Wednesday, 8 April 2009

The Moldovan case: Some backgrounds on the political situation

Many of you might have been wondering about what is going on in Moldova these days.

You might have been realising by now that after Sunday's elections that resulted in a landslide victory of the ruling Communist Party, yesterday demonstrations and riots started in Chișinău (spoken: Kee-shee-now).

But what is the background of the story?

Moldova has been a semi-presidential republic until 2000. Until then, the president was elected directly by the people. The present President Vladimir Voronin (Communist Party) was the first president to be elected under the new constitution which requires a 3/5 majority of the parliament's votes (61 out of 101). Nevertheless, the institution of president under Voronin remained the most visible and most influential political post in the country, no matter if constitutionally the parliament incorporates the highest constitutional powers.

Still, after two terms in office, Voronin needs to step down as president now, whatever the results of the elections will be. Speculations before the elections were saying that after the elections Voronin might change his formal position and become, for example, speaker of the parliament or prime minister, which in practice would mean a shift of power to whatever institution Voronin would chose to go to, since not the formal position but the backing of the Communist Party, the important financial assets of his son and other unclear connections were the basis for his power.

The story of these elections starts, to a certain extend, with the local elections of 2007 where the Communists lost their power in many municipalities, towns, and also rayons (the Moldovan regions). Possibly in consequence of realising this defeat, the electoral law was changed in April 2008, the three major changes being:
  • the electoral threshold for parties was raised from 4% to 6%
  • electoral blocs, that is joint lists of different parties, were forbidden
  • candidates with double citizenship (which mostly means: Moldovan and Romanian) were not able to enter parliament
These changes were openly and clearly criticised by the OSCE/ODIHR and the Council of Europe's Venice Commission in a Joint Opinion from October 2008, recommendations that were openly rejected by the government, the president, and the parliamentary majority of the Communists.

Constitutionally, the elections had to take place between early March and early June, but were only called officially on 2 February 2009 for April 5. Over the course of the registration period 15 parties (out of 28 officially registered) were applying to run in these elections, plus 8 independent candidates of which 2 were rejected due to lack of valid signatures.

I won't go into details, because the interim reports by the OSCE/ODIHR election observation mission (linked here) give quite a good overview over the details of the pre-electoral campaigns.

Some words on the opposition: The three parties that have made it into the parliament now were the most likely competitors to pass the 6% threshold: The Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova (PLDM), the Liberal Party, and the Alliance "Our Moldova" (AMN).

The PLDM with its leader Vlat Filat was one of the main players during the election campaign. The party has been founded in 2007 and evolved quickly as a "new" opposition force, highly visible and able to dominate the agenda from the opposition side, in particular through its positively charismatic leader and a diverse team of advisors. They were able to organise two large demonstrations with more than 10,000 demonstrators on the large central place in Moldova that has gained international attention under the hashtag #pman (Piaţa Marii Adunări Naţionale, the Place of the Great National Gatherings).

The PL is led by Mihai Ghimpu, but more important is the very young Dorin Chirtoacă, his nephew, who has been elected Mayor of Chisinau in the third round of the local elections of 2007. He represents the young generation, those who have not been in powerful or administrative positions in the Soviet period. However, as a Mayor of Chisinau he was not able to fulfil the hopes of the young generation.

AMN is lead by Serafim Urecheanu, the former Mayor of Chisinau. This party, the rests of an electoral bloc that entered the last parliament in 2005 and fell apart quick after the elections, was the big winner of the 2007 regional elections. It managed to have a decent regional and local structure, something only the Communists had at the time and which was still their biggest advantage during the campaigning for these elections. AMN is also member of the European Liberals and Democrats, which is why AMN's youth organisation received some European attention during the campaign.

Already before the election day it was clear that the election process could not be regarded as completely free and fair.

This concerned, from the very early stages, in particular the media situation in the country, with the National Radio and Television (TeleRadio Moldova, TRM), the only Moldovan broadcaster that can be received by everyone in the country, being hardly accessible for the opposition forces apart from the participation in electoral debates and the broadcasting of two minutes of electoral spots per day during the two month (minus the time until registration) of the election campaign. Observers also noted the use of administrative resources by the president and the government for the electoral campaign as well as intimidation of campaigners, observers, and voters.

Another dimension is adding up to the present situation: the relations with Romania. The independent statehood of Moldova was contested by certain political forces from the beginning - and it is still a contested in issue in Moldova today. The Moldovan language is in fact a Romanian dialect and at the beginning the "state language" (which is the diplomatic/administrative term for the Moldovan Romanian) was clearly named as "Romanian" but erased from the constitution later, in particular because of the large Russian minority and the practice of Russian being a second lingua franca in Moldova.

Yet, there are still forces in Moldova who consider the country part of the larger Romanian state, and the Moldovan government has accused the Romanian authorities several times that they would foster these movements, inter alia by issuing Romanian citizenship to Moldovans with ancestors in the former greater Romania (which is why the double citizenship clause was included into the electoral law; see above).

Border controls to Romania had already been tightened before the elections, in connection to claims that Romanians were planning a coup - which the Moldovan authorities now see confirmed by the raising of Romanian flags during the demonstrations yesterday, and which is why the Romanian ambassador has been asked today to leave the country and Romanian citizens will need a visa to go to Moldova from today.

In addition, since many students from Moldova are studying in Romania - among other things because of the corruption in the Moldovan education system - there were more issues at the border stations where several students who wanted to join the protests in the home country were stopped and not allowed to enter their country.

I will stop here. Altogether, this is a pretty tricky situation, and I am watching carefully what is going on there.


Dan O'Huiginn said...

Many thanks for writing this; it is considerably more informative than most of what I've seen in the media.

Mihai said...

Very good post. I just want to point out that it should be obvious that the Romanian government was not involved in any coup and that in fact there was no attempted coup in Moldova.

The fact that the Romanian flag was raised on their parliament is definitely not a proof of Romania's involvement. As you pointed out there are forces in Moldova that favor union with Romania, a sentiment shared by many in Romania.