Freedom in the World
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In the decade since Moldova declared independence from the Soviet Union, this tiny country has struggled for every success. Although Moldova boasts a positive record on the conduct of free and fair democratic elections, in 2001 it became the first former Soviet state to return unreformed Communists to power. Likewise, despite joining the World Trade Organization in 2001, the country continues to have one of the highest poverty rates in Europe. In spite of strong hopes that the new government would fare better in negotiations with the self-declared Dnestr Moldovan Republic (Transnistria), talks continue to break down over the breakaway region's political status.
In 1991, the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic declared independence and made Mircea Snegur, the chairman of the Communist supreme soviet, the first president of a democratic Republic of Moldova. In 1994, Snegur's centrist Agrarian Democratic Party (ADP) won a majority of seats in the country's first free and fair popular election. Petru Lucinschi, also a former Communist, defeated Snegur in 1996. The Party of Moldovan Communists (PCM) won a plurality of votes in the 1998 parliamentary elections, but three centrist parties united to form a new majority. Moldova has undertaken important economic reforms, replaced the Soviet-era constitution, and joined NATO's Partnership for Peace. The country's successes have been tempered, however, by an extremely low standard of living and by the situation in Transnistria.
In 2000, Moldova ended direct elections of the president and became a parliamentary democracy. In doing so, it ended a constitutional crisis that had set parliament and President Petru Lucinschi against each other since the previous year. Opposed to the change, however, President Lucinschi refused to participate in the scheduled December balloting. The PCM nominated party leader Vladimir Voronin as its candidate, and a coalition of center-right parties and independent members of parliament nominated Pavel Barbalat, the head of the constitutional court.
The constitutional court forced parliament to repeat its first vote because PCM leaders had violated secret balloting rules and pressured party members to choose Voronin. Parliament voted two more times in December but still failed to elect a president. When Barbalat's supporters boycotted a new round of voting on December 21, President Lucinschi dissolved the parliament and scheduled early elections to fill all 101 seats for February 25, 2001.
The Central Election Commission registered 12 parties, 5 electoral blocs, and 10 independent candidates. Only 3 parties received a mandate under an amended electoral code that increased the threshold for representation of independent candidates from three to four percent of the vote and for parties and blocs from four to six percent. The PCM won 71 seats; the Braghis Alliance, 19; and the Christian Democratic People's Front (FPCD), 11. Voter turnout was 69 percent. According to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the election was democratic and "met international standards." Authorities in Transnistria refused to let the Moldovan government set up polling stations on its territory. Instead, as in previous elections, Moldova invited the region's estimated 80,0000 registered voters to cross the Nistru River to vote at special polling stations.
In April, Moldova's new parliament elected PCM leader Vladimir Voronin as president. Voronin pledged to nominate a non-Communist as prime minister, to maintain relations with Western nations and international financial organizations, and to transform the country "from an impoverished backwardness . . . into a modern, dynamically developing country." However, he and fellow party members have worried observers with promises to abolish the "bourgeois" post of president, to consider reversals in privatization, and to explore a union with Belarus and Russia. The PCM's efforts to introduce Russian as an official second language, to make Russian-language classes mandatory in schools, to reinstate Soviet-style territorial administration, and to restore the November 7 holiday commemorating the October Revolution are also disquieting.
Moldova is a parliamentary democracy in which citizens age 18 and older can change their government under a system of universal, equal, and direct suffrage. Voters elect members of parliament by proportional representation to four-year terms in the unicameral parliament. Parliament, in turn, elects the prime minister. Post-Soviet elections in Moldova have been free and fair. The self-declared government in Transnistria, however, severely limits the ability of voters in that region to participate in Moldovan elections.
In 2000, Moldova ended direct elections of the president and increased the powers of the government and the prime minister. The year ended in crisis when parliament failed to elect a president according to the new rules. President Petru Lucinschi dissolved parliament and called new elections in February 2001. Voters handed the PCM a solid victory, and control of parliament, with 50 percent of the vote. In April, the new parliament elected PCM leader Vladimir Voronin as president.
The constitution guarantees freedom of expression and access to public information. In 2000, Moldovan courts issued two important rulings that affect the media. First, the constitutional court upheld a controversial civil code provision that imposes stiff fines and demands speedy retractions from journalists found guilty of libel. Second, an appeals court upheld an order to revoke the licenses of eight radio and television stations that air considerable Russian-language programming. The court found the stations in violation of a legal requirement that 65 percent of their broadcasts be in Romanian. Although parliament amended the law so that it only applies to programs produced domestically, the constitutional court struck down the amendments in 2001.
Also in 2001, parliament approved a controversial amendment to the press law that bans financial support from foreign governments for Moldovan media outlets. Following parliamentary elections in February, the OSCE criticized Moldova's electoral code for being "unnecessarily restrictive" on the media and thereby preventing voters from receiving "sufficient information to make a fully informed choice." Although the OSCE noted that state-owned media had provided unbiased coverage, it reported that privately held television stations and newspapers showed clear bias toward individual parties and candidates. In April, the Communist-dominated parliament fired the top executives at the state radio and television stations for allegedly airing programs that lacked political balance. Since then, however, journalists' groups such as the Independent Journalism Center of Moldova have been critical of the state television broadcaster for the same thing: exhibiting bias toward the ruling party and making little room for dissenting voices. In August, Moldova's Ministry of the Economy, Department of Privatization, Chamber of Trade and Industry, State Customs Office, and Journalists' Union opened the Center for Public Information, which will provide information on social and economic issues to the press.
Moldova's constitution guarantees religious freedom. A 1992 law that codifies religious freedom also requires religious groups to register with the government. The government has denied the Bessarabian Orthodox Church registration three times on the grounds that the church is a schismatic movement of the Orthodox Church. In 2000, the church appealed to the European Court for Human Rights, and in 2001 the court ruled in its favor. However, Victor Stepaniuc, the head of the PCM's parliamentary group, expressed satisfaction with the outcome because the court did not actually order the government to register the church. Although religious education became mandatory in primary schools in 2000, lack of funding and debates about the curriculum have prevented instruction from commencing.
Moldovan citizens may strike, petition the government, and participate freely in social organizations, political parties, and trade unions. Private organizations must register with the state, and demonstrations require permits from local authorities. Moldovan law allows collective bargaining but prohibits strikes by government employees and essential workers.
Moldova's constitution calls for an independent judiciary. It also guarantees equality before the law and presumption of innocence. There is evidence that some prosecutors, judges, and law enforcement officials accept bribes. In 2001, parliament approved an amnesty that will lead to the release of approximately 1,500 prisoners, including disabled persons and pregnant women. According to the Interfax news agency, Moldova's 20 prisons house more than 10,000 prisoners.
The constitution preserves a variety of personal freedoms and entitlements such as the right to choose one's residence, move and travel freely, and have access to education. It also calls for a market economy rooted in "fair competition." In 2000, the government approved plans to privatize the wine and tobacco industries and completed the privatization of 1.5 million hectares of agricultural land. In 2001, the International Monetary Fund praised the government for achieving moderate growth in gross domestic product, lower inflation, and higher exports. Despite accomplishments like these, Moldova remains one of Europe's most impoverished countries.