On March 22, Moldova will elect a new parliament for a four-year term. The country entered the electoral campaign while in a state of economic crisis, political drift, territorial dismemberment and vulnerability to Russian pressure through Transdniester — the last European area under unlawful foreign military control. The country’s general crisis includes a breakdown of the multiparty system. Nonpartisan local observers are concerned lest this election perpetuate that breakdown by producing a dysfunctional parliament, devoid of a coherent majority, riven by ideological divisions, and in which the parties splinter into competing subgroups loyal to individual would-be leaders. Those were the characteristics of the outgoing parliament during the last two years of its life. In the meantime, the electoral campaign has led not to consolidation but instead to deeper fragmentation of the political spectrum, foreshadowing deadlock in the new legislature.
In the outgoing parliament, incompatible groups successfully united only when it came to thwarting the policies of the executive branch. This situation may well continue in the new parliament. President Petru Lucinschi, a reformist former leader of the Moldovan Communist party, is being opposed on both sides. First, by leftist and pro-Russian groups for his reformist record. Second, by self-styled "rightist" groups for his unwillingness to promote the Romanian national idea in Moldova. Moreover, groups loyal to former President Mircea Snegur — Lucinschi’s personal rival — augmented the antipresidential front in the parliament and mass media. They look set to continue doing so after the new parliament is in place. Because it is pieced together of such disparate elements, the antipresidential front has been dubbed "the monstrous [freak] coalition." The president’s supporters may well remain an isolated minority in the new parliament.
Moldova’s electoral law, based on the proportional system, favors political fragmentation. The president’s supporters were unsuccessful in their attempts last year to introduce a mixed system, in which up to half of the parliament’s seats would have gone to deputies elected in single-mandate territorial districts. The electoral law treats the entire country as one electoral district, and divides the parliament’s 104 seats proportionately among the party slates which garner at least four percent of the total number of votes cast countrywide.
At least seven parties and blocs may enter the new parliament.
The Agrarian Democratic party, which was numerically dominant in parliament most of the time since 1991, currently finds itself in a state of advanced decomposition. Many ADP deputies and local organizations have left the party to join its various competitors. What remains of the ADP is divided in three distinct factions: open or covert supporters of Snegur; adherents of a leftward course, led by the long-serving former Prime Minister Andrei Sangheli (in that office from 1992 to 1997); and a disoriented rump under Parliament Chairman Dumitru Motpan, who is also the ADP’s chairman. The three factions have managed to join on a single slate with a program labeled "centrist." The ADP’s shrinkage has also transformed it from a governing party to an interest group, whose main goal in the new parliament will be to obtain state credits to the agriculture sector.
The Democratic Convention may be described as "a freak within a freak" because it is made up of the most unlikely partners: the Popular Front (PF) and Snegur’s Party of Rebirth and Conciliation (PRC). The PF, led by Iurie Rosca, pursues unification with Romania and had spent five years depicting Snegur as a Communist, a betrayer of the Romanian cause and an instrument of Moscow. During most of his presidency (1990-96) Snegur pursued a Moldovan cultural orientation as distinct from a Romanian one. In 1995, Snegur created the PRC as a vehicle for his reelection campaign in 1996 but was defeated by Lucinschi in that election.
During most of his presidential tenure, Snegur professed the credo of "centrism" and attempted to formulate a "centrist" political doctrine for Moldova. Upon becoming leader of the Democratic Convention, Snegur describes the DC and his own party as "rightist," in tune with the Popular Front. He also pays lip service — but no more — to Romanianism as distinct from Moldovanism. At election time, however, the PF — and all the more Snegur — prefers to keep silent about its unpopular Romanian agenda. The PF and the PRC had, each, only nine seats in the outgoing parliament. Their bloc is likely to do better this time around.
The Party of Democratic Forces is a splinter from the former Popular Front. It takes a moderate, gradualist approach to the goal of unification with Romania. It is also more reticent than the PF is about tactical alliances with former Communists, even with reconstructed ones. PDF’s leaders were top leaders of Moldova’s first Parliament (1990-1993). The PDF’s chairman, Valeriu Matei, plans to run for President of Moldova at the next election.
The Movement for a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova is a pro-presidential party founded in 1997. The MDPM urges acceleration of market reforms, including privatization of agriculture which is Moldova’s main economic sector. It calls for following the prescriptions of international financial organizations and for more effective steps to qualify Moldova for membership negotiations with the European Union. A sizable former faction of the Agrarian party has joined the MDPM. The movement’s leader Dumitru Diacov was vice-chairman of parliament until last year, when the antipresidential majority deposed him.
The Civic party (CP), an ally of MDPM, aspires to supplant leftist and pro-Soviet parties in representing the Russian and "Russian-speaking" population. The CP was launched last year by a group of defectors from the Socialist party and Socialist Unity Movement Yedinstvo (the former Interfront). CP leaders are mostly young, connected with the private business sector, and experiencing a process of cultural and political reorientation from Russian to Western models. CP leader Vladimir Solonar represented Moldova for the last few years at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and was elected vice-chairman of the PACE. Just recently, the "monstrous [freak]" coalition in the Moldovan parliament moved to revoke Solonar’s credentials as the country’s representative to that forum.
The bloc of the Socialist party and the Socialist Unity Movement used to be the second-largest in the outgoing parliament. Its electoral base was the Russian and russified urban population, with some support also among ethnic Moldovan pensioners. The Socialist bloc has undergone a decomposition resembling that of the Agrarians, splitting at least four ways. The results are: two new splinter parties with the word Socialist in their title, the Civic party (see above), and an expanding Communist party (see below) being joined by many Socialists. The Socialist bloc runs in this election jointly with the Union of Communists, a splinter from the main CP. The Socialists are likely to perform poorly because most of their electorate seems set to switch to the Communist party.
The Communist party was banned in Moldova in 1991 and is now competing for the first time in a parliamentary election since the collapse of the USSR. All local observers, whether friends or foes of the CP, expect it to do well indeed by exploiting the economic crisis and the prevailing discontent over the social costs of reforms. The CP’s electorate is not quite as Russian or russified as that of the Socialist bloc prior to that bloc’s disintegration. Unlike the Socialist bloc, the CP seeks the reunification of Transdniester with Moldova on terms compatible with Moldovan sovereignty. CP leader Vladimir Voronin, his name notwithstanding, is an ethnic Moldovan from Transdniester. A member of the CP, Mihai Plamadeala, has since 1997 served as Moldova’s internal affairs minister and compiled a credible record in combating organized crime.
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