Democracy Rising

"Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable" ~ President John F. Kennedy

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Moldova: 'Cuba of Europe' to Democratic Beacon?

April 2001. The first communist government to be democratically elected since 1991 comes into being. Vladimir Voronin a former bakery director and police general during Soviet times becomes President. In his opening speech to parliament he pledges to create ‘modern socialism’ by increasing the role of the state in running the economy and forging closer ties with the increasingly authoritarian Russia. He goes on to describe his vision for Moldova as the 'Cuba of Europe' holding out against "imperialist predators" in what many believe to be a swipe at America. Within the same month his party sacks the heads of state television and radio for providing 'unbalanced programming'. Yet another eastern European nation appears to be sliding towards authoritarianism...

July 2005. President Voronin, speaking to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty " I see my obligation in ... developing the country within the community of the modern European states -- this is our current task, a quite ambitious one, and by this I am referring to European integration."

Is this dramatic U-turn Voronin's awakening to Western ideals, or a pragmatic 'band-wagon' approach, designed to please EU and U.S backers of recent 'colour revolutions'?

The Communists (PCRM) certainly appear to have zig-zagged between Democracy and Authoritarianism at various points during their tenure.

In 2000 despite an earlier referendum, considered free and fair, expressing citizens desire for a stronger Presidency, the Communist legislature removed many of the powers of, and abolished direct elections for, the Head of State. Even to this day around 80% of those surveyed in opinion polls support the reutrn of Presidential elections. Interestingly Voronin adressing Parliament prior to the March elections stated that he would democratize society in line with the first Copenhagen criteria. Yet no attempts to reinstate direct elections have been made and if the opposition is to be believed the Communists are actually back-tracking on their democratic pledges. The 'United Gagauzia' movement claims:

"In September [2005], the Popular Assembly [of the Gagauzia Autonomous Republic] is going to sit and submit to the Moldovan Parliament a legislative initiative on amending the Law on the Special Legal Status of Gagauz Yeri [Gagauzian Land] in a way to equip the Popular Assembly with the exclusive right to elect the Governor"

Previously, as had been the case nationally, the head of the republic was directly elected by the people. The opposition fears that a similar scenario to that of 2000 in the national legislature, will be repeated in Gagauzia. Perhaps the reason for this rests with the dramatic fall in Gagauz support PCRM suffered during this years parliamentary elections. In 2001 they had the backing of 80% of voters, yet this has now dipped to 30%. This dramatic tumble can largely be attributed to the Central Authorities behaviour in 2002, as outlined by the U.S state department report from the following year:

"In 2002, central authorities pressured the Gagauzia Governor Dmitry Croitor to resign, and there were irregularities in the October 2002 elections that replaced him with Communist candidate Gheorghe Tabunschik. Gagauz observers complained that the Government did not abide by the terms of the agreement giving Gagauzia autonomous status and that it enacted laws that contradicted both local and national legislation establishing Gagauzia's autonomy. Gagauz opposition figures argued that harassment continued in the May 25 mayoral races in the region."

As the above quote, and explanation for an alleged change in electoral system for Gagauzia demonstrates, the government, despite its European aspirations, appears to regularly influence elections in order that its candidates succeed. The recent legislative elections appear to be a case of such 'influence'

Despite being regarded as largely 'free and fair' by most Western observers, all pointed to the major problem of bias within the state media. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe noted:

"In the period from 1 February to 4 March, the news bulletins on Moldova 1 gave some 73 percent of time to cover the ruling party and officials affiliated to it, either in positive or neutral contexts, while BMD received 13 percent, almost half of which was in a negative also reported that context, and PPCD three percent, equally distributed among positive, neutral, and negative contexts. The time dedicated to PSDM also reached three percent"

They also claimed that:

'...a credible report was made of a university dean being pressured to ensure that students attended campaign activities of the ruling party. In one instance, students were threatened with failing grades'

In their final report they recommended:

"Measures should be taken to ensure that all contestants have free and equal access to voters and can campaign without any impediments. The authorities must ensure that local government and police do not unduly interfere in campaign activities. "

The government has however, largely failed to rectify the situation at the time of writing. The Chisinau mayoral election report contained an almost parallel assesment of the legislative vote. Again the vote "..generally complied with most OSCE commitments and Council of Europe election standards," but TeleRadio Moldova was once more criticized for its unbalanced reporting. The organisation also stated that, once more, there were "instances of abuse of public resources and illegal campaigning by state employees"

This is not to say that the Moldovan governments sails have gone entirely against the winds of democracy. In July they ammended the electoral threshold for parties and "social political organizations" from 6 percent to 4 percent and for electoral blocs of two or more parties to 8 percent. This should result in a more democratic parliament, than under the current scenario where, despite proportional representation, the PCRM has been able to gain majorities without the need for support from other parties. It is highly likely, looking through the 2005 percentages, that at least two other parties will be able to pass this threshold by the 2009 elections.

Voronin has, in recent months, eagerly attempted to be seen as part of the 'colour revolution' leaders club. He has thrown himself into the GUAM revival, where the more 'democratic' nations of the CIS have found a common home. The reason for this, appears to be largely pragmatism.

Stuart Henselan analyst at the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) says Russia wasn’t proving to be the ally the Communists had hoped for in 2001:

“They (the Communists) came to power thinking they could get a lot more out of that [relationship with Moscow] and have been dismayed by how little they’ve gotten. They think Russia’s been very uncooperative and unhelpful in solving the Transdniester issue, so I think that’s led to a lot of disappointment over Russia. And then I think there’s also a growing sense amongst the Communists that Moldova actually has a lot to gain through a closer partnership with Europe. They’ve begun to see that there is a lot of potential there and that they should maybe pursue that as a more beneficial partnership than the Russian one,” Hensel says.

This is largely true. Russia's foreign policy has been, in recent years, concerned with maintaining its influence and dominance over the post-Soviet space, at all costs. Moscow's desire to maintain its grip on Transdniester stems from Putin's seemingly obsessive behaviour - designed to maintain a de facto Russian empire against the U.S.A, and to keep the EU from creeping closer to its border, with its powerful economy and democratic ideals. These issues are obviously far more complex and worthy of another article in their own right, but in the short, Transdniester needs Russia (its the only nation that recognises it). Russia gives the republic almost all of its military, economic, financial and political support. Without Russia this last European baton of Leninism would most likely collapse within days, and so its unrecognized status suits Russias cause. If Transdniester became a UN member, or legally reunited with its brothers to the west, it could forge close ties with the EU and U.S and reject Russia as its closest ally. Therefore the regions current statu quo, in the bosom of Moscow, makes it a more reliable partner, than the sovereign (and more democratic) Moldova. This explains the Kremlin's position, and why Moldova was doomed to be infuriated by it.

So what of Moldova? Is Voronin a Dictator or Democrat at heart?

Few would argue that the PCRM are authoritarian in their style of rule, but to compare them to a dictator such as Islam Karimov is certainly wrong. Infact a comparison with Leonid Kuchma or Askar Akayev, so called 'soft-authoritarian' leaders would, in my opinion, be innacurate. These former leaders may well have allowed a restricted independent media and opposition groups, but both appeared prepared to hang on to power at all costs. Rigged elections to their name led to accusations of 'managed democracy'. As, rather interestingly, President Putin said this week "I don't know what this is. Democracy either exists or it doesn't exist. It cannot be set apart from the rule of law"

I am of the opinion that Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine and Georgia in their past states form a middle ground of 'medium authoritarianism'. Moldova, I believe is a truer example of this 'soft' category. Its government can be grouped with those of Kenya and more significantly Romania, as nations whose leaders may have appeared dictatorial but were prepared to allow democratic elections.

Bucharest, lying to the west of Moldova, may give a clue as to the type of government Voronin leads. In December 2004 Traian Basescu swept to power and replaced the Socialist President, Ion Iliescu.

Mr Iliescu can hardly be desribed as 'democrat of the century'. After the overthrow of Nicolae Ceauşescu his 'National Salvation Front' went back on its earlier pledge to merely organize elections, and instead decided to participate - capturing over 80% of the vote. He is largely held responsible for calling miners to Bucharest on 28 January and June 14, 1990 to end the non-violent protests against himself and other ex-communist leaders. This ended in a bloody massacre where as many as a hundred people died. He also violated the constitution by promoting another candidate in the 2004 Presidential election, even though the Head of State is supposed to be apolitical. He countered this with the argument that he was "the president of Romania, not Switzerland". His final days in office were busied with issuing pardons to former associates such as Miron Cozma, the convicted leader of the miners.

The U.S state department report for Romania - 2003, almost mirrors that of Moldova's. Such problems as bias in the state broadcaster, judicial impartiality and some problems regarding the electoral process all appear. Yet despite all these problems, Iliescu never rigged an election and knew when to step down. In fact he did so twice. Originally defeated in 1996, he won re-election in 2000. He oversaw the transition at the end of both terms, to an opposition leader.

It appears that Iliescu sought to influence politics using less than constitutional means, yet he maintained the basic principle of democracy (free and fair elections) throughout. It could be said that Voronin is taking a similar path, albeit without the help of miners, whereby he attempts to keep power by using so-called 'dirty tricks' to confuse and discredit the opposition. I don't believe that PCRM will change their ways whilst Voronin leads them. He clearly sees state control of TeleRadio Moldova and other questionable methods as acceptable, and there is no doubt that the desire to spread democracy by the Bush administration has clearly come at the right time. Moldova will, in 10 years, be flanked by what should be 2 powerful European economies, Romania and Ukraine. Their financial assistance, as well as their experiences of the transition to democracy, will prove invaluable to Moldova. If it can bring Transdniester back under its wing, with the regions vast industry, the nations economy will certainly kick start and peoples living conditions should gradually start to improve. Europe certainly appears to be the correct direction for Moldova to face in the new century, and as long as Moldova maintains its commitment to democracy, Cuba will seem very far away......


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