Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 60

The Communist Party’s return to power in Moldova will prompt Western governments and nongovernmental and international organizations, as a matter of course, to look for a democratic alternative in that country. They will presumably seek to identify and encourage Moldovan democratic groups capable of forming an effective and credible opposition and with the potential to win the next elections from democratic and pro-Western positions.

This search will be especially difficult because of political circumstances which are peculiar to Moldova and which made the Communist electoral triumph possible in the first place. The economic crisis on its own would probably not have constituted a sufficient premise for a Communist revanche of such proportions. The political underdevelopment of Moldovan society is what left it open to that. The postcommunist years, with all their legal freedoms, have failed to produce more than the rudiments of a civil society. The fate of the multiparty system is a case in point.

Eleven years after the demise of the Moldovan SSR, and its branch of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and in spite of Western-inspired political reforms, Moldova lacks a multiparty system. The Popular Front won a plurality of the votes cast in the 1990 elections and dominated the parliament and government for a year, before shrinking to almost insignificant proportions. The Agrarian Democratic Party governed authoritatively after 1992 and won a majority of parliamentary seats in 1994, only to unravel in 1998, and vanish from view altogether. The 1998 elections gave the reborn Communist Party 30 percent of the votes cast and forty out of 101 parliamentary seats.

The four noncommunist parties represented in the 1998-2000 parliament ultimately paved the way for the Communists’ absolute victory in last month’s pre-term elections. Three of those seemingly entrenched parties failed to reenter the parliament and are now seeking a new raison d’etre as an extraparliamentary, anticommunist opposition: former President Mircea Snegur’s center-right Party of Rebirth and Conciliation (PRC), outgoing parliamentary chairman Dumitru Diacov’s centrist Democratic Party (DP) and the right-wing Party of Democratic Forces (PDF).

These parties, however, lack the qualifications of a democratic opposition. They are not political parties in any modern or democratic sense, but primarily interest groups, subordinated to individual leaders and to shadowy business groups behind those leaders, and correctly perceived as such by a majority of the electorate, which accordingly voted those parties out of parliament. A few prominent parliamentarians in these parties warned of the disaster and called for measures to restore the parties’ credibility, but were ostracized by the respective party leaderships.

The individuals thus punished for their integrity include Vasile Nedelciuc (PDF) and Vladimir Solonar (PD), chairmen of the parliament’s foreign relations commission and human rights and ethnic affairs commission, respectively, during most of the preceding decade. These were undoubtedly the most able legislators in the chamber, with an unmatched contribution to the Europeanization of Moldovan laws and with a distinguished record as delegates to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, of which Solonar was a vice chairman.

Chisinau’s political parlance designates such parties as “teams,” the leaderships of which are held together by shared access to the spoils of governance, but which tend to fall apart once those spoils are no longer within reach. In the absence of a real multiparty system, even the presidential institution has been functioning in some ways as a vested-interest “team” among the other teams, and has created political parties by fiat from above. The PRC and the DP originated as presidential “pocket parties”: the former, created in 1995 by Snegur in a vain effort to secure his reelection; the latter, created in 1998 for similar purposes by President Petru Lucinschi who entrusted that party to his lieutenant Diacov. Less than two years later, Diacov broke with Lucinschi, who responded by pulling the Braghis Alliance of pro-presidential parties from his sleeve shortly before the recent elections.

The PRC and the DP, along with the presidential team, spent much of the last year bidding against each other for the Communist Party’s favor. The PRC had the least chance because Snegur wanted, once more, the office of head of state–a prize which the Communists might perhaps have conceded to Lucinschi, but not to Snegur. For its part, the DP seemed smugly confident for a while that it had clinched a power-sharing deal with Vladimir Voronin’s Communist Party. DP leader and parliamentary chairman Diacov went with Voronin to Washington and Brussels, as well as to Moscow, seeking approval for a DP-Communist diarchy. Diacov’s experiment in “taming the Communists” failed because he, like many earlier fellow travelers, underestimated the Communist Party’s intentions and resolve.

The PDF, while refusing any truck with the Communists, became involved in high-profile corruption scandals. The DP and PRC, too, had their image destroyed by “kompromats,” which typically exposed corrupt privatization and illicit business. In sum, these three parties only discredited party politics and economic reforms in the eyes of the electorate, and thus share with Lucinschi the responsibility for the Communist comeback. The three parties now seem destined for the oblivion that has enveloped the once-dominant Agrarian Democratic Party in the extraparliamentary arena of miniparties.

The Christian-Democratic People’s Party (CDPP, the renamed Popular Front) is the only noncommunist party from the former parliament to gain representation in the new. It obtained 8 percent of the votes cast and eleven seats out of 101 in the new parliament–a score matching the past ones of the Popular Front/CDPP’s. Those meager percentages coincide approximately with the Moldovan public approval of unification with Romania–a goal which defines the Front/CDPP’s identity.

In this election, however, the CDPP achieved the other goal which had proved elusive over the years: a monopoly position on the right side of the political spectrum. To achieve this, the CDPP vitriolically attacked its competitors on the right and center-right for corruption, using “kompromats” supplied in part by the presidential team before and during the electoral campaign. Unfortunately for those parties, they were indeed vulnerable to such attacks.

Since 1991, few among the beleaguered Moldovan democrats have accepted the Popular Front/CDPP as a democratic force. They have three main reasons for such misgivings. Following the original Popular Front’s disintegration, the rump Front and later the CDPP identified itself with Greater Romanian nationalism, urging unification with Romania in the absence of a democratic mechanism to achieve it. Other Romanian-oriented groups in Chisinau favor long-term organic work to reach that goal democratically. Second, its chairman Iurie Rosca has led the Popular Front/CDPP in a highly centralized, almost unipersonal fashion. That situation has caused repeated defections by those who were unable to get a fair hearing for their views. And, third, the CDPP joined forces with the Communist Party and the pro-Lucinschi forces repeatedly in the 1998-2000 parliament–including the fateful vote in November 1999 which toppled the only consistently reformist and pro-Western cabinet of ministers Moldova ever had.

A sizeable faction–the Christian-Democratic Group–quit the CDPP last year in protest over Rosca’s tactical combinations with the Communists. In the new parliament, however, the CDPP looks set to act as the anticommunist opposition par excellence, a watchdog on the Communist Party’s leadership and on the Communist-dominated government. With that and with continued use of nationalist rhetoric, the CDPP hopes to consolidate its dominance on the right side of the political spectrum.

Meanwhile, center-right and other pro-Western groups in Chisinau are beginning to discuss the formation of a democratic opposition outside parliament, looking ahead at the next elections. Such discussions tend at the moment to focus on those few DP and PDF leaders who have maintained their integrity; on the Social-Democrat Party, known in Chisinau–though not much beyond–for its top brains and clean hands; and on a number of NGOs, some of which have now coalesced under the collective name Social-Liberal Initiative, with a view to forming a pro-European political movement of the center-right.

In order to pass from the discussion stage to that of practical politics, this effort will need to concentrate on pro-European, nonnationalist groups with a cross-ethnic electoral potential and which are untainted by corruption, by association with the two failed presidencies, by tolerance of the Russian military presence, or by tactics that facilitated the Communists’ return to power (see the Monitor, January 2, February 26, March 5, 7, 9, 13, 21).