The numerical scores and status listed above do not reflect conditions in Transnistria, which is examined in a separate report. Freedom in the World reports assess the level of political rights and civil liberties in a given geographical area, regardless of whether they are affected by the state, nonstate actors, or foreign powers. Disputed territories are sometimes assessed separately if they meet certain criteria, including boundaries that are sufficiently stable to allow year-on-year comparisons. For more information, see the report methodology and FAQ.
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 figures and powerful economic interests, as well as critical deficiencies in the justice sector and the rule of law continue to hamper democratic governance.
- Former premier Maia Sandu of the Action and Solidarity Party (PAS) became Moldova’s first female president, defeating incumbent Igor Dodon in a free and fair two-round November election.
- While authorities instituted largely proportional COVID-19-related restrictions, some businesses and individuals received arbitrary fines and the media regulator unsuccessfully attempted to limit journalists’ ability to quote unofficial sources. Nearly 144,000 COVID-19 cases and 3,000 deaths were recorded by year’s end.
- Oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc, who fled Moldova in 2019, was charged by prosecutors for his alleged involvement in a banking scandal in May. Despite attempts to extradite him from the United States and Turkey, Plahotniuc remained at large at year’s end.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||4.004 4.004|
The president is elected by direct popular vote for up to two consecutive 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. Former premier Maia Sandu of the PAS defeated incumbent president Igor Dodon in the two-round November 2020 contest. Sandu won 57.7 percent of the second-round vote, while Dodon won 42.3 percent. Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) observers called the election competitive, but reported that electoral authorities did not investigate allegations of first-round irregularities.
A prime minister nominated by the president and confirmed by Parliament holds most executive authority. Ion Chicu, who became prime minister in November 2019, resigned in December 2020. Sandu nominated Foreign Minister Aureliu Ciocoi as acting prime minister on New Year’s Eve.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||3.003 4.004|
Voters elect the 101-seat unicameral Parliament to four-year terms. In February 2019, Moldova held its first parliamentary elections using a 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.
OSCE observers considered the elections competitive, but noted shortcomings including credible allegations of pressure on public employees, indications of vote buying, and abuse of public resources for partisan electoral aims. Outcomes were also affected by limited space for independent media to present alternative viewpoints to voters. Five parties entered Parliament––the PSRM with 35 seats, the Democratic Party of Moldova (PDM) with 30, the ACUM (“Now”) bloc of the PAS and the Dignity and Truth (DA) party with 26, and the Șor Party with 7—3 independent candidates also won seats.
ACUM and the PSRM subsequently formed a short-lived coalition led by Sandu. After that government fell in November 2019, the PSRM and PDM supported Chicu, who was succeeded by Ciocoi in December 2020.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||2.002 4.004|
The February 2019 parliamentary elections were governed by a 2017 revision to electoral rules that introduced a mixed system featuring both single-member constituencies and seats allocated proportionally by party lists. The Venice Commission of the Council of Europe had opposed the new system. Parliament restored the old proportional system that July.
The OSCE 2019 election observation mission noted “a lack of inclusive public debate and meaningful consultation with relevant stakeholders and no broad consensus” on the 2017 electoral rule amendments. The monitors otherwise assessed that year’s elections positively, and considered their administration professional and transparent.
Local elections held in October and November 2019 were competitive and mostly compliant with electoral standards, though observers noted a number of shortcomings, including cumbersome registration processes and a lack of adherence to gender parity laws.
OSCE monitors largely lauded the November 2020 presidential contest, noting that polling stations were calm and orderly. However, they reported that complaints regarding alleged irregularities were largely dismissed by the Central Electoral Commission.
|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?||3.003 4.004|
Political party legislation in Moldova is generally liberal, but does include restrictions. Parties seeking legal registration must enlist 4,000 members coming from at least half of Moldovan districts. These requirements effectively disallow regional, municipal, and local parties, as well as parties representing geographically concentrated ethnolinguistic minorities (for example, Gagauzians and Bulgarians). Despite these limitations, 14 political parties and one bloc participated in the February 2019 parliamentary elections, of which four gained seats. Three independent candidates, meanwhile, won single-member constituency seats. In February 2020, the Constitutional Court ruled those provisions unconstitutional, instructing Parliament to revise the Law on Political Parties by July 2021.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||4.004 4.004|
Opposition parties have a strong presence in Parliament and other elected offices, and can gain support through elections. Following the February 2019 parliamentary elections, the three then opposition parties—the PAS, DA, and PSRM—came to power, ousting the PDM. Following the November 2019 fall of the Sandu government, the ACUM bloc returned to opposition.
|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?||2.002 4.004|
Oligarchs and business interests strongly influence and corrupt national and local political institutions, undermining political accountability.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||3.003 4.004|
Women and minorities do not face direct legal barriers to political participation, but social obstacles prevent women from having a proportional role in Moldovan politics. Representation of women, people with disabilities, and Roma remains low, though women and members of ethnic minorities attain office.
Some 25 women hold parliamentary seats, representing just under a quarter of the body. Lawmakers from Moldova’s ethnic minorities, including Gagauzian, Bulgarian, Armenian, and Romany, also hold seats. The October and November 2019 local elections brought slightly more women and Roma into elected local positions. Maia Sandu became Moldova’s first female president in November 2020.
LGBT+ people organize and advocate for equal rights, are discouraged from political engagement due to harassment.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||3.003 4.004|
Before resigning as PDM head and fleeing Moldova in June 2019, oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc played a key role in policymaking, despite holding no elected office and enjoying little public support. Since the 2019 establishment of two governments—in June and then in November—business elites have exerted less control over the state.
Before his electoral defeat in November 2020, former president Dodon, despite holding a nonexecutive, nonpartisan office, interfered with the executive agenda and supported the PSRM, which he led before becoming president.
In early December, PSRM and allied lawmakers attempted to shift control over the Security and Intelligence Service (SIS) from the presidency to Parliament, which would have undercut incoming president Sandu's authority. However, the Constitutional Court suspended the legislation after a legal challenge.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||1.001 4.004|
Corruption remains entrenched in all levels of government, and existing anticorruption laws are inadequately enforced. Moldova is still recovering from a 2014 banking scandal involving the central bank, in which $1 billion was stolen. In 2016, former prime minister Vlad Filat received a nine-year prison sentence in connection with the scandal, but was conditionally paroled in December 2019. Two key actors in the fraud, Plahotniuc and Ilan Șor, left Moldova in 2019.
The scandal continued to reverberate in 2020. In March, authorities detained four central bank board members for their alleged involvement, and their cases remained pending at year’s end. In May, a video of former president Dodon purportedly receiving a bribe from Plahotniuc was published online, sparking a criminal complaint against Dodon. That same month, the prosecutor general charged Plahotniuc for his involvement in the scandal. Prosecutors sought Plahotniuc’s extradition from the United States in June and from Turkey in September, but he remained at large at year’s end.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||1.001 4.004|
Although the governments in power since June 2019 were more transparent than their predecessors, serious issues, including the late publication of plans, draft policies, and bills for consultation, persist. Efforts to transparently appoint public officials have been marred by procedural failures.
Moldovan authorities were also opaque in COVID-19-related decision-making. In March 2020, access-to-information fulfillment deadlines were extended by 30 working days. In April, the Moldovan chapter of Transparency International criticized the use of email to transmit health-care tender offers, warning that such a method was vulnerable to abuse.
|Are there free and independent media?||2.002 4.004|
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. Reporters have previously faced difficulty accessing publicly important information and threats of legal action from public figures and politicians.
Journalists were also affected by the government’s COVID-19 response. In March 2020, the Moldovan media regulator attempted to restrict outlets from quoting unofficial sources, before rescinding that decision a day later. Journalists also faced longer waits for the fulfillment of access-to-information requests due to COVID-19-related policy changes.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||3.003 4.004|
While constitution proclaims religious freedom and separation of state from religion, the law also provides special status to the Moldovan Orthodox Church. Orthodox symbols have been placed in public institutions, and Orthodox churches are sometimes present within public hospitals and some schools. Muslims have sometimes been summarily targeted by negative messages and comments in media and by figures including former president Dodon.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||3.003 4.004|
There is a good degree of academic freedom in Moldova. However, the Orthodox Church strongly indoctrinates the Moldovan educational system, with educational officials at all levels frequently promoting the church and Orthodox beliefs.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||4.004 4.004|
Individuals have generally been able to engage in discussions of political nature without fear of retribution. However, under the PDM’s rule, there were credible concerns that criticizing the government or affiliated actors could lead to damaged career prospects. Private discussion was curtailed by surveillance against the opposition, journalists, and civil society actors. However, these fears subsided after the 2019 fall of the PDM government.
Score Change: The score improved from 3 to 4 because private discussion is generally free and unfettered following the 2019 collapse of the PDM government.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||3.003 4.004|
Freedom of assembly is constitutionally guaranteed and mostly upheld in practice. While the government limited public gatherings and restricted access to public areas in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, major protests were held during 2020. Veterans held antigovernment demonstrations in Chişinău in early March, and called for an increase to benefits in a late May protest. During a veterans’ protest in July, several participants were arrested and beaten by security forces in front of the Parliament building in Chişinău. In early December, some 20,000 Moldovans demonstrated and called for snap elections after Parliament attempted to strip incoming president Sandu of control over the SIS.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||3.003 4.004|
The nongovernmental organization (NGO) sector is active but has been affected by recent legislative changes. In June 2020, Parliament approved legislation simplifying registration and revoking related fees for NGOs. However, the new law also prohibited NGOs from supporting electoral candidates.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||2.002 4.004|
Trade unions do not encounter major obstacles in Moldova. However, trade unions are not active or visible, and do not play an active role in protecting workers’ rights.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||1.001 4.004|
Moldova’s judicial branch continues to be highly susceptible to political pressures that hamper its independence, and judicial appointment processes lack transparency.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||1.001 4.004|
Due process rights are poorly upheld in the Moldovan justice system. Lengthy pretrial detentions are common.
Politically motivated prosecutions occurred under previous governments, targeting opposition figures and lawyers defending perceived enemies of the elite. In February 2020, the general prosecutor’s office vowed to examine dozens of politically motivated prosecutions, and several cases were closed in October.
In 2018, seven Turkish teachers of the Orizont Lyceum were deported to Turkey, in violation of national and international norms, and eventually received prison terms for their alleged links to the Gulenist movement. In February 2020, former SIS chief Vasile Botnari was detained for facilitating the deportation, but was issued a modest fine and a five-year ban on holding public office in August. Other individuals who allegedly facilitated the deportation avoided justice, and judicial review of the case has largely been opaque.
A criminal trial against Ilan Șor, who was accused of involvement in the 2014 banking scandal and fled Moldova in 2019, is still ongoing, but court hearings have been repeatedly postponed.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||2.002 4.004|
Prisoners and detainees face maltreatment and torture, and those who engage in such behavior face little consequence. Individuals responsible for 2009 acts of torture and maltreatment against postelection protesters remain largely uninvestigated and unsentenced. Those involved in the case of Andrei Braguța, who died in police custody in 2017 after a traffic violation, have not yet been adequately sentenced.
Overcrowding and inhumane conditions are common in Moldovan prisons. Health care in pretrial and penitentiary institutions remains poor. COVID-19 clusters were identified in some of these facilities as the pandemic progressed.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||2.002 4.004|
The 2012 Moldovan Law on Ensuring Equality provides an adequate normative framework for preventing and addressing discrimination. The law’s main operational body, the Equality Council, has been praised for effective work and principled stance on difficult and complex discrimination issues, but has been underfunded by successive governments.
Women, persons with disabilities, Roma people, linguistic minorities, Muslims and other non-Orthodox believers, people of African and Asian descent, older persons, and LGBT+ people often face employment discrimination. Some of these groups also face discrimination in education, housing, and public service. Hate speech against minority groups is often promoted by some media outlets and public figures. Some of these groups were additionally affected by the COVID-19 pandemic; for example, migrants, COVID-19 survivors, and minority groups faced hate speech during the pandemic.
Schools and universities generally do not provide education in the Ukrainian, Gagauz, Bulgarian, or Romani languages. Low-quality public schools in the south, populated by many Gagauzians and Bulgarians, often fail to prepare graduates for admission to Romanian-language universities.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||3.003 4.004|
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 Transnistria is subject to checks by the de facto territorial authorities.
While Moldovan authorities issued largely proportional COVID-19-related movement restrictions, large fines were sometimes issued for those who violated them.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||2.002 4.004|
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. Some businesses also complained of receiving arbitrary COVID-19-related fines.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||2.002 4.004|
Most personal social freedoms are protected, but domestic violence and sexual abuse are common. A 2016 report by several Moldovan NGOs found that more than 63 percent of women and girls over the age of 15 had experienced some form of gender-based violence in their lifetime, while over 20 percent of men admitted to having had nonconsensual sex with a woman. Domestic and gender-based violence laws are inadequately enforced, and abuses that do not result in significant injury are subject only to administrative penalties. Local groups reported an increase in violence against women during the country’s COVID-19 lockdown.
Sexual harassment in the workplace remains common, and such incidents are inadequately addressed.
Child marriages are reported in the Romany community. Neither marriage nor civil unions for same-sex couples are legally recognized.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||2.002 4.004|
Due to weak labor rights protection and enforcement by authorities and trade unions, reports of exploitative labor practices, including long work hours, low wages, and fully or partially undocumented work or wages, are common. 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 do attempt to prosecute traffickers.
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Global Freedom Score62 100 partly free