Moldova’s Body Politic in Gridlock After Elections and Riots

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 73

Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin (Reuters)

The political crisis seems narrowly confined to downtown Chisinau with its state institutions, political party headquarters, and those colleges and lyceums that supply protest demonstrators from time to time. Beyond Chisinau’s center, however, the countryside, "the profound Moldova," remains apathetic and seemingly uninterested. There, opinion surveys consistently find Voronin and other leaders of the nominally Communist authorities topping the popularity ratings. Political parties as such are ranked at the very bottom in terms of public confidence.

Nevertheless, the Voronin and "Communist" brands no longer constitute a sufficient basis for durable stability in Moldova. Almost 40 percent of voters supported explicitly "anti-communist" parties in these elections (the three opposition parties that entered the new parliament received a total of 35 percent of the votes cast -Moldpres, April 12). New generational cohorts are coming of age, to whom Soviet nostalgia is irrelevant and its icon, Voronin, rather an irritant. In Chisinau itself, Romanian identity (not necessarily synonymous with Romanian "unionism") can only gain ground, relative to the Moldovan identity, among the young and educated.

The Moldovan mass-media, highly diverse politically but not independent, covered the riots and the political crisis in ways that range from the tendentious to the crudely partisan to inflammatory. Television channels controlled by the authorities reach the largest audiences with the official interpretation of events. The president and government are positioning themselves as guardians of order and stability against the threat of chaos. This tactic may well increase their already high popularity in the countryside. Meanwhile the opposition leaders tend to use circumlocution and understatement, instead of full and unambiguous condemnation of the April 7 assault. Thus the mantle of guardians of stability remains with the authorities by default.

The Moldovan president and government seek to resolve the crisis by working closely with the European Union and its institutions. Moldovan authorities, however, are handicapped in terms of communicating with international public opinion and media. The panicked authorities have interdicted the access of foreign journalists to the country after the April 7 riots. Partly for this reason, international media coverage of the riots and the political crisis is often informed by yesteryear’s stereotypes ("color revolution" versus communists, West versus Russia) or their latest pop-style adaptation ("twitter revolution").

The European Union’s Special Representative, Kalman Mizsei, has been working continuously in Chisinau to broker a political solution. Elements of such a solution would include cessation of abuses and criminal prosecutions by law-enforcement authorities and the opening of the new parliament. The three opposition parties -Liberal, Liberal-Democrat, and Our Moldova- would hold a respectable 41 seats out of 101 in the parliament.

Following his latest meeting with Mizsei on April 15, Voronin has announced an amnesty for those being detained or investigated in connection with the riots, excepting only those with prior criminal records. Voronin further announced that "self-styled politicians," presumed to have incited the riots, would not be prosecuted; instead, "voters would give their verdict." He has instructed the authorities to conduct a "transparent and correct investigation" in cooperation with a fact-finding team of the European Union, which Voronin has already invited to Chisinau and which is expected to arrive imminently (Moldovan TV, Moldpres, April 15).

Voronin had taken the initiative to invite such an EU team in his April 10 telephone conversation with the EU’s High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana; and the EU responded positively three days later (European Council press release, April 13). The president has also invited Czech Acting Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek -representing the EU’s incumbent Czech presidency- to arrive in Chisinau.

With these developments, and on the basis of the internationally recognized electoral outcome, Mizsei is calling on all the parties represented in the new parliament to engage in a conciliation process through dialogue. The EU’s Special Representative will continue facilitating this process. The three opposition parties’ leaders vacillate between this option and the alternative, which would be for them to force the holding of repeat elections, at unaffordable costs for crisis-hit Moldova and with an obvious risk of chaos.