Even before the recent parliamentary elections, Moldova’s system of government had all but disintegrated on both institutional and political levels. It is precisely this collapse which made the Communist Party’s triumphant return to power in the February 25 elections possible. Its share of power in the new parliament may in fact be even higher than the official 71 seats. The phenomenon is uniquely Moldovan thus far, though not necessarily unrepeatable. While most of the post-Soviet governments suffer in varying degrees from either a deficit of legitimacy or one of authority or both, Moldova’s has recently experienced a near vacuum of both legitimacy and authority.
The presidential institution was reduced to a figurehead role in July 2000 through constitutional changes which the parliament enacted without the slightest popular mandate or consultation, and indeed against the ascertainable public opinion trends. The sole purpose of that move was to cripple President Petru Lucinschi, prevent his reelection in November 2000 to a second term of office and redistribute the spoils of governance among parliamentary factions. Lucinschi, however, had a hand in his own demise. He had to some extent provoked the legislature’s move by having previously threatened to go over the head of the parliament and expand presidential powers through a referendum that his state apparatus would have controlled. Had that move been successful, it probably would have ensured Lucinschi’s reelection.
Since last July, Moldova has had a dysfunctional presidency and a lame duck president. Lucinschi is both powerless and solely preoccupied with saving his and his team’s political fortunes through arrangements with the local Communists and with Moscow. His term formally ended in January. His successor was to have been elected in November or, at the latest, December. Yet Lucinschi continues to occupy his former office, legally, because the parliament proved incapable of electing a new president, which in turn necessitated the pre-term parliamentary elections in February. The new parliament will convene in late March and, presumably, elect a president by April.
The Communist Party’s Central Committee first secretary, Vladimir Voronin, is for the moment the only declared candidate for the presidency. Backstage discussions, however, continue among Moscow’s representatives, Chisinau’s presidential team and top Moldovan Communists on the terms of a possible power-sharing deal which would allow Lucinschi to stay on as president or possibly to be succeeded by an ally. The Kremlin is interested in diluting the “red” tinge of Chisinau’s state authorities because it expects from them some form of internationally presentable consent to the retention of Russian troops in Moldova.
As a result, the presidential interregnum will end only with the election of a head of state who is either a Communist leader or a figure accepted by the Communist Party under arrangements brokered by Moscow. Meanwhile, no one can be certain whom the new parliament–with its 70 percent Communist majority–will elect as president next month. The only quasicertainties are that Moldova’s presidential institution will be less than democratic and less than independent internally or internationally.
The new parliament consists of three groups and includes seventy-one Communists out of 101 deputies. That proportion gives the Communist Party more than enough votes to elect the head of state and to change the constitution. But the leftist or left-leaning and Russian-oriented elements in the new parliament are in fact even stronger because some of them sit in the “centrist” group which is led by the incumbent–now Acting–Prime Minister Dumitru Braghis, a long-time ally of Lucinschi who shares Lucinschi’s Komsomol background.
Nineteen deputies belong to the “Braghis Alliance,” a relict of the pro-Lucinschi “party of power.” Like Lucinschi, Braghis is a moderate and hesitant reformer–prime minister since early 2000 with the daunting mission to promote market reforms in Moldova’s unmanageable parliament, in which the Communist Party already held a plurality of forty seats. Braghis has gained acceptance with the international financial institutions, partly due to his performance and partly in consideration of the looming Communist resurgence. This last has now materialized, not only in parliament, but also within Braghis’ parliamentary group and cabinet of ministers.
The Braghis deputies include several ex-Soviet nomenklatura veterans who actively opposed the liberation movement of the late 1980s and early 1990s, then went on to resist the reform efforts which were relatively successful in Moldova until the mid-1990s. One such is Dumitru Zidu, a former education minister of the Moldavian SSR, who was notorious for promoting linguistic russification and who has in recent years chaired the Veterans’ Union, a Soviet-nostalgic bastion of Communist electoral strength. Another is Viktor Morev, who served as an anti-perestroika senior official of the Moldavian SSR’s Communist Party, then a leader of the Socialist Party which functioned during the period when the Communist Party was either banned or ineligible to contest elections (1991-96). Another Braghis deputy, the Police Major-General Mihai Plamadeala, was the Communist representative whom Lucinschi appointed as internal affairs minister in 1997 to reward the Communist Party’s support to him in the presidential election. A few Braghis backbenchers also come from this type of background.
Last year, both Braghis and Plamadeala publicly suggested giving basing rights to the Russian troops in Moldova. Although the proposal signified a prima facie violation of the constitution and clashed with the official state policy, no one held Braghis and Plamadeala accountable. Moldova’s political system was by that time already unraveling,
The Braghis Alliance parliamentary group includes ten deputies not affiliated with any political party and nine who are affiliated with no fewer than six fictitious parties. Ephemeral “pocket parties” pieced together by incumbent presidents before an election are a Moldovan specialty, which former President Mircea Snegur introduced and Lucinschi perfected. Shortly before the parliamentary election campaign, Lucinschi assembled those six left-leaning, vaguely social-democratic groups into the Braghis Alliance. These groups tend to have business sponsors with their own interests who may well part ways with each other and/or with Braghis sooner rather than later. The Braghis Alliance itself, heterogeneous and artificial, created by fiat from above and loyal to individuals rather than programs, and defeated in spite of official support, illustrates the disintegration of Moldova’s party system and the successful Communist exploitation of that collapse.
Even the Braghis cabinet of ministers now includes three members who have thrown in their lot with the Communist Party. They are the Internal Affairs Minister Vladimir Turcanu, Education Minister Ilie Vancea and Transport Minister Afanasie Smochin. They have won seats as deputies of the Communist Party in the new parliament. This would seem to leave the Christian-Democrat People’s Party with its eleven deputies as the sole opposition force in the new parliament (Flux, Basapress, Infotag, March 1-12; see the Monitor, February 26, March 5, 9).
The Monitor is a publication of the Jamestown Foundation. It is researched and written under the direction of senior analysts Jonas Bernstein, Vladimir Socor, Stephen Foye, and analysts Ilya Malyakin, Oleg Varfolomeyev and Ilias Bogatyrev. If you have any questions regarding the content of the Monitor, please contact the foundation. If you would like information on subscribing to the Monitor, or have any comments, suggestions or questions, please contact us by e-mail at [email protected], by fax at 301-562-8021, or by postal mail at The Jamestown Foundation, 4516 43rd Street NW, Washington DC 20016. Unauthorized reproduction or redistribution of the Monitor is strictly prohibited by law. Copyright (c) 1983-2002 The Jamestown Foundation Site Maintenance by Johnny Flash Productions