On February 25, Moldova held its third multiparty parliamentary elections. Yet the multiparty system itself is in a state of collapse in Moldova. This situation has paralyzed the outgoing parliament, led to repeated constitutional changes, thwarted the election of a head of state and ultimately forced the holding of these pre-term parliamentary elections, one and a half years ahead of the due date. The political spectrum is highly fragmented on the right and center, but almost solid on the left around the Communists.
A host of right-wing parties–some of them genuinely rightist, others only self-styled–are competing against each other on that segment of the political spectrum. Among them, only the Christian-Democrat People’s Party (CDPP) under its long-time leader Iurie Rosca has real chances of entering the new parliament. The CDPP is the rebaptized Popular Front, the new title of which has yet to catch on with friend or foe. Since 1999 the party has dropped the goal of unification with Romania from its official program, though its leaders and core membership remain firmly committed to that goal.
The CDPP’s usual share of the electorate is about 6 to 8 percent. To make sure that it overcomes the mandatory 6 percent threshold, the party has made an informal deal with President Petru Lucinschi–just as it had in 1995-96 with then President Mircea Snegur, Lucinschi’s perennial rival. In 1999, the CDPP entered into an informal alliance with Lucinschi. This time, Lucinschi “loaned” one of his top confidants, the police general Nicolae Aleksei, to the CDPP in the role of an electoral locomotive. Aleksei carries the aura of a fighter against official corruption and organized crime–the issue upon which the CDPP is building its electoral campaign.
The party’s message focuses on bringing “clean hands to government,” cutting taxes across the board and–that goal notwithstanding–guaranteeing an allocation of 7 percent of the value of the gross domestic product to education and public health. The CDPP attacks its right-wing rivals and the Communists with equal ferocity. It hopes to unify not the rightist parties as such, but their respective electorates around the CDPP. To that end, the party needs to restore its anticommunist credentials, which were seriously damaged by its tactics in parliament where the CDPP periodically joined forces with the Communist Party on a variety of issues. Because of those tactics, an anticommunist faction in the CDPP’s leadership broke with Rosca and formed a separate Christian-Democratic Group before the elections, but too late to register as a political party.
On the center-right segment, the Party of Rebirth and Conciliation (PRC) remains in essence a political vehicle of former President (1990-1997) Mircea Snegur. The party has announced its intention to renominate Snegur for election to another presidential term by the new parliament. Under the constitution, Snegur is entitled to a third and last term as presidential candidate. The PRC’s prime mover, however, is long-time parliamentarian and former Deputy Prime Minister Nicolae Andronic, one of the most outspokenly pro-Western politicians in Chisinau. Andronic used to represent Moldova at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly and is now urging an acceleration of economic reforms in order to bring Moldova closer to the European Union.
In this campaign, PRC leaders accused Lucinschi and his cabinet of ministers of wrecking the reforms and reorienting Moldova eastwards. In fact, the Snegur presidency had a good record on reforms and on relations with the West, until Snegur stopped the reforms in the hope of avoiding loss of popularity in advance of the 1996 elections, which he lost anyhow. In yesterday’s elections, the PRC’s appeal rested largely on Snegur’s residual aura of respectability as “Moldova’s first president.” His hopes for reelection by the new parliament hinged on a deadlock situation which would force the leading candidates to desist in favor of a third party.
The main “centrist” force in these elections was the Democratic Party (DP), led by Dumitru Diacov, chairman of the outgoing parliament. The DP was launched in 1996 as the Movement for a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova, a “pocket party” of Lucinschi. The DP, however, caught the taste of power to the extent of breaking with Lucinschi in 1999 when the latter embarked on his effort to change the system of government from a semipresidential to a presidential one. Diacov, a consummate tactician, won that battle but lost the war against Lucinschi.
The DP’s hopes enter the new parliament rested on the vote-pulling power of Ion Sturza, the young prime minister in 1999 of a short-lived, pro-Western and reformist government. Lucinschi, the Communist Party and the self-styled Christian-Democrats joined forces in November 1999 to bring the Sturza government down as part of their battle against the DP. Its leader Diacov has been seriously weakened both personally and politically by “kompromats” made public by presidential circles and the CDPP. The DP used to be able to pull a share of the “Russian-speaking” vote, but is no longer in a position to do so after inexplicably dropping some prominent russophones from its slate of candidates. Those dropped include Vladimir Solonar, a vice chairman of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and long-time chairman of the Moldovan parliament’s human rights and ethnic affairs commission.
Seemingly on the center, but in fact spread across a wide section from the center to the left is the “Braghis Alliance” (BA), Moldova’s current approximation of a “party of power,” led by Prime Minister Dumitru Braghis. The BA includes half a dozen virtual parties, called to life by the presidential staff as “pocket parties” in the best Lucinschi tradition. But it also includes several leftist russophone and russophile parties through which Lucinschi hoped to draw votes away from the Communist Party. The BA enjoys both the veiled and the not-so-veiled support of state media and pro-presidential newspapers, as well as of parts of the state apparatus and local administrations.
Braghis is publicly committed to seeking a new mandate as prime minister in coalition with “the largest party in the new parliament,” that is, with the Communist Party. But he and Lucinschi hope to reduce the margin of the Communists’ expected success. For that reason, the BA has rejected the Communists’ offer to form a pre-electoral coalition and has enlisted those leftist rivals of the Communist Party in the BA’s ranks. The BA is the only major political force to carry the leader’s name in its title. This unusual fact possibly hints at Braghis’ presidential ambitions and, by the same token, reflects the limits of Lucinschi’s strength ahead of the presidential balloting in the new parliament. That, too, is the message implicit in Braghis’ public opposition to Lucinschi’s goal of changing the system of government from a parliamentary into a presidential one. On the other hand, the Braghis Alliance, like Lucinschi, is calling for changing the electoral system from a proportional system–based on party slates–to one based on single-mandate constituencies.
Both of those proposals form a part of Braghis’ and Lucinschi’s campaign against the entrenched political parties in general. Their campaign focuses on the severe distortions of the multiparty system in Moldova in terms of political chaos, the paralysis of decisionmaking and pervasive corruption. In the same context, the BA calls for the abolition of parliamentary immunity. On economic reforms, the BA proposes to resume the stalled privatization and work with the International Monetary Fund–goals undoubtedly genuine, but liable to be thwarted if the election’s returns force the BA to enter into a coalition with the Communists. As regards relations with the West and Russia–or the CIS and the European Union–Braghis is positioning himself to be all things to all people.
The Party of Communists of Moldova (PCM), led by Vladimir Voronin, expects to preserve its position as the single largest party. It calls for (1) conferring official status on the Russian language on a par with the “Moldovan” language; (2) “considering” joining the Russia-Belarus Union, and in any case concluding a customs agreement with it; (3) practicing a “sound” and “honest” privatization, as opposed to a corrupt one; (4) introducing a state monopoly on the wine and tobacco industries (these are Moldova’s largest); (5) pegging the personal bank deposits to the rate of inflation; price controls by the state on basic food staples and consumer goods as well as on and utility rates; (6) applying “equal conditions to all forms of ownership,” implying government support to ailing state-owned firms; and (7) “strengthening the role of the state in society and in all political and economic processes.”
It remains an open question how, if at all, can this agenda be reconciled with the goal of “working with the IMF” and accepting its credits, as the PCM platform and Voronin personally stipulate. The Communist slate of candidates included the ministers of internal affairs, of education and of transportation. That almost certainly means that parts of the state apparatus support the PCM’s electoral campaign. The PCM is, however, on the whole still a party of outsiders and it vies with the Christian-Democrats in denouncing official corruption.
Voronin is set to run for election as president in head-to-head competition with Lucinschi. Russian President Vladimir Putin received Voronin in the Kremlin for a one-and-a-half hour tete-a-tete conversation last month. That was probably the first time since 1991 that the leader of a communist party from a foreign country entered the Kremlin officially for a meeting with the Russian president. Whether Putin and Voronin perceive Russia and Moldova as “foreign” to each other, however, seems less than certain.
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