Freedom in the World
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The Communist Party of Moldova (PCRM) maintained its majority in March 2005 parliamentary elections, while President Vladimir Voronin was easily reelected by the parliament in April. Meanwhile, the European Union (EU) and Moldova signed an action plan in February to strengthen 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 (PCRM) 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 2001 parliamentary elections, the PCRM won a landslide victory on the promise of a return to Soviet-era living standards, and Vladimir Voronin was elected president.
Two alliances and nine parties competed in the March 2005 parliamentary election. A 6 percent threshold for a party to enter parliament favored large parties; this requirement was changed to 4 percent after the election. The only parties that captured seats were the PCRM, the opposition Democratic Moldova Bloc (BMD), and the Christian Democratic Popular Party (PPCD). The PCRM gained 56 seats, a majority but short of the 61 votes required to elect the president. The resulting negotiations caused a split in the BMD, with the Democratic Party breaking off and voting for PCRM candidate Voronin along with the PPCD, which was rewarded with government posts after Voronin was reelected in April; the BMD no longer forms a unified bloc.
Monitoring groups highlighted a number of flaws during the election campaign, including police searches of opposition offices and harassment of opposition representatives. The PCRM was also accused of manipulating state-controlled media and using state funds to support its electoral prospects. Voter lists were not all accurate and campaign finance rules were not respected. Moldova deported many Russian nationals accused of interfering in Moldova's internal affairs before the election. Residents of Transnistria had to cross into government-controlled territory in order to vote, and approximately 8,200 did so with minimal problems.
While the PCRM's victory was a testament to its continuing popularity-in large part due to high spending on social programs-it unquestionably repositioned itself leading up to the vote. Previously aligned with Russian interests and promising to make Russian an official language, the PCRM subsequently rejected Russia in favor of the European Union (EU). This switch has been evident in conflicting policies over Moldova's breakaway region of Transnistria, from which Voronin has demanded Russia's unconditional withdrawal. The BMD, meanwhile, called for closer ties with Russia.
Moldova has not made the kind of substantial progress toward being a stable democracy that is seen in some of its Western neighbors. Unemployment rates in Moldova, one of Europe's most impoverished countries, are very high. Moldova has had strong economic growth since 2000, reaching 7.2 percent in 2004. However, according to the International Monetary Fund, the growth is mostly the result of remittances, while money is not being invested in the country; as much as a quarter of the country's population may be working abroad.
Separatist elements have declared a "Dniester Republic" in Transnistria-situ-ated between the Dniester River and Ukraine-in which Russian troops continue to maintain a presence. Five-party talks that include Russia, Ukraine, the authorities of Moldova and of Transnistria, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) welcomed the United States and the EU as observers in 2005. A new peace plan was launched by Ukraine, and talks have continued but produced minimal results.
The Moldova Action Plan with the EU was signed in February. 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. EU membership is very popular in Moldova and was supported by nearly all parties in the 2005 election.
Citizens of Moldova can change their government demo-cratically. In 2000, Moldova ended direct presidential elections. 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 was traditionally an honorary post held for four-year terms, but under Vladimir Voronin's leadership, it took on significant power. The electoral code is generally considered to provide a sound framework, but some regulations favor the incumbent.
The electoral law in practice discourages the formation of ethnic or regional parties. The Roma (Gypsies) are particularly underrepresented.
Corruption is a major concern in Moldova, and anticorruption efforts have been used against political opponents. Despite laws to promote governmental transparency, access to information remains limited. The trial of former defense minister Valeriu Pasat-who is accused of defrauding the Moldovan government in the sale of So-viet-era fighter planes to the United States in 1997-began in June. The charges are viewed as politically motivated due to Pasat's ties to the previous Moldovan administration. Moldova was ranked 88 out of 159 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2005 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Print media present a range of opinions. However, there is little access to newspapers in rural areas, and only the public service broadcasters have national reach. Prison sentences for libel were abolished in 2004, but journalists can be subject to crippling fines, and self-censorship is common. Despite the legal transformation of the state-owned broadcasters into public service stations, the government continued to exercise tight control in the run-up to the 2005 election. Other broadcasters stopped producing political programs at that time in the face of ambiguous and inhibiting regulations. Police raided the offices of an opposition newspaper close to election day. Although media coverage became more balanced after the presidential election, the public broadcaster continued to be criticized for bias and a lack of professionalism.
Although Moldova's constitution guarantees religious freedom, there have been some legal impediments to the functioning of various religious groups. All religious groups are required to register with the government, and unregistered groups are not allowed to buy property or obtain construction permits. No Muslim groups have been granted registration. The Moldovan Orthodox Church receives some favored treatment from the government. The government does not restrict academic freedom.
Citizens may participate freely in nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). However, private organizations must register with the state, and some NGOs have complained of government interference. NGOs are generally poorly funded, unless they receive support from outside the country. Demonstrations require permits from local authorities. Freedom of assembly was obstructed during the 2005 election campaign; the authorities prevented or interfered with the holding of meetings, and employees were pressured to attend ruling party campaign events. Authorities exert pressure on unions and their members, and employers violate trade union rights.
Moldova's constitution provides for an independent judiciary. However, there is evidence that some prosecutors, judges, and law enforcement officials accept bribes and are subject to official pressure from governmental figures. Some courts are inefficient and unprofessional, and many court rulings are never carried out. Torture and ill-treatment in police custody are widespread and are often used to extract forced confessions. Torture is not defined in law, and perpetrators generally are not punished. Prison and detention facility conditions are exceptionally poor. The government has reportedly handed Moldovan citizens over for trial to the authorities in Transnistria, where human rights are not respected.
Members of the Roma community suffer the harshest treatment of the minority groups in Moldova. Roma face discrimination in housing and employment and are targets of police violence. In July, police raided a Roma community and, according to Amnesty International, beat and detained residents.
Women are underrepresented in public life, though the 21 women elected to parliament in the 2005 elections mark a substantial increase over previous polls. Moldova remains a major source for women and girls trafficked to other countries for the purpose of forced prostitution. Despite government attempts to address the problem, a 2005 report commissioned by the UN and OSCE cited an increase in the number of Moldovan children being trafficked into Russia for forced labor and prostitution.