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Democratic standards: before or after…

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Igor Botan / July 15, 2008
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Test of 2009 parliamentary elections

The president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), Lluis Maria de Puig, has addressed members of the Moldovan Parliament confirming some facts that Moldovan authorities know very well from other pan-European institutions, E.U. and U.S. officials. Messages are part of the context of permanent reiteration of irreversibility of the European integration option by Moldovan authorities and De Puig has clearly stated in this respect: “You have the chance to join the EU but only after the Council of Europe will categorically decide that democratic developments in your country are irreversible. That’s why elections shall demonstrate these changes.” Recommendations have been very clear — taking into account the notice by the Venice Commission regarding the electoral threshold, prohibition of pre-electoral blocs, restricted public and eligible functions for holders of dual citizenship.

The only focus, in particular, the 2009 parliamentary elections, is the most important democratic test for Moldova and it shall be treated very seriously. So far, reactions by Moldovan high-ranking functionaries are the following — will see, will examine, these are just recommendations. The Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova (PCRM) does not warm calls such as mentioned above after about eight years of rule. But this is a cogent fact certified by OSCE monitoring reports that the freest and fairest elections ever held in Moldova were the 2001 parliamentary elections that the PCRM has won as an opposition political force. There is a legitimate question here: what about PCRM to restore competitive electoral conditions it has enjoyed in 2001?

It is well-known that three fundamental things for free and fair elections have been ensured in 2001: the independence of electoral bodies; minimisation of influence of administrative factor; and free, practical, equal access of all electoral competitors to mass media. According to OSCE reports, only political influences in electoral bodies are balanced due to their building formulas which fit 2005 amendments to the Electoral Code. It is true that international election observance missions did not ever raise serious claims against Central Election Commission (CEC), noting its professionalism and balanced actions. The massive interference of administrative factor and biased conduct of mass media have been signaled after the 2001 elections, particularly the 2003 local elections and 2005 parliamentary elections.

The last factor will be unlikely redressed in the near future. So-called “media holdings” did not exist in 2001, when free and fair elections could be held. There are such holdings at present and their “owners” want results. “Media holdings” ostentatiously self-declare promoters and supporters of high-ranking dignitaries, as the latter accept interviews with these outlets alone. The bad side is that editorial policies are regarded in these circumstances as promoters of the official political line, though this fact is usually denied.

Who is squared of “American danger”?

Pre-electoral propagandistic hysterias have become a common thing after 2001. They may aim at justifying in advance eventual anti-democratic slipping during elections. The same government-affiliated media outlets which during preparations for the 2005 elections revealed the scenario of the “sunflower revolution” that allegedly aimed to overthrow the ruling party has defused a propagandistic “bomb” on the U.S. National Day, invoking the danger that two American organisations implementing assistance programmes in Moldova under the USAID auspices want to undermine the ruling party.

Should propaganda makers be reasonable, they would provide facts before making fire. For example, Moldovan political parties including PCRM and electoral bodies have been also assisted in 2001 by U.S. organisations operating under the auspices of USAID programmes for Moldova. Nobody thought then to accuse those organisations of having cooperated for the collapse of democrats and victory of communists. On the contrary, all recognised and appreciated the democratic nature and quality of elections.

Or let’s give other new examples. Elections for Governor and People’s Assembly of Gagauzia took place in 1999. They were almost unobserved as they were calm and peaceful. There is a question here — why the situation in Gagauzia is now on the bridge of a serious instability, as American organisations did never operate in Gagauzia? Representatives of European and American organisations invited the governing and the opposition after the 2005 parliamentary elections to find a common ground and ensure political stability, isn’t it?

Who is squared of Russia’s Friends in Moldova?

Propaganda assaults against opposition, libelling of the opposition, intimidation of its leaders via administrative levers have unfortunately become common things in the Republic of Moldova. Pan-European institutions would not invite Moldovan authorities to demonstrate capacity to respect democratic standards, should this be wrong. In this context, sources closed to the organisational committee of the association Russia’s Friends in Moldova report “unprecedented pressures” against founders of this association.

In principle, Russia’s Friends in Moldova should not pose any danger to the acting ruling party. Firstly, the association Russia’s Friends in Moldova is headed by former premier Vasile Tarlev, who is close to President Voronin and was awarded the highest state medal, the Order of the Republic, working side by side with the chief of state for seven years. Secondly, Russia’s Friends in Moldova claim only the status of nongovernmental organisation and this is not a socio-political organisation for the time being. However, the chief of state has recently had to send TV messages to the former premier, assuring him that he is still regarded as member of the PCRM team. These messages revealed that fears that Vasile Tarlev is preparing his political project are grounded. There are little doubts now that the platform Russia’s Friends in Moldova is intermediary to rejoin politics on own. In this respect, President Voronin’s denials that the eventual project of the former premier has been coordinated with him are credible.

Truly, why two characters from the same team with a measurable rating would participate separately in the 2009 elections? In particular, the column Russia’s Friends of the former premier is divided on the leftwing of the PCRM-controlled segment. The Socialist Party and the Labour Union Patria-Moldova have disappeared from this segment. The Party of Socialists has been cooperative with the PCRM after the modernisation of the latter, and combating the electoral force of the Ravnopravye Movement does not deserve the “splitting of the PCRM columns on the left.” Nor the “splitting in the centre” of the PCRM columns deserves any effort. Anyway, the undivided PCRM is so far the strongest party capable to find coalition partners without well-prepared artifices.

Indeed, former premier Tarlev has recently acknowledged to the newspaper Yekonomicheskoye Obozrenie that he would like to become prime minister again. He made this revelation after saying three months ago that he was tired and decided to lay grounds of a new tradition in Moldovan politics — voluntary and unforced resignation. This was the first mistake from a long range which deteriorated the image of the former premier very much. If he was recommended to tender resignation then why did he say that he was laying grounds of a new tradition? All knew that the former premier respected an old tradition of Byzantine origin. He could simply quit by keeping silence.

Secondly, by calling his organisation Russia’s Friends in Moldova the former premier has neglected a very delicate thing. For example, the chief of state self-declared “First Gagauz” and Vasile Tarlev should know very well how much President Voronin likes to be always the first. Now, if President Voronin is not member of the initiative group, one may doubt that he would be the first “Friend of Russia in Moldova?” That’s too much. In particular, the initiative group includes leaders of the movement “Patriots of Moldova” and other persons who have bitterly and vehemently criticised the foreign policy of President Voronin towards Russia, as well as the governor of Gagauzia who is considered a dedicated political enemy of the chief of state.

Thirdly, by launching his project the former premier did not self-assure against some confusions. The fact that a character like Nicolae Ciornii had to deny that: “I have never been member of the organisation Russia’s Friends in Moldova or any other organisation or political movement in Moldova. The report that I have been elected deputy chairman of the organisational committee of this organisation is untrue; it is conjectural and destabilising for society. Being deputy chairman of the Russian company LUKOIL, in charge with the bloc of countries which includes Moldova, I have always guided myself on principles not to get involved in political processes in these countries…,” undermine dramatically the authority and credibility of the former premier. This cannot be compared with laying down basis of a new tradition in Moldovan policy. Vasile Tarlev and the entire initiative group of Russia’s Friends are suspected of being forgers. By attracting a businessman like Nicolae Ciornii in his project, Tarlev should realise that pushing him to the forehead is dangerous. Perhaps Tarlev does not consult his former counterpart, former premier Ion Sturza, who has recently confirmed that “big deals are made in silence.” Ion Sturza had been prime minister for seven months in 1999, compared with 7 years of Tarlev. However, the first demonstrates impressive skills in using the “red blade” with Russian elites while the latter proves that he cannot defend his strongest adherents.

Fourthly, the former premier did not take into account the experience of true and tested friends of Russia such as former defence minister and former SIS director Valeriu Pasat. Or this is maybe an act of courage? The fact that former RAO ES manager Anatoli Ciubais said a year ago that Pasat was amnestied after two years and half of detention at the intervention of former president Vladimir Putin is a proof in this respect. Although Pasat’s case was asymmetrical, as he was attending the Patria-Rodina Congress in Moscow prior to the 2005 parliamentary elections, this was enough to accuse him of crimes committed in 1997. Now when elections are closer, Moldovan law enforcement bodies have recalled crimes committed allegedly by Pasat. In this regard, former premier Tarlev does not have why to be afraid, as he was awarded the Order of the Republic by President Voronin himself and this could mean that he has perfectly served his Homeland.

Fifthly, the former premier has co-participated seven years after the 2001 free and fair elections in building a system that intimidates now members of the initiative group (according to their statements) with which he is building the Association Russia’s Friends in Moldova. If so, before launching an own political project the former premier should have remorse that he subdues his fellows to intimidating dangers. But in spite of all mistakes by former premier, nobody should halt him in a state based on the rule of law with European aspirations to exercise his right to association in nongovernmental organisations or politics on his own. Of course, he should not give up and deny in the last moment that the story about Russia’s Friends in Moldova was an intervention of those willing the bad.

Conclusions

There are a series of signals that the PCRM is troubled inside before the 2009 parliamentary elections. The worries are particularly linked to policies promoted by the party leadership rather than by external factors. Some examples below will confirm this conclusion:

The examples above should prove that all PCRM problems emerge from inside of the party and development of the hysteria of “American” or Russian “danger” is linked to technologies of manipulation of public opinion before elections. The best solution for Moldova is to follow calls by PACE president cited above and ensure campaigning conditions at least like in 2001.

Republic of Moldova shall join EU one day, somehow… Terms to schedule elections