Freedom in the World
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Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
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Press freedom continued to be a problem in Moldova in 2004, with protests against the allegedly politically motivated dismissals of journalists during the state broadcaster's transformation into an independent public broadcaster. The European Union (EU) and Moldova agreed in June on an Action Plan to increase economic and political cooperation.
The Soviet Socialist Republic of Moldova declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The country's first free and fair popular election took place in 1994. While the Communist Party of Moldova (PCM) won a plurality of votes in the 1998 parliamentary elections, three centrist parties united to form a majority coalition. Subsequently, Moldova undertook much-needed economic reforms and drafted a new constitution. In 2000, constitutional changes made Moldova a parliamentary republic, with the president chosen by parliament instead of by popular vote.
In the February 2001 parliamentary elections, the PCM won a landslide victory on the promise of a return to Soviet-era living standards. In April of that year, PCM leader Vladimir Voronin was elected president. Moldova thus became the first former Soviet republic to elect a Communist Party member as president.
Moldova has not made the kind of substantial progress toward stable democracy seen in some of its Western neighbors. Frequent changes in political leadership have impeded the development of consistent and effective policies. Local elections held nationwide in 2003 were declared by the OSCE to be in line with international standards, but some observers expressed concerns about intimidation of opposition candidates, bias among the media, and irregularities during the poll.
Unemployment rates in Moldova, one of Europe's most impoverished countries, are very high. By the government's own estimates, some 80 percent of the population subsists on less than the officially designated minimum, and the shadow economy accounts for between 30 and 70 percent of all economic activity. Harsh economic conditions have led a substantial number of people to emigrate. However, Moldova has had strong economic growth since 2000, reaching 6.3 percent in 2003.
Separatist elements have declared a "Dniester Republic" in Transnistria - situated between the Dniester River and Ukraine - in which Russian troops continue to maintain a presence. Transnistria is home to approximately 750,000 of Moldova's 4.35 million people. During 2004, five-party talks that included Russia, Ukraine, the authorities of Moldova and of Transnistria, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) produced no resolution.
In June, the EU and Moldova agreed on an Action Plan. The first of its kind between the EU and a neighbor, the plan is designed to increase economic integration and deepen political cooperation between the two sides.
Citizens of Moldova can change their government democratically. In 2000, Moldova ended direct presidential elections. Today voters elect members to the 101-seat unicameral parliament by proportional representation for four-year terms; parliament then elects the prime minister and president. The president remains dominant on the political scene; important policy decisions are made by a political board of the PCM - President Vladimir Voronin's party - reporting directly to the president. Although international observers believe that Moldova's Electoral Code provides a sound framework for the conduct of free and fair elections, accuracy of voter lists and transparency of the tabulation of election results could be improved.
More than 30 political parties are registered and competed in the last elections. However, the 2000 constitutional changes appear to have provided the conditions for a single party to establish dominance. Only 3 parties are represented in the parliament: the PCM has 71 seats, while the Our Moldova Alliance and the Christian Democratic Popular Party have 12 and 11 seats, respectively. The remaining seats are held by independents. Government security forces are believed to monitor opposition political figures and to conduct unauthorized wiretaps. Moreover, opposition groups have difficulty pursuing their agendas in face of the dominant ruling party. The opposition has accused the PCM of trying to establish a dictatorship.
The self-declared government in Transnistria severely limits the ability of voters in that region to participate in Moldova's national elections. In contrast, the Gagauz-Yeri region in the south of Moldova, populated by a Christian Turkic minority, has been granted autonomy and has abandoned separatist aspirations. In 2003, the region was also given the right to initiate legislation in the national parliament.
Corruption is a major concern in Moldova. Anticorruption efforts have failed in the past and have been used as weapons against political opponents. Despite laws to promote governmental transparency, access to governmental information remains limited. Moldova was ranked 114 out of 146 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2004 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Although the constitution guarantees freedom of expression and of the press, media freedom is somewhat restricted. Electronic media are the most widely accessed news sources, and only the former state broadcaster, Teleradio Moldova, has national reach. The government has been accused of using Teleradio Moldova against the opposition and pressuring independent media through financial and legal means. For example, in February, the audiovisual council suspended the broadcast licenses of one radio and one television station that were often critical of the government. These were reinstated in April. In March, the state-owned telecommunications company cut off the country's main Internet service provider, allegedly for political reasons. In contrast, prison sentences for libel were abolished in 2004, although journalists can still be subject to very large fines.
In 2003, parliament passed legislation transforming Teleradio Moldova into an independent company. Still, a June 2004 study by two nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) found that Teleradio Moldova's coverage had a heavy pro-government bias. After all journalists were dismissed prior to the change, critics claimed that rehiring procedures were used to get rid of journalists for political reasons. Police used force against peaceful protesters of the procedures in August.
In June, a journalist for the weekly Timpul was beaten by unknown assailants in Chisinau, allegedly with government backing. The reporter had investigated official corruption, and she was attacked the day before she was due to testify in a libel case against her publication.
Moldova's constitution guarantees religious freedom, although there have been some legal impediments to the functioning of various religious groups and sects. All religious groups are required to register with the government, and unregistered groups are not allowed to buy property or obtain construction permits. The Moldovan Orthodox Church receives some favored treatment from the government. Both the Moldovan Orthodox Church and the Bessarabian Orthodox Church claim to be the lawful successors of the pre - World War II Romanian Orthodox Church, whose property is still in dispute. In February, the Supreme Court ruled illegal a 2001 decision by the Moldovan government that the Moldovan Orthodox Church was the lawful successor.
The government does not restrict academic freedom.
Citizens may participate freely in NGOs and political parties. Private organizations must register with the state, and demonstrations require permits from local authorities. Some NGOs have complained of government interference. In addition, lack of funding limits NGO activities. Workers are allowed to strike, petition the government, and form and join trade unions. The law allows collective bargaining but prohibits strikes by government employees and essential workers.
Moldova's constitution provides for an independent judiciary. It also guarantees equality before the law and the presumption of innocence. However, there is evidence that some prosecutors, judges, and law enforcement officials accept bribes and are subject to official pressure from governmental figures. Prison conditions are exceptionally poor, and levels of malnutrition and disease are high in penal institutions. The central court in Chisinau ruled against the Ministry of the Interior in March in a case of detainment in what were judged to be inhuman and degrading conditions. Torture by police against suspects and prisoners reportedly takes place and is rarely investigated.
Although ethnic minorities constitute some 30 percent of the population, specific legislation makes it difficult for them to organize politically. Nevertheless, ethnic minority representation in parliament after the 2001 elections rose from 16 percent to 30 percent. The Roma (Gypsy) community is the victim of particular discrimination in Moldovan society. With no opposition support, parliament approved a controversial Nationalities Policy in December 2003 that designates the promotion of the Russian language alongside Moldovan as a national priority. In July 2004, parliament approved an amendment to the citizenship law allowing anyone who lived on Moldovan territory before independence to have automatic citizenship. The law targets Transnistrians who previously had difficulty obtaining Moldovan citizenship.
There are no official restrictions on women's rights in Moldova, although women are considerably underrepresented in public life. Women are discriminated against in employment, and they currently hold only 13 of 101 seats in parliament. Domestic violence against women is believed to be widespread. Although the law prohibits trafficking in human beings, Moldova remains a major source for women and girls trafficked to other countries for purposes of forced prostitution. The police have attempted to crack down on perpetrators, but the problem continues.