MOLDOVA: TAMING THE COMMUNISTS?
Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 173
In April of this year, Moldova came very close to making history as the first post-Soviet country to install a communist government. President Petru Lucinschi and the Communist Party had made an alliance, designed to secure Lucinschi’s reelection this coming November and the lion’s share of government posts for the Communists ahead of the presidential election. The Communists and the pro-presidential deputies fell just a few votes short of mustering the necessary number of votes in parliament for installing a Communist-dominated government.
As it turns out, the parliamentary forces which thwarted the Lucinschi-Communist combination did so only in order to strike their own deal with the Communists against the president. Led by the centrist Speaker Dumitru Diacov, those otherwise heterogeneous groups defeated Lucinschi in a constitutional conflict and turned Moldova into a parliamentary republic, its president into a virtual figurehead, and Lucinschi into a lameduck who should leave office in November.
The Communist Party was content to watch the final stages of that struggle from the sidelines, in the classical role of tertius gaudens. Not until the last moment did it pick and side with the apparent winners–that is, the ad-hoc and unstable coalition under Diacov. The Communists ultimately backed that coalition solely on of its fissiparous and transitory nature. That makes the coalition–and Diacov himself–a weaker and more dependent partner than Lucinschi would have been to the Communists.
Under the revised constitution, the parliament holds sweeping powers, including appointing the government (thus controlling access to graft and the other spoils of unreformed governance). The chairman of parliament is now the most influential official in the land. The president is elected by parliament with the vote of at least three-fifths of the deputies–that is, 61 out of the 101 parliamentarians.
Bargaining is now in full swing in Chisinau over the composition of the government and the election of the president. The Communists–notable for their “voting discipline”–hold forty parliamentary seats. The balance of seats is divided among five mutually suspicious–indeed often mutually hostile–and at times undisciplined groups: (1) Diacov’s “centrist” Democratic Party (the renamed Movement for a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova); (2) former President Mircea Snegur’s “right-of-center” Party of Rebirth and Conciliation; (3) the self-styled “right-wing” Popular Christian-Democratic Party (former Popular Front.; (4) the Party of Democratic Forces, authentically right-wing, pro-Western, and smallest parliamentary group; and (5) the caucus of Lucinschi’s loyalists, fighting a rearguard battle and pondering a recourse to extraparliamentary methods, such as a referendum, in the hope of reversing the constitutional changes which the parliament enacted.
Diacov and the Communist Party’s Central Committee first secretary, Vladimir Voronin, are acting as a tandem. They will divide the presidency and the parliamentary chairmanship among themselves and play the main role in apportioning government posts. The parliament’s vice-chairmanship is already held by a Communist–namely, Vadim Mishin, a Russian from Kazakhstan and former Soviet MVD major-general.
Diacov has proven to be a masterful tactician in leading the fight against Lucinschi. That conflict was unnecessary and debilitating, with baneful consequences for reforms and the investment climate. Within little more than one year, Diacov turned from the president’s sidekick into his rival and nemesis. Key to Diacov’s success was the maneuver to win the Communist Party over as his ally, leaving Lucinschi out in the cold. But Diacov’s tactical success may prove a strategic defeat for Moldova as a state, should the Communist Party choose to throw its weight around in parliament and the government.
Whether Diacov intends simply to use the Communists or will end up being used by them is, in the final analysis, moot. More pertinent, Diacov’s and the parliament’s exercise of power will become an exercise in compromise between noncommunists and the Reds at every step and on every important issue. For now, Diacov is engaged in a two-track effort of taming the Communists internally and “selling” them externally. He hardly needs to recommend them to Moscow, inasmuch as his power-sharing deal with them means greater Russian influence on Moldova. But Diacov does feel that he must introduce his new ally to Western governments and to Moldova’s creditors.
Earlier this month, Diacov and Voronin paid a “working visit” to Washington together as Moldova’s new ruling duo. Voronin, who does not yet hold state office, acted in his capacity as Communist leader. They jointly met with U.S. State Department and National Security Council officials as well as with representatives of lending institutions. Diacov publicly stated that Communist strength in Moldova “is a political reality which must be taken into account;” and that Chisinau’s “Western partners should get to know face to face the men they will have to work with.”
If that sounds like pragmatism, Diacov’s accompanying remarks sound like a sacrifice of core principles. He said that Moldova is situated “between East [read: Russia] and West” and must balance the two sets of interests. That purported axiom grows out of Diacov’s alliance with the Communists. It throws into question Moldova’s European choice, which all governments from 1990 to date pursued, and undercuts the position of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, which remains committed to that European choice in spite of ambivalence at the top.
Last week, a World Bank delegation in Chisinau added a lengthy, unprecedented meeting with the Communist leader to its schedule. This yielded detailed Moldovan press releases, according to which Voronin denounced the idea of privatization as such, rejected the privatization of Moldova’s leading industries–wine-making and tobacco–but graciously accepted Western financing of certain social protection programs in Moldova, also discoursing on the relative merits of World Bank and Chinese programs for social protection.
Diacov’s apparent goal of taming the Communist Party is not in itself unrealistic. It may prove possible to capitalize on the division between the Communist leaders and the rank and file. Voronin, Mishin and a few others are “rynochniki”–men who became relatively wealthy in the market economy–with personal stakes in entrepreneurship and in the continuation of Moldovan independent statehood. Nor have they, thus far, questioned the status quo in matters of language or citizenship legislation–a status quo which pleases the “Russian-speaking population.” And they do favor some form of reintegration of Transdniester with right-bank Moldova, if only to add to Communist strength in Chisinau. Voronin himself, his surname notwithstanding, is a Moldovan originally from Transdniester.
While some Communist Party leaders might be willing to act as a fifth column, others–perhaps most of them–may well be unwilling. But by the same token, none of the Communist leaders can realistically be expected to press for the withdrawal of Russian troops, or firmly to resist Russian demands in a crunch, let alone move forward on economic reforms. And their leeway such as it exists will be constrained by their electorate. Therein lies an even deeper problem.
The Communist electorate is distinctly more backward-looking, compared to the party’s professional–and, in some cases, cynical–politicians. Most Communist voters tend to expect those leaders to press for the restoration of the Soviet system. The leaders at times act under pressure from below, concerned lest they lose grassroots support. “Russian-speakers” are overrepresented in the Communist electorate: They make up some 25-30 percent of the population of right-bank Moldova, but account for a substantially higher proportion of Communist votes. Yet it would be wrong to describe the Communist electoral base as “Russian-speaking” because it includes many Moldovans.
That electorate is far more active and disciplined than other parties’. But it is for the most part elderly and thus subject to natural attrition. It is possible that Communist strength will decline in the next parliament–to be elected in 2002–and thereafter. And it may also be that the Communist leaders, or most of them, prove ultimately amenable to “taming” by Diacov and other “pragmatic centrists.” But the exercise will entail certain high costs. First, economic distress unrelieved by reforms and foreign investment. Second, impasse in Transdniester. And, third, Chisinau balancing uneasily and unnecessarily between the West and that no longer existing “Eastern superpower” (Basapress, Flux, September 5-6, 9, 15, 18; see the Monitor, April 12, 18, 24, July 10, September 11).
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