Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 147

In his marathon-length speeches on July 20 and 25, defending his non-transparent negotiations with Russia on Transnistria (see EDM, July 27), Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin assailed all of Moldova’s non-communist parties indiscriminately. He accused them in prosecutorial terms of obstructing any solution on Transnistria and creating coalitions without his Communist Party in newly elected local councils across the country. The president’s speeches implicitly link for the first time at the official level the issue of conflict-settlement in Transnistria with that of continuity of political power in Moldova.

Voronin is deeply marked emotionally by the reverses of his Communist Party in the local elections recently held country-wide, which are deemed a rehearsal of the 2008 campaign to elect the parliament and president. His speeches belligerently and repetitively lumped all non-communist parties together as “the opposition” and “right-wing,” “enemies,” and “in the pay of” Moldova’s ill-wishers. He vowed to break off all cooperation with other parties in parliament and government, portraying such cooperation as a favor that he had extended and he now revokes. And he threatened — against the law — to withhold central funding to the budget of municipalities and districts where non-communist parties formed majorities and elected non-communist mayors, as is now the case in a great majority of these jurisdictions.

The logic of such outbursts is, “Who is not for us is against us.” They reflect recommendations from certain presidential advisers and speechwriters to resort to polarization and confrontation in order to mobilize the diminishing Communist electorate ahead of the 2008 campaign. Local observers as well as other parties (opposition and others alike) describe Voronin’s speeches as “declarations of war.”

However, the sound and fury does not match the president’s means to implement his stated intentions. Voronin may well realize this fact and renounce such tactics that may ultimately drive the presidency into political isolation. The Communists obtained just one-third of the votes cast in these local elections (33% in cities and districts, 34% in small towns and villages), showing a steady erosion from the slightly more than 50% in the 2001 parliamentary elections and the 47% in the 2005 elections. In the most stinging rebuke, a young opposition candidate defeated the Communist candidate by a landslide for mayor of Chisinau, where one-third of right-bank Moldova’s voters live and the city hall controls major financial resources.

Thus, the presidential team is clearly overestimating its forces — unless it anticipates an alliance with deputies from Transnistria in the event of snap “unified” elections, as part of a solution under negotiation with Russia. Meanwhile, Voronin’s team seeks to precipitate that solution and the elections at least one year ahead of the term.

Some circumstantial indications raise the possibility that the presidential team is linking the negotiations with Russia on Transnistria with internal arrangements for continuity of power in Chisinau.

In April, the intention emerged to guarantee 18 to 19 seats for Tiraspol’s representatives in the Moldovan parliament, thus creating a parliamentary arithmetic that would allow the Communist Party to retain power, with Tiraspol as junior partner, even in the likely event of communist electoral setbacks on the right bank of the Nistru.

In May, Voronin confessed to a Russian news agency that he wishes to become Moldova’s Deng Xiaoping after the expiry of his last constitutional term of office (RIA-Novosti, May 22). The presidents’ aides had to suppress the interview in its entirety in Moldova because of its embarrassing candor and deep genuflections to Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose support Voronin avidly seeks at this stage.

In June, Voronin’s team began toying with proposals to endow the Supreme Security Council (a presidentially chaired, inter-ministerial advisory body) with executive powers as a potential parallel government and have Voronin appointed its chief, after the expiry of his final term. Such a plan has no chance of garnering a constitutional majority in the existing parliament; but would have a chance in the framework of constitutional changes for the proposed Transnistria solution.

In his July 20 and July 25 speeches, Voronin suggested changing the laws to award at least 50% of parliamentary seats and the right to form the government to any party that places first in the parliamentary elections, irrespective of the percentage of votes obtained.

Voronin dubs parties critical of his separate negotiations with Russia on Transnistria as “enemies of the people,” presaging the tone of a pre-term electoral campaign and referendum, if one were held on a possible deal with the Kremlin on Transnistria. The presidential team seems to consider the possibilities of using the bilateral solution with Russia as a means to shift Moldova’s internal political balance in the Communist Party’s favor and ensure the existing authorities’ continuation in power after 2008.

At present, the Communist Party holds 56 out of 101 parliamentary seats (based on the party’s 47% score in the 2005 proportional-vote elections). Voronin used to control this group firmly in his capacity as party leader. However, the president’s authority even over this group is eroding. Now past the mid-point of his final constitutional term of office, Voronin is approaching the lame-duck stage that would normally evolve.

However, three factors are accelerating this process and are likely to prevent him from managing the presidential succession. First, the decrease in the Communist electorate for both biological and political reasons (as the local elections just showed) will make it impossible for the new parliament to elect a Voronin-designated successor and will preclude a Deng Xiaoping-like role for Voronin. Second, Voronin’s resistance to proposals to reform the Communist Party will lead either to an open split in the party or to a quiet departure of many officials and voters from the party, during or even before the upcoming electoral campaign. And, third, generational change among Moldova’s elite, for the first time raising the prospect of electoral outcomes not led by the Soviet-era and early post-Soviet nomenklatura in the Communist Parties or other parties.

(Moldpres, Basapress, Flux, July 20-28)