Moldova has a competitive electoral environment, and freedoms of assembly, speech, and religion are mostly protected. Nonetheless, pervasive corruption in the government sector, links between major political parties and powerful economic interests, and major deficiencies in the rule of law continue to hamper democratic governance.
- Inconclusive parliamentary elections held in February eventually resulted in a transition of power in June from the Democratic Party of Moldova (PDM), to a short-lived governing coalition made of three parties that had previously been in opposition. Powerful PDM head Vlad Plahotniuc—who had played a key role in policymaking even as he held no elected office and enjoyed little public support—fled the country later in June, effectively departing Moldovan politics as well.
- After Prime Minister Maia Sandu lost a no-confidence vote in November, a technocratic government controlled by the Socialist Party (PSRM) took power.
- The Constitutional Court and justice system remained highly politicized and lacking in independence. The changes in government prompted the revisiting of a number of high-profile cases in favor of the newly ruling parties, but with no improvements with regard to the rule of law.
- In June, it was revealed by the investigative journalism group RISE Moldova that since 2017, many opposition leaders, civic activists, and journalists had been wiretapped by state authorities under the PDM government.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||4 4|
A prime minister nominated by the president and confirmed by Parliament holds most executive authority. The current prime minister, Ion Chicu, was approved by the Moldovan Parliament in November 2019 on the proposal of President Igor Dodon, after the government of Maia Sandu lost a confidence vote two days earlier. Sandu, of the Action and Solidarity Party (PAS), had taken office in June after PAS and the Dignity and Truth (DA) party (which together make up the ACUM bloc) formed a coalition with the Socialist Party (PSRM) following inconclusive parliamentary elections in February.
In 2016, Moldova held its first direct presidential election since 1996, after shifting back from an indirect system. The president is elected by direct popular vote for up to two four-year terms. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the votes in the first round, the two leading candidates compete in a second round. Igor Dodon of PSRM defeated Sandu in the 2016 runoff, 52 percent to 48 percent. This followed a first round in which nine candidates had competed. International observers concluded that the election was largely credible. However, state resources were occasionally misallocated, and transparency in campaign funding was lacking.
In October 2019, 16 months after the Chişinău mayoral election, the Chişinău Court of Appeal confirmed the election of Andrei Năstase as mayor. The decision overturned a 2018 decision in which the election had been annulled, even as its result had been initially recognized by stakeholders and by international observers. Năstase was one of the main candidates for the Chişinău mayor’s office in the 2019 municipal elections, but lost to a PSRM candidate in a runoff in November.
A2. Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 3 / 4
Voters elect the 101-seat unicameral Parliament to four-year terms. In February 2019, Moldova held its first parliamentary elections on the basis of a new mixed electoral system, under which 51 lawmakers were elected in single-member constituencies through the first-past-the-post system and 50 were elected through proportional representation from closed party lists in one national constituency.
Election observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) assessed the elections as competitive and as generally reflecting respect for fundamental rights. However, they noted shortcoming including credible allegations of pressure on public employees, and indications of vote buying and abuse of public resources for partisan electoral aims. According to the observers, the electoral outcomes were also affected by limited space for independent media to present alternative viewpoints to the voters. In March, the Constitutional Court validated the election results as the PSRM winning 35 seats, the PDM 30, the ACUM bloc (PAS and DA) 26 seats, the Șor Party 7 seats, and independent candidates 3 seats.
Following the validation of election results, the ACUM and the PSRM formed a short-lived new governing coalition, forcing the PDM into the opposition. After the fall of the Sandu government in November, over disagreements as to how the country’s top prosecutor is appointed, ACUM returned to opposition.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||2 4|
The February 2019 parliamentary elections were governed by a 2017 revision to electoral rules that replaced the previous, fully proportional system with a mixed system featuring both single-member constituencies and seats allocated proportionally by party lists. The Venice Commission of the Council of Europe had strongly urged against the switch to single-member constituencies, arguing that they could allow powerful local business interests to subvert the needs of constituents. The parliament in July 2019 voted to restore the proportional system.
The OSCE 2019 election observation mission stated that there was “a lack of inclusive public debate and meaningful consultation with relevant stakeholders and no broad consensus” on the 2017 amendments to the Election Code. The new mixed electoral system also brought a number of significant discrepancies in the number of people contained within constituencies, and thus the equality of votes
These concerns notwithstanding, the OSCE election observation mission found that most aspects of the 2019 parliamentary elections were administered professionally and transparently, with voting assessed positively.
General local elections that took place in October and November 2019 were competitive and mostly compliant with the electoral standards, though national observers noted a number of shortcomings, including cumbersome registration processes and a lack of adherence to gender parity laws.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||3 4|
Political party legislation in Moldova is generally liberal, but with a number of restrictions. For a party to be legally registered, it is required to enlist thousands of members coming from at least half of Moldovan districts. These requirements effectively disallow regional, municipal, and local parties, as well as parties of ethnolinguistic minorities concentrated just in several Moldovan areas (for example, Gagauzians and Bulgarians). As a result, some prospective candidates, politicians, and small groups resort to seeking alliances with registered parties.
Despite these limitations, 14 political parties and one bloc participated in the February 2019 parliamentary elections, of which four gained seats. In addition, three independent candidates won seats in single-member constituencies.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||4 4|
Opposition parties have a strong presence in Parliament and other elected offices, and they are able to increase their support through elections. Following the February 2019 parliamentary elections, the three then opposition parties—PAS, DA, and PSRM—came to power, ousting the then-ruling PDM. Following the fall of the Sandu government in November, the ACUM bloc (an alliance between PAS and DA) returned to opposition. The year’s political shifts, while disruptive to the business of governing, were generally free from improper interference or manipulation.
Score Change: The score improved from 3 to 4 because opposition parties defeated the ruling PDM in February’s elections, and the transition period was free of improper interference or manipulation.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||2 4|
Oligarchs and business interests strongly influence political structures in Moldova at both central and local levels, undermining political accountability.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, religious, gender, LGBT, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||3 4|
Women and minorities do not face direct legal barriers to political participation, but social obstacles prevent women from having a proportional role at all levels of Moldovan politics. Although the 2019 elections brought 26 women into the parliament, their proportion of seats remains low, at just over 25 percent. The elections brought into the new parliament a number of lawmakers from Moldova’s ethnic minorities, including Gagauzian, Bulgarian, Armenian, and Romany.
The October–November 2019 local elections brought slightly more women and Roma into the elected local positions. Yet, the representation of women, persons with disabilities, and Roma still remains low.
LGBT+ people continue to organize and advocate for equal rights, but the harassment they encounter discourages their political engagement.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||3 4|
Before his resignation as head of the PDM in June 2019, the oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc played a key role in policymaking even as he held no elected office and enjoyed little public support; he announced government plans at regular public briefings and presenting himself as a de facto leader.
Since the 2019 establishment of two governments—in June and again in November, after the earlier government lost a confidence vote—the control of business elites over state policies has decreased. At year’s end, Plahotniuc was in self-imposed exile, his whereabouts unknown.
President Dodon, despite holding a nonexecutive, nonpartisan office, has often interfered with the executive agenda and supports the PSRM, which he used to lead before being elected president.
Score Change: The score improved from 2 to 3 because political decisions were to a large extent taken within formal government structures following the June departure of wealthy power broker Vladimir Plahotniuc from politics and from the country.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||1 4|
Corruption remains a widespread problem at all levels of government, and existing anticorruption laws are inadequately enforced. Moldova is still recovering from a 2014 scandal involving the Central Bank, in which $1 billion was stolen. In 2016, former prime minister Vlad Filat was sentenced to nine years in prison in connection with the scandal; in December 2019 he was conditionally released early on parole. In 2019 at least two other key actors in the fraud, Ilan Șor and Vladimir Plahotniuc, left Moldova.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||1 4|
Although the governments in power since June 2019 act more openly and transparently that their predecessors, serious issues still persist, involving, for example, late publication of plans, draft policies, and bills for consultation. Despite efforts to make open and transparent new, important appointments to key state positions, such as judges of the Constitutional Court, head of the National Anticorruption Center, and interim and permanent general prosecutor, these processes have been marked by major procedural failures.
CIVIL LIBERTIES: 34 / 60
|Are there free and independent media?||2 4|
The media environment is dominated by outlets connected to political parties. With few exceptions, nationally broadcasting television stations are owned by people affiliated with political parties. Under the previous PDM-led administration, media workers from opposition and independent media were frequently denied access to information and entry to governmental institutions. In June 2019 it was revealed by the investigative journalism group RISE Moldova that since 2017, many opposition leaders, civic activists, and journalists had been wiretapped by state authorities.
After the installation of successive new governments in 2019, reporters still experience problems in accessing information of public importance, and face threats of legal action by some politicians and public figures.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||3 4|
The Moldovan Constitution proclaims religious freedom and separation of state from religion, but at the same time the law provides special status to the Moldovan Orthodox Church. Christian Orthodox symbols have been erected in public institutions, and Orthodox churches are sometimes present within public hospitals and some schools. On several occasions Muslims were summarily targeted by negative messages in mass media and by public figures, including President Dodon.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||3 4|
There is a good degree of academic freedom in Moldova. At the same time, the Orthodox Church strongly indoctrinates the Moldovan educational system, with educational officials at all levels, including the top ministerial level, frequently promoting the Christian Orthodox church and Orthodox beliefs.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||3 4|
Individuals have generally been able to engage in discussions of a political nature without fear of retribution. At the same time, during the PDM rule until June 2019, there were credible concerns that expressing criticism of the government or actors affiliated with the PDM could result in loss of employment or damaged career prospects, particularly in the public sector. Suspicions of increased surveillance targeting opposition leaders, journalists, and civil society activists have also discouraged open political discussion among private citizens. These suspicions proved true after the June 2019 disclosure of information about the wiretapping of over 50 individuals from the opposition, civil society, and mass media. After installation of the Sandu government in June 2019, such pressure over the freedom of expression decreased.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||3 4|
Freedom of assembly is guaranteed by the constitution and mostly upheld in practice. The annual LGBT+ march took place in May 2019 in Chişinău without major incident and reached its destination, unlike in some previous years. For the first time in Moldovan history, a sitting lawmaker took part in the march, along with his family. The event saw enhanced security and protection measures taken by police and the organizers, compared to previous years.
The case of the so-called Petrenco Group is still under review in the Moldovan courts. The case involves associates of opposition politician Grigore Petrenco, who received a prison sentence in 2017 for “organizing mass disturbances” in 2015. The affair has been recognized by international organizations as a politically motivated case.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||3 4|
The nongovernmental organization (NGO) sector is active. Until June 2019, NGOs critical of the government were obstructed by the governmental institutions in pursuing their civil society and human rights activities, and, as disclosed in June, leaders of several civil society organizations and groups were wiretapped by the government. In the second half of the year, pressures on critical NGOs eased.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||2 4|
Trade unions do not encounter major obstacles in Moldova, and the government has passed regulations protecting the rights of workers. At the same time, trade unions are not active or visible, and their role in protecting rights of the workers is insignificant.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||1 4|
Moldova’s judicial branch is susceptible to political pressures that hamper its independence, and judicial appointment processes lack transparency.
Following the February 2019 parliamentary elections, a new coalition government was formed in June under Maia Sandu from previously opposition parties (PAS, DA, and PSRM) during the last days of the period allotted by the Constitution. The Constitutional Court, politically controlled by the PDM, denied legal recognition of the new government the day it was endorsed by Parliament; the court also suspended President Dodon, citing dubious grounds, and appointed Pavel Filip of PDM as interim president. The crisis was resolved after Filip’s government agreed to resign and allow Sandu to form the new government. Meanwhile, Vladimir Plahotniuc of the PDM left Moldova.
The Constitutional Court reversed all of its decisions regarding the events, citing the change of the political situation. Several days later, in late June, the entire Constitutional Court resigned. These events inflicted heavy damage on the Moldovan constitutional and legal order, and undermined even further the trust in Moldovan public law institutions.
The changes in government in 2019 also prompted the revisiting of a number of high-profile cases in favor of the newly ruling parties, but with no improvements with regard to the rule of law.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||1 4|
Due process rights are poorly upheld by the Moldovan justice system. Recent years featured politically motivated prosecutions under the previous government, including against opposition figures and lawyers defending personal “enemies” of ruling elites. Important cases have been held behind closed doors, and lawyers defending high-profile opponents of ruling elites faced difficulties in accessing their clients.
The appointment of a new general prosecutor caused a major rupture within Prime Minister Sandu’s governing coalition and led to the fall of the government in November 2019. The General Prosecutor’s appointment procedure has been highly politicized.
In September 2018, seven Turkish teachers of the Orizont Lyceum were deported to Turkey, in violation of multiple national and international norms and in the absence of adequate investigation.
Unjustifiably lengthy pretrial detention is still common.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||2 4|
Prisoners and detainees have experienced maltreatment and torture. Prosecution for such offenses is rare, and very few of those convicted in torture cases receive prison sentences. Officials and officers responsible for April 2009 acts of torture and ill-treatment against post-election protesters remain largely uninvestigated and unsentenced.
Many of those involved in the highly publicized case of Andrei Braguța, who was beaten to death by cellmates while in police custody in 2017 after a minor traffic violation, have not yet been adequately sentenced. However, one guard and one prisoner were sentenced in July 2019.
Overcrowding and inhuman conditions are common in Moldovan prisons. Healthcare in pretrial and penitentiary institutions remains very poor. In this respect the case of terminally ill Serghei Cosovan, a businessman arrested in 2017, has attracted national and international attention; following months of activism on his behalf, Cosovan was released in November 2019.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||2 4|
The 2012 Moldovan Law on Ensuring Equality provides an adequate normative framework for preventing and addressing discrimination. The main operational body under this law, the Equality Council, has been praised for effective work and principled stance on difficult and complex discrimination issues. At the same time the Moldovan government, under both the previous and current ruling parties, refuses to extend the Council’s effective powers and adequate funding.
Women, persons with disabilities, Roma people and linguistic minorities, Muslims and other non-Orthodox believers, people of African and Asian descent, older persons, and LGBT+ people are often discriminated against in employment, and some of these groups also in education, housing, and public services. Hate messages against minority groups are routinely promoted by some media outlets and public figures.
With few exceptions, schools and universities in Moldova do not provide education in Moldova’s minority languages—Ukrainian, Gagauz, Bulgarian, or Romani. Public schools in southern regions populated by many Gagauzians and Bulgarians are of low quality and often fail to prepare graduates of these schools for admission to Moldova’s Romanian-language universities.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||3 4|
The law protects freedom of internal movement and foreign travel, and the government generally respects these rights. There are no formal restrictions on the right to change one’s place of employment or education, but bribery is not uncommon in educational institutions.
Travel to the Transnistria region is subject to “border” checks by de facto Transnistrian authorities.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||2 4|
Although Moldovan law guarantees property rights, they are undermined by a weak and corrupt judiciary. Widespread corruption affects fair competition and normal business activity. Allies of powerful individuals have been accused of benefiting economically from selective enforcement of business regulations.
In April 2019, Andrei Tranga, owner of Moldova’s largest pizza restaurant chain, was arrested on criminal charges involving a business conflict. Many perceived the arrest as a use of law enforcement institutions for advancing business purposes. He was released in June after the change in government.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||2 4|
Most personal social freedoms are protected, but domestic violence and sexual abuse are common in Moldova. A 2016 report by several Moldovan NGOs found that more than 63 percent of women and girls over the age of 15 had experienced at least one form of violence (physical, psychological, or sexual) in their lifetime; the same report found that over 20 percent of men admitted to having had sex with a woman without her consent. Laws covering domestic and gender-based violence are inadequately enforced, and abuses that do not result in significant injury are subject only to administrative penalties.
Sexual harassment in the workplace is not uncommon, and complaints of such acts are inadequately investigated and adjudicated. A September 2019 judgment in a sexual harassment case brought against a professor at the State University of Medicine and Pharmacy in 2018 found that the accusers had to compensate the professor for “defamation,” thus even further discouraging the survivors to complain or go public. Child marriages are reported among the Romany minority.
Neither marriage nor civil unions for same-sex couples are recognized by the law.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||2 4|
Due to weak labor rights protection and enforcement by state authorities and trade unions, reports of exploitative practices in the workplace are common (long work hours, low wages, fully or partially undocumented work or wages). The rural population, women, and Roma are especially vulnerable to these practices. Regulations meant to prevent exploitative or unsafe working conditions remain poorly enforced.
Human trafficking remains a problem, although the authorities make some efforts to prosecute traffickers.
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Global Freedom Score60 100 partly free