COMMUNIST PRESIDENT VORONIN TAKES OVER.

Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 67

On April 4, Moldova became the first post-communist country to elect an active communist as president. Vladimir Voronin, first secretary of Moldova’s Party of Communists, was voted in as head of state by the parliament with seventy-one votes in his favor, out of the total of 101. The event is a corollary of the Communist Party’s triumph in the February 25 parliamentary elections.

The party entered a second candidate in the balloting to avoid the embarrassment of a one-man contest. The “centrist” group led by the acting Prime Minister Dumitru Braghis entered him as well in the contest. That entry spared the Communists another embarrassment–that of a single-party contest. Braghis’ willingness to play along suggests that he and Moscow supporters continue to angle for a deal with Voronin, who would rather not share power. In the event, Braghis and the Communist extra received fifteen and three votes, respectively.

His Russified surname notwithstanding, Voronin is officially registered as an ethnic Moldovan and is a native speaker of that language. Born in 1941 in the Dubasari district in Transdniester, Voronin typifies the Soviet apparatchiks who rose from the lower-level economic nomenklatura to medium-level party posts to the high nomenklatura of Soviet law enforcement agencies. Trained as an engineer for the food-processing industry, Voronin managed some Moldovan factories in that sector, went on to study at the CPSU Central Committee Academy in Moscow, headed district- and city-level party organizations in Moldova–including that of the city of Bendery–and held in 1989-90 the post of internal affairs minister of the Moldovan SSR with the rank of an MVD major-general. From 1990 to 1993, Voronin officially belonged to the personnel reserve of the Russian Federation’s Internal Affairs Ministry, a fact which suggests that he held Russian citizenship for a time after 1991 even though he stayed in Moldova.

After the Communist Party was banned in Moldova, Voronin and his son went into private business and became wealthy by Moldovan standards. In 1993, Voronin reestablished the party under the slightly revamped name, Party of Communists, and became its undisputed leader the following year. In the 1996 presidential election, Voronin obtained 10 percent of the votes cast in the first round and endorsed Petru Lucinschi in the runoff, facilitating the latter’s victory. In the 1998 parliamentary elections, the Party of Communists made a strong comeback by gaining 31 percent of the votes cast and–thanks to the proportional system–forty seats out of 101 in the parliament. The party went on to gain 51 percent of the votes cast and seventy-one parliamentary seats in the recent pre-term elections. In sum, Voronin led the party on a spectacular ascending trajectory.

In the presidential election, held in November-December 2000, Voronin received the votes of fifty-nine deputies in the second round, just two votes short of victory. Evidently, eighteen “centrist” and “rightist” deputies took advantage of the secret ballot and joined the forty-one Communists in voting for Voronin as president. That came to pass yesterday and in a sense rewards Voronin for outmaneuvering the other party leaders and incumbent President Lucinschi during three years of political war of all against all.

As a political leader, Voronin is an authoritarian personality who thrives on enforcing party discipline and obedience to his person, and insists on controlling and at times micromanaging affairs at subordinate levels. He has scant regard for his party’s medium- and lower-ranking membership and even less for the party’s electorate. Those he tends to view as uneducated and beholden to outdated Soviet ideas. Voronin and a few other top party members are themselves enmeshed in the semi-private shadow economy and have also acquired political vested interests in the status quo. That stake cuts two ways, however. It should form a bar against resocialization of property and, equally, against progress toward fair and legal privatization and genuine market reforms.

Voronin and the group surrounding him hold views notably more moderate than those of their supporters. Their strategy thus far has rested on manipulating the Soviet nostalgia of the party’s local-level activists, of Russian/”Russian-speaking” ethnic communities, of Moldovan peasants hard hit by the privatization of agriculture, and of older age groups across ethnic and occupational lines. Voronin and his closest associates tell those groups what they wish to hear, but do not plan to live up to the letter of electoral promises, and will probably not be able to live up even to the extent they might desire.

That potential internal cleavage may open the prospect for the West to “do business with Voronin” politically. By the same token, it limits Voronin’s leeway to “do business” with the West, particularly in terms of accepting recommendations for market reforms. He is mindful of the risk that radicals may break off and take with them large segments of the party’s electorate.

Like many Moldovans–indeed most Moldovans in most age groups except perhaps the youngest–Voronin harbors an inchoate sense of national identity, broadly consistent with deference to Russia, yet insisting that Moldovans–defined by citizenship, not by ethnicity–must be in control of their own country. As a native of Transdniester, Voronin is personally hostile toward that region’s nonnative secessionist authorities, whom he sees as intruders, as do many communists in Chisinau. Therein lies hope that Voronin would seek to restore the country’s territorial integrity. But therein lies also the danger that he would, whether willingly or under constraint, buy Moscow’s consent by agreeing to host Russian troops in a reintegrated Moldova (Flux, Basapress, Infotag, Itar-Tass, April 1-4; see the Monitor, January 2, February 26, March 5, 7, 9, 13, 21, 27).

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