Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 149

“Politics in Moldova is in fact Geopolitics” (Flux, July 20). This recent observation by a pro-Western party leader in Chisinau has quickly become common wisdom. It defines the real stakes in the political changes resulting from President Vladimir Voronin’s non-transparent negotiations with the Kremlin and his polarizing, confrontational response to the latest electoral reverses of his Communist Party (see EDM, July 27, 30).

Meanwhile, Russia has turned its contest with the West over Moldova from a latent into an active contest. It has pulled Moldova’s presidency ever more deeply into bilateral dealing on Transnistria, repudiated the CFE Treaty — thus raising the leverage value of Russian troops in Transnistria — and is seeking settlement terms on Transnistria that would increase Russian political influence within Moldova itself.

This external context underscores the importance of Moldova’s institutional capacity to sustain the European orientation that Voronin himself proclaimed more than three years ago. At present, however, whether by design or drift, Voronin has shifted toward a two-vector course, reminiscent of former Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma’s balancing game between Russia and the West. While the Russia-tilt prevails at the moment, Voronin has one year and eight months to go in his presidential term, with plenty of time for maneuvering and improvisations, which are sometimes unpredictable and spasmodic.

Thus, the stability of the European course must to a greater extent rely on the performance of Moldova’s institutions, particularly the parliament and government. It can hardly rely primarily on the presidency after Voronin’s declarations of abiding interest in economic ties with Russia and the list of largely artificial grievances that he read out on June 28, as scripted, to the assembled Western ambassadors. Unpublished in the media, this intemperate document reads almost like a warning of divorce.

Meanwhile, decision-making powers are concentrated disproportionately in the presidential office, outside the constitutional framework. Although Moldova is a parliamentary republic where the president’s powers are clearly circumscribed, Voronin tends to act in practice as the state’s chief executive. He has until now controlled the Communist parliamentary majority (56 out of 101 deputies) in his capacity as Party leader, largely controls the law-enforcement and justice system through informal channels and methods, and dominates the government through the same type of levers as well as through the “law-of-the-land” mentality of deference to the top leader.

However, the presidency has become a dysfunctional institution, increasingly displaying crisis symptoms. The presidency’s monopolization of the obscure negotiations with the Kremlin is proving especially counterproductive. Voronin never had a proper advisory team or supporting staff. Key slots have remained unfilled for the last six years. The team is not properly plugged into the circuit of Western information sources and badly short of analytical and linguistic resources. Instead, it is overexposed to Russian information and deception, often missing or misreading international signals, increasingly opaque to professional advice, and prone to lurching into tactical improvisations in the Russian and other directions.

In sum, the Moldovan presidency is way over its head in trying to run this negotiation with Russia. It is also clearly losing the ability to manage internal politics and the electronic media in the accustomed ways. The president is disadvantaged by an utter lack of coaching and outreach know-how, both domestically and internationally. He is receiving poor legal advice, leading to miscarriages of justice in high-profile cases with international reverberations. He seems largely isolated from social feedback, as is his team with its secretive mode of operating. The presidency’s crisis is likely to deepen as Voronin’s formal and informal clout decreases, once he enters the lame-duck stage.

Within the political system as well, the presidency is drifting into isolation. Voronin’s separate negotiations with Russia (outside the international format) and his sudden rhetorical assaults on all parties (other than his own) have shattered the erstwhile consensus between the president and Communist parliamentary majority, the right-wing Christian-Democrat People’s Party (CDPP), centrist Democratic Party, and parts of civil society. That consensus had rested since early 2005 on joint pursuit of European integration; Transnistria conflict-resolution in partnership with the West and consistent with Moldova’s European aspirations; resistance to Russian attempts at restoring its influence on Moldova; and consolidation of Moldova’s statehood (that is, renunciation of unification with Romania, but no renunciation of the Romanian ethnic-linguistic identity, by the CDPP).

Other parties never joined that consensus. At present, non-communist parties of all colors are joining forces in the newly elected local councils countrywide, reducing the Communist Party to a minority in most jurisdictions. This ongoing development may set the stage for further communist setbacks in the 2008 campaign to elect the parliament and president.

Proposals since 2005 to reform the Communist Party (if only from above) into a European-type Socialist party have not borne fruit thus far. Such proposals have centered on changing the Party’s name, adopting a new charter to decentralize the organization, writing a Europe-compatible new platform, and condemning (however belatedly) Soviet totalitarianism and crimes. However, Voronin and most leaders believe that such measures would result in losing some 30% of the party’s membership and some 15% of its voters, who could create another communist party, while the reformed and renamed party could not make gains in the center to offset the losses on the left (Flux, Timpul, July 10-13).

At the moment, Parliament remains a mainstay of stability in Moldova. Parliament Chairman Marian Lupu and Vice-Chairman Iurie Rosca (nominal Communist and right-wing CDPP, respectively) are preserving the two year-old political consensus among the two parties within this institution. Most Communist deputies have no stomach to follow Voronin’s clarion call to political confrontation. Many of them would not willingly accept the Presidency’s idea of dissolving the parliament and holding pre-term elections as part of a quick-fix solution with on Transnistria. All this may explain why Voronin stayed demonstratively away from the parliament’s final sitting of this session on July 27.

Addressing that concluding sitting, Rosca (alongside Lupu) called for maintaining the political consensus based on those three national priorities and the corresponding partnership in the legislature. Rosca urged the head of state to engage in consultations, instead of confrontation, with the other parties in the wake of the local elections, cited the constitution and laws that would preclude the dissolution of parliament and pre-term elections, and expressed concern over the correlation between the Presidency’s separate negotiations with Russia (outside the international format) and its resort to internal politics of confrontation that divide society. Rosca spoke for many in noting Voronin’s relapse into the previous Moldovan presidents’ “illusion that we can solve the Transnistria problem to the extent to which we behave obediently toward Russia (Flux, July 30, 31).

Thus, politics in Moldova remains — at this time more than ever in the last decade — essentially geopolitics. This necessitates a stable institutional base, which seems to center in parliament, not in the presidency at this stage.