Moldova has narrowly averted making history as the first ex-Soviet country to hand its government back to the Communist Party (see the Monitor, December 3, 1999). Yet the new nonpartisan cabinet of ministers under Dumitru Braghis, which took office on December 22 with a vaguely reformist program, vitally depends on the Communist Party’s graces. The cabinet garnered the support of a newly constituted majority of fifty-seven deputies in the 101-seat parliament. That majority consists of forty Communists, nine deputies of the Popular Christian-Democrat Party–PCDP, the recently rebaptized Popular Front–and eight deputies loyal to President Petru Lucinschi.
Those three groups had brought down the reformist and pro-Western government of Ion Sturza in November 1999, barely eight months after it had taken office (see the Monitor, November 10, 1999). The president had encouraged that move in expectation of Communist and Popular Front/PCDP support to his reelection in autumn 2000. The right-of-center Alliance for Democracy and Reforms (ADR)–the political base of the Sturza government–now forms the opposition, but has shrunk to fewer than forty deputies and seems destined for further erosion.
The new government takes over a bankrupt economy, which is why Lucinschi describes it as a “government of national salvation and sacrifice.” Communist leaders declare themselves prepared conditionally to support the Braghis government for the duration of the present parliament. The conditions include backtracking on market reforms and letting the Communist Party share in the spoils of governance. The next legislative elections are due in 2003, but most local observers expect pre-term elections to be held in autumn 2000 simultaneously with the presidential election. For its part, the new government seems prepared to relaunch economic reforms to the extent necessary for reopening access to urgently needed external credits. The International Monetary Fund and World Bank suspended lending to Moldova in November 1999 after the fall of the Sturza government. The Braghis government will have to give some satisfaction, on the one hand, to the Communists for the sake of its political survival and, on the other, to the International Monetary Fund and World Bank for the sake of financial survival.
Reflecting that dilemma, the government’s program includes a number of mutually contradictory goals and populist promises as well as long-unredeemed pledges of market reforms. Drafted largely by Braghis personally, the document envisions: privatizing state-owned enterprises and the energy sector, establishing incentives for foreign investment, providing tax relief to national producers, giving state support to agriculture, instituting severe measures against tax delinquency and official corruption, reducing the budget deficit and the state bureaucracy, repaying wage and pension arrears, pegging wages and pensions to the rate of inflation, beginning negotiations with the IMF and World Bank toward debt relief and resumption of lending to Moldova, and cooperating with both European organizations and CIS countries. Braghis’ inaugural addresses to parliament included anachronistic threats to unleash “state control organs” upon the “underground economy” and the “shameless price-gougers who enrich themselves on the backs of the people.”
The Communist Party, on whose tolerance the government depends, issued a quite different political and economic program at a national conference held simultaneously with the forming of the new government. The party’s program–and the accompanying report by First Secretary Vladimir Voronin–envision maintaining or introducing the state monopoly in the energy sector, in other “strategic sectors” and in the main export-oriented branches of agriculture; returning privatized enterprises to the state or to the “working collective’s” ownership, if their privatization is found to have been inexpedient; introducing state planning guidelines and reverting to the “state order” system (guaranteed state purchases at state-calculated prices) in the economy as a whole; promoting trade with Russia and other CIS countries as well as China, and placing the eastern direction above the western direction in the order of Moldova’s foreign policy priorities.
Voronin and some other party leaders might be cynical enough to feed a Soviet nostalgia program to Communist voters while allowing the government in practice to disregard that program’s most backward-looking elements. Nevertheless, the Communist Party will hold the Braghis government on a leash, the length of which the party itself will fix to suit its interests at any given juncture. Lucinschi, while theoretically a supporter of reforms, needs the Communists’ blessing for his reelection and will not court the risk of antagonizing them in this election year.
Given those political realities, the Braghis government should not be expected to focus on economic reform strategy in the year ahead. The government’s most pressing tasks are to tide the country over the winter without a social collapse, avoid international financial default and protect Lucinschi’s political flanks in the runup to the presidential election. The new cabinet of ministers, while in no sense a presidential “pocket government,” includes several presidential loyalists, beginning with the prime minister himself.
As a former Komsomol leader turned business manager, Braghis belongs to a group with which Lucinschi feels personally comfortable and on whose support and advice the president has long relied. Born in 1957 to a peasant family near Chisinau, and trained as an engineer at the Chisinau Polytechnic, Braghis rose in the Moldavian SSR’s Komsomol, whose last first secretary he was from 1988 to 1991, his tenure overlapping with that of Lucinschi as first secretary of the Moldavian Communist Party. Braghis then became the manager of a Moldovan foreign trade firm from 1992 to 1995 and a senior official of the Economics and Reforms Ministry from 1995 to December 1999, his last post there being first deputy minister. In that capacity he was the Moldovan co-chairman of the Moldova-European Union Cooperation Committee, concurrently in charge of negotiating Moldova’s terms of accession to the World Trade Organization. The selection of Braghis as prime minister–as well as the retention of Nicolae Tabacaru, another presidential loyalist, as foreign affairs minister–is intended to provide at least a measure of continuity in Moldova’s relations with the West.
The Braghis government signals a change of guard in Moldova in terms of informal socioprofessional networks and elite recruitment. Gone is the caste of agricultural specialists which predominated in the Moldovan governments from 1991 to 1999. Calling the tune in the new government are Chisinau Polytechnic graduates, who include the prime minister, all three deputy prime ministers as well as the economics and reforms minister, the finance minister and the industry and energy minister.
The Communist Party ends up in a more advantageous position than would have been the case, had its leader Voronin succeeded in his attempt to form a government. Voronin’s would-be government received forty-eight votes–four short of the absolute majority–in parliament on December 7 owing to a disagreement with the Popular Front/Christian-Democrats over the allocation of certain government posts and over coalition strategy. Yet that self-styled rightwing party remains a tactical ally of the Communists in the new parliamentary majority and is negotiating the terms of joint support for Lucinschi’s reelection. Meanwhile, the nonpartisan government will incur the political responsibility for the economic debacle, leaving the Communist Party free from such responsibility. The Communists are confident of holding on to their plurality and even winning an outright majority of the votes if pre-term parliamentary elections are held this year. The party is in a position to tolerate or bring down the cabinet of ministers and decisively to influence the outcome of the presidential election. The toppling of the Sturza government by the Communist-“rightist” tandem, as well as Lucinschi’s political vulnerability ahead of the election have had the baneful consequence of elevating the Moldovan Communist Party to the position of de facto kingmaker (Flux, Basapress, Infotag, December 18-23).
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