Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 222

President Petru Lucinschi and Communist Party leader Vladimir Voronin are jointly reshaping the Moldovan government to their own advantage and the detriment of Moldova’s independence. Lucinschi and Voronin–the past and the current leader, respectively, of the republic’s Communist Party–have forged a tactical alliance in Moldova’s increasingly chaotic power struggle. In advance of next month’s presidential election, the head of state and the leader of the strongest party are counting on Russian support against their center-right rivals. Lucinschi is fighting for political survival; Voronin’s party, for a large share of state power. And both are prepared to tolerate the presence of Russian troops in Moldova as part of the overall bargain.

Following consultations in and with Moscow, Voronin last week pulled out of a power-sharing compromise with the centrist Democratic Party of Parliament Chairman Dumitru Diacov (see the Monitor, November 27). Voronin hopes that the evenly divided parliament will elect him, however narrowly, as head of state in next month’s presidential election. Aware, however, that deadlock is at least as likely, Voronin and Lucinschi have decided to join forces in the follow-up stage.

If four rounds of parliamentary balloting fail to produce a president, the incumbent Lucinschi is entitled to dissolve the parliament and call new legislative elections. The existing cabinet of ministers under Lucinschi’s ally, Prime Minister Dumitru Braghis, would use its influence to ensure the election of a sizeable number of pro-Lucinschi candidates. The Communists, for their part, are confident of preserving and even enlarging their 40-percent share of parliamentary seats. That would make a lasting power-sharing arrangement among the Communists and Lucinschi possible, rescue the latter’s political career, marginalize the center-right and pro-Western political groups, and freeze the Russian military presence–with or without a political settlement in Transdniester.

Lucinschi, Braghis and Voronin are now reshuffling the cabinet of ministers in accordance with those ideas while demonstratively ignoring the non-leftist half of parliament. On November 22, the Western-oriented Foreign Affairs Minister Nicolae Tabacaru was replaced with Nicolae Cernomaz, who took office yesterday. The Communist Party’s second-in-command, Victor Stepaniuc, verbalized what Lucinschi and Braghis chose to keep to themselves: that Tabacaru was being released “because of his pro-Western stance.”

The new minister’s inaugural statement promised to maintain Chisinau’s European orientation–provided, however, that Europe is understood as stretching “to the Urals.” That new and crucial qualification would imply a change of course. Cernomaz–in common with Braghis–is a member of Lucinschi’s narrow circle of former Komsomol officials of 1970s vintage. From 1997 to 1999, Cernomaz served as minister of state and head of the State Chancellery–the top civil service post and keeper of the presidency’s innermost secrets. In 1999, Lucinschi rescued Cernomaz from a anticorruption investigation by sending him as ambassador to Hungary with multiple accreditation in several Central European countries.

During the successive presidencies of Mircea Snegur (1991-96) and Lucinschi, the Foreign Affairs Ministry enjoyed leeway to pursue a clearly pro-Western course even as the presidents themselves were careful to show deference to Russia. The ministry’s senior officials had–and still have–their sights set firmly westward, never to the “Urals.” With Cernomaz’ appointment, the ministry’s leeway will probably be curtailed. The new minister has lost no time announcing personnel changes at the senior level. Some key policy makers will be transferred from the ministry to decorative ambassadorships in the West, losing influence on the ministry’s decisionmaking.

On the same dates as Cernomaz, the Communist parliamentary deputy Ilie Vancea was appointed and took office as education minister. In Moldova’s specific conditions, that ministry is an electoral tool, essential to any successful campaign. The ministry’s schools in towns and villages are being used as venues for electoral meetings and as polling stations. Headmasters are often ordered to host electoral meetings on school premises for the party of power only, keeping other candidates out. Schoolteachers are often required to do electoral canvassing and also to serve as members of electoral commissions, vote-counters and election observers. While some teachers display integrity in the process, many obey orders from hierarchical superiors to help the party which controls the Education Ministry. Vancea’s appointment is a sure sign that the Communists and Lucinschi have begun preparations for pre-term parliamentary elections, to be held in January if the parliament fails to elect a new president in December.

The center-right half of the parliament lost no time protesting against ministerial appointments about which it had never been consulted. In reply, Braghis assumed responsibility while Voronin declared that it was sufficient for Lucinschi to consult the Communist Party as the largest one by far. This unprecedented procedure would seem to open the prospect of rule by the triumvirate Lucinschi-Braghis-Voronin, with the latter best placed to hold the balance of power ahead of the presidential election in December and the possible parliamentary elections in January (Flux, Basapress, Infotag, November 24-28; see the Monitor, July 10, September 19, November 27).