MOLDOVA’S PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION ON KNIFE’S EDGE.
Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 228
Moldova’s presidential election (see the Monitor, November 27) has produced a distant frontrunner but not yet a winner. Vladimir Voronin, first secretary of the Central Committee of Moldova’s Party of Communists, has proven the strongest candidate by far, thanks to the familiar communist technique of enlisting fellow travelers. Voronin seems poised to come to power through either this presidential election or, failing that, an agreement in the works which would rescue the incumbent Petru Lucinschi’s presidency while giving the Communists the lion’s share of power.
This situation entails two distinct dangers for Moldova with potential repercussions far beyond it. One is the return of the Communist Party to power–albeit shared power–for the first time in any post-Soviet country. The other stems from a quest for Russian political support and a modicum of economic relief, the beneficiaries of which must in return tolerate the presence of Russian troops in Moldova. Both of these processes seem underway in Chisinau. Moldova’s political and economic weakness could help perpetuate a Kaliningrad-type Russian military exclave in southeastern Europe
Constitutional changes, passed in July 2000, have turned Moldova into the only post-Soviet country with a purely parliamentary system of government. The president is no longer elected by popular vote, but by the parliament. That change of rules in mid-game–indeed in the end game–was explicitly designed to preclude Lucinschi’s reelection in December 2000 to a second presidential term of four years.
Initiated by noncommunists and passed almost unanimously by the parliament, the change played directly into the hands of the Communist Party–the largest by far in the 101-seat legislature. Voronin’s Communists hold forty seats; Parliament Chairman Dumitru Diacov’s centrist Democratic Party (recently renamed from Movement for a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova), seventeen seats; former President Mircea Snegur’s center-right Party of Rebirth and Conciliation, fourteen; and two right-wing groups, the Popular Christian-Democrat Party (the renamed Popular Front) and the Party of Democratic Forces, seven to eight each. The balance of some fifteen seats is held by the “Independents,” about half of whom are diehard Lucinschi supporters. The president is elected with a majority of at least three-fifths of the votes–that is, a minimum of sixty-one.
There were no candidates in this bizarre presidential election until twenty-four hours before the final registration deadline, November 25. Candidacies and alliances were being negotiated in deep secrecy among party leaders in parliament and, through separate channels, with the presidential team. No winning combination had emerged by the time Voronin and a rival on the center-right, Constitutional Court Chairman Pavel Barbalat, at last registered their candidacies. Quite understandably under the circumstances, neither has made public a political program or a vision on the future of the Moldovan state. Instead, both hope to garner the maximum support possible by avoiding any clear-cut positions.
Voronin’s Russified surname notwithstanding, he is an ethnic Moldovan and native speaker of that language. Born in 1941 in the Dubasari district of Transdniester, he is personally ill disposed toward that region’s nonnative secessionist authorities. His highest Soviet-era post was that of internal affairs minister of the Moldovan SSR in 1989-1990, with the rank of an MVD major general. Following the 1991 ban on the Communist Party, Voronin and his son went into private business and became, by Moldovan standards, wealthy. In 1993, Voronin reestablished the party under its slightly revamped name. It was not until 1998 that the Party of Communists became eligible to compete in parliamentary elections. The result amounted to a spectacular comeback with more than one third of the votes cast and–thanks to the proportional system–40 percent of the parliamentary seats. The party has found it advantageous to remain in the opposition from 1998 to date.
Barbalat is also a Transdniester native. Born in the Slobozia district in 1935, a judge since 1964, Barbalat became in 1995 the chairman of Moldova’s newly created Constitutional Court. In that year he cast the tie-breaking vote which overruled then-president Mircea Snegur’s attempt to replace the defense minister with a political loyalist of Snegur, ahead of the presidential election. Snegur lost that election to Lucinschi, and Barbalat emerged with the deserved reputation of a defender of the rule of law.
The 2000 presidential election can go to up to four rounds of secret balloting in parliament. In the first round on December 4, Voronin received fifty votes to Barbalat’s thirty-five. In the second round on December 6, Voronin received fifty-nine votes–two short of victory–to Barbalat’s thirty-five again. In both rounds, some deputies refrained from voting or spoiled their ballots. The third round is scheduled for December 21. Lucinschi’s powers expire on January 15 (Basapress, Flux, Infotag, November 28-6; see the Monitor, July 10, September 19, November 27).
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