parties are imperceptible so far. As expected, the DPM has experienced the impact of the splitting related to the leaving of a leader of the party, Vlad Filat, in September 2007, especially when the LDPM created by the latter was outstanding in the past half a year due to a strong campaign. The merger of DPM with the Social Liberal Party (SLP) has likely compensated losses after the withdrawal of Filat and of a number of district structures from DPM. That would not be a surprise, as the SLP was outstanding both in the October 2007 IMAS survey, and at the November 2007 new local (district) elections in Rezina, garnering approximately 10 percent of the votes. In addition, SLP supporters were well-instructed and informed and many of them could have supported the merger with the DPM.
BPO reveals that the discontentment of people over general situation in Moldova is growing by and by. The implementation of EGPRSP and EUMAP did not change the perception of Moldovans regarding their welfare and democratic freedoms in country. But neither trade unions, nor opposition parties are able to focus the discontentment of people into a favourable channel for them. Even more, when they had the opportunity to voice the discontentment of patent holders, two opposition parties, SDP and OMA chose to compete for this right. Meantime, authorities have found a palliative solution to calm down protestors.
The PCRM has taken a series of actions in the last half a year to prevent the decline trends outlined clearly after the 2007 local elections, and it managed to stabilise its situation only. In this respect, the PCRM seems to be the best prepared for the 2009 elections, holding great resources for a successful campaign, compared with the opposition: access to administrative resources of which it has always abused since it rules the country; support of the Church; support of the most influent “media-holding”, which is not ashamed to use most primitive but efficient propaganda-making methods to polish the image of the ruling party and libel the opposition. In addition, with some exceptions, there are no ideas with a significant impact to obstruct the regimentation of the PCRM: European integration; liberalisation and reformation of economy; “new look” of the governance; promotion of youths by declaring 2008 as the Year of Youth; patriotism, etc. Also, the PCRM has succeeded to inoculate the idea of Moldova’s neutrality in preferences of citizens (from about 20 percent in 2004 up to approximately 60 percent in 2008), limiting the field of manoeuvre of the multitude of opposition parties; raise the optimism of people that the Transnistrian conflict can be settled with the support of the EU, U.S. and Russia; improve the relations with Russia by preventing the danger of an anti-PCRM involvement of Russia in the future elections and preventing situations like in 2005, when the Russian propaganda and state institutions such as the State Duma have clearly got involved to hit the PCRM; to polarise the public opinion on the basis of identity criterion: Moldovan-Romanian, a factor activating in the myth of the external danger to attenuate the internal risk linked to the increasing discontentment of people with their material condition. According to the previous experience in Moldova, the last factor is pretty efficient during elections. But the opposition itself advantages the PCRM the most by maintaining its splitting state. Opposition parties which will fail the 6-percent threshold will be able to calculate their contribution to strengthening the positions of the PCRM. Thus, the opposition gave 21 mandates to the PCRM in 2001 in addition to the 50 mandates garnered by the ruling party, ensuring the PCRM with a constitutional parliamentary majority. In 2005, following the creation of a strong enough electoral bloc, the opposition gave 10 mandates to the PCRM, which added to the 46 mandates of the PCRM ensured a comfortable ruling majority of the latter.
Given the existence of a dominant party, the opposition is permanently degrading because of the dispersion of forces. BPO confirms that the image of the leader, electoral offer and support for a “democratic” doctrine are important for electors. In this respect, one may notice that electoral offers of opposition “democratic” parties are actually identical. Differences and nuances are the appanage of sociologists, not of electors. The ambition of leaders is the only vulnerable point that maintains the dispersed condition of democratic parties. But the voting of closed party lists makes the image of leaders a determinant factor in forming electoral options. In these circumstances, none of opposition parties can launch own attractive ideas, which would be promoted exclusively. Even more, any idea by the opposition capable to attract voters is immediately shared by the PCRM and this is already a rule. At the same time, opposition parties turn down authentic offers and ideas by PCRM. The SDPM has just recently tried to “play on the electoral ground” of the PCRM. It made public the basic principles of its electoral offer for 2009 at the April 19, 2008 SDPM congress. It explained it simply, in order to be understood by people, focussing particularly on social issues. This step made President Voronin react immediately. On April 21, he made public the Government’s priorities for 2008. It is strange that the priorities of the Government for this year were not made public earlier this year, but closer to the mid-2008. In addition, the SDPM is promoting messages that coincide with those by PCRM regarding relations with Russia, settlement of the Transnistrian conflict, neutrality of Moldova. This was enough for the PCRM propaganda and President Voronin to assault SDPM leader Dumitru Braghis in an unqualified manner. In the same context, the PCRM propaganda did not find anything else but to accuse the LP of deviating from the liberal doctrine when the liberal administration of the Chisinau City Hall announced the 20-percent rise of salaries of budgetary employees, in compliance with the legislation in effect. The declaration of the “liberal revolution” in Moldova by PCRM is not a deviation from the communist doctrine, while the implementation of social provisions of the legislation by LP is a deviation from doctrinaire principles. With regard to the perception of welfare by people, the two examples clearly show what problems the PCRM would like to be untouched by the opposition. For example, the PCRM would celebrate should the opposition focus again on national and linguistic identity issues. But the Moldovan opposition seems to be incapable of exploring at maximum its little chances to vie with the PCRM. For example, the PRO TV channel aired on April 14 reportage about the Tractor Manufacturer in Chisinau, which should become a “manna” for the opposition in combating accusations of having disindustrialised the country when it ruled it, while the PCRM is doing vice versa. According to the reportage, following the PCRM-conducted reindustrialisation experiment, the Tractor Manufacturer could not sell any tractor in the last half a year and more than 400 workers were not paid their salaries. Who needs such an industrialisation and why the Ministry of Industrialisation was recently dissolved?
While the trial of “playing on the ground” of the PCRM seems to be an idea of the SDP, an idea with a significant potential has recently appeared for liberal parties and the PCRM will be unable to join it. This is the idea of signing the small border traffic convention with Romania. Residents of 1/3 of Moldovan districts could be interested in signing this convention. The acting governance of Moldova has developed the conflict with Romania, so that the leadership of this country is not interested any longer in negotiating anything as long as the Chisinau governance is not changed. But liberal parties vie in this case, too. LDPM and OMA launched uncoordinated initiatives to convoke meetings for the support of the convention on one hand, and to collect signatures for the same purpose on the other hand. LDPM and OMA could join their efforts at a moment but the LP will likely harvest the crop, as its leaders hold personal relations with the top leadership of Romania and they could meet before elections to discuss how important the small border traffic is. Moldovan citizens will realise immediately what political leaders in Moldova may help the most to normalise relations with Romania and, therefore, to sign the convention. This example reveals that finding a way of cooperation to generate synergy, not competition would be the best strategy for LP, LDPM and OMA. But this is unlikely. OMA and LDPM alone or together are unprepared to recognise Dorin Chirtoaca as leader of eventual “united liberals”. Though Chirtoaca has what the OMA and LDPM leaders do not have: the highest confidence rating and “immunity” against propagandistic assaults by the PCRM. Instead, OMA and LDPM have developed territorial structures and they seemingly have financial and media resources.
All of them will be very weak separately and some of them will be even very vulnerable in front of propagandistic assaults. Thus, OMA leader Serafim Ureachean is being harassed. This recalls the methods used by the PCRM against him in 2003 and reiterated in 2005. Urechean is perfectly right when he affirms that he does not run any risk to suffer or to be sentenced on the basis of the case fabricated on his name. But the fact that the propaganda is speculating that the prosecution wants to sentence him to a 9-year jail term has an impact on perceptions of citizens. In fact, the PCRM may follow one goal — to halt Urechean from becoming a credible leader of a capable opposition to consolidate it. The same shall be said for LDPM leader Vlad Filat. In spite of a promising start, the LDPM will be narrowed in development because it is accused of corrupting territorial branches of other parties. It does not matter what will be demonstrated. LDPM has produces an unprecedented phenomenon in Moldova, where the volatility of votes of electors was known, but now the massive volatility of territorial branches in Moldova, 5–6 branches which migrated to a new and then unregistered party, has become an absolute novelty. In any case, such a phenomenon captures attention and raises suspicions of political leaders who saw their interests affected and had to take counter-actions. Of course, opponents will continue to invoke at least the organisation of wide “political proselytism” actions. One has already seen that modalities of settling accounts and accusations are very bitter. One may hope that this political battle will not lead to the usual place of holy parents when the religious proselytism is envisaged. In these circumstances, the worst side of the things is that in parallel with launching the slogan “Moldova Without Voronin — Moldova Without Communists” the LDPM has managed to antagonise both the PCRM and several opposition parties, especially the DPM and CDPP. Relations between LDPM and other opposition parties will likely be cold in continuation because it wants to self-affirm as a leader, generator of ideas and initiatives that all other opposition parties should join. In this regard, the LDPM has already been reproached or was treated with reticence by potential partners when it proposed a referendum on modification of the electoral system and modality of election of the chief of state. The case of separate call by LDPM and OMA for the signing of the small border traffic convention with Romania was already mentioned. All these details come to confirm the scepticism regarding a joint effort of main liberal parties. However, should liberal parties consider the BPO findings, they would note that approximately 60 percent of respondents think that parties following the same objectives and programmes should unite.
The PCRM is attenuating or avoiding assaulting the CDPP and DPM. This is a signal that PCRM leaders acknowledge that they will need post-electoral allies in 2009 to elect the Government, the Parliament leadership and the chief of state. Given the results of the last local elections and BPO-revealed trends, one may estimate that the PCRM could really expect 35–40 percent of the votes. Depending on the number of parties which will succeed the electoral threshold, the PCRM could have between 45 and 50 seats in the Parliament, so that it could have even a simple majority (in Moldova it’s 52 mandates out of 101). Given the declining rating of the PCRM, 4–5 out of 7 parties credited with the necessary potential could succeed the 6-percent electoral threshold, though three parties only have succeeded at the 2001 and 2005 elections. The PCRM is probably calculating from the perspective that it will need at least 41 mandates to maintain its status of main political force (being able to block the election of the new President by The Parliament). For these reasons, it is logical to be decided to target at least two parties, the CDPP and DPM, which it avoids to antagonise. The reason is clear. Both of them have been tried through the “April 4, 2005 vote” for the re-election of President Voronin. If they voted then and generally kept their electorate at the 2007 general local elections, why should they be afraid of an eventual ruling coalition with the PCRM after the 2009 elections? In particular, President Voronin will have to withdraw from the forefront in 2009. An eventual coalition with the PCRM, which would eventually push Marian Lupu, Zinaida Greceaini and other members of her cabinet to the forefront, would not be as blameable for public opinion as the “April 4 vote” was. Now one shall wait to see whether the DPM and CDPP will succeed the electoral threshold and whether they will want to join the PCRM calculations. The situation of the DPM seems to be better than of the CDPP. Neither the PCRM, nor the liberal opposition want to antagonise the DPM, hoping that they could need its support. This fact may ensure very favourable campaigning conditions to the DPM. But the DPM may have problems because of very different visions of its leaders regarding issues of major importance. It seems that the CDPP faces multiple difficulties. The main problem rests with the very negative attitude of a segment of the media supporting the liberal opposition against the CDPP. Also, the CDPP did not face internal problems in the past 10 years related to withdrawal of many known personalities like it faces at present. At the same time, the rating of the CDPP was lower in the early 2000s than at present while the party has maintained a standard number of votes at the 2005 parliamentary and 2007 local elections.