Freedom in the World
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As Romania entered the European Union in early 2007, Moldovans rushed to apply for Romanian passports and visas, leading to tension between the two countries. Meanwhile, Moldovan president Vladimir Voronin held a series of bilateral meetings with Russian officials on the future of the breakaway Transnistria region. In June, the ruling Communist Party of Moldova lost ground in local elections.
Moldova gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, and free and fair elections were held in 1994. The Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova (PCRM) took power after winning a landslide victory in the 2001 parliamentary elections, promising a return to Soviet-era living standards. Vladimir Voronin was elected president by Parliament.
The only parties that captured seats in the 2005 parliamentary elections were the PCRM, the opposition Democratic Moldova Bloc (BMD), and the right-wing Christian Democratic Popular Party (PPCD). The PCRM took 56 of the 101 seats, and built a broad coalition to obtain the 61 votes needed to reelect Voronin. The only opposition group that did not back him was the Our Moldova Alliance, which had entered Parliament as part of the BMD. Election monitors highlighted a number of flaws during the campaign, including police harassment of the opposition, manipulation of the state media, and abuse of state funds by the PCRM.
The PCRM’s victory was due in large part to high spending on social programs, but it had also gained support by shifting its policy alignments from Russia toward the European Union (EU). Voronin increasingly demanded the withdrawal of Russian troops from Moldova’s separatist region of Transnistria. Tensions mounted in January 2006, when a pricing dispute led Russia to cut off natural gas supplies to Moldova for 16 days. A Russian ban on Moldovan wine and produce imports—a trade that brought in more than $250 million annually for Moldova—further soured the relationship during 2006. In a sign of rapprochement, Russia agreed to lift the restrictions in November that year, but bureaucratic delays prevented the resumption of wine sales until late 2007. Since the bans were imposed, Russia has fallen behind Romania as Moldova’s leading trade partner.
Multilateral talks on Transnistria, which had maintained de facto independence since 1992, broke off in February 2006. The U.S.-based Jamestown Foundation revealed in April 2007 that Voronin had been holding bilateral talks with Russia for more than a year, reportedly yielding a proposal that would reunify Moldova but leave Transnistria with substantial privileges and autonomy. Critics said the proposed deal would bolster Russian influence. The report prompted calls for the resumption of the multilateral talks, which had included Ukraine and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), with the United States and the EU as observers. Ukraine and the EU in late 2005 had stepped up efforts to assist the Moldovan government and isolate Transnistria, launching joint patrols along the Ukraine-Moldova border and enforcing Moldovan customs authority.
As Voronin appeared to repair ties with Russia, his government’s friction with Romania increased. Romania formally joined the EU in January 2007, prompting a surge in Moldovan applications for Romanian passports and visas. An opinion poll released in May found that 38 percent of respondents had applied or planned to apply for Romanian citizenship; many Moldovans had that option under Romanian law, since much of Moldova had been part of Romania prior to World War II. The Moldovan government agreed in January to allow Romania to open two new consulates to handle the load, but it reversed itself in March amid ongoing concerns that Romania was seeking to undermine Moldovan nationhood. In December, Moldova expelled two Romanian diplomats for unclear reasons, and Parliament passed a law barring public servants from holding more than one passport.
Local elections were held in June 2007. The PCRM won with roughly a third of the overall vote, followed by Our Moldova, though both lost ground to smaller parties in comparison with the 2003 results. In Chisinau, the PCRM again lost the mayoral race, despite having the acting mayor as its candidate; the party had failed to capture the post in an election since independence. The winner was Liberal Party member Dorin Chirtoaca, a 28-year-old human rights activist.
Unemployment rates remain high, and the population is in decline due to large-scale emigration and other factors. According to a UN–sponsored report released in June 2007, just 47 percent of the population live in towns and cities. Much of the country’s economic growth in recent years has come from expatriate worker remittances, and up to a quarter of the population may be working abroad.
Moldova is an electoral democracy. Voters elect the 101-seat unicameral Parliament by proportional representation for four-year terms. Since a 2000 constitutional reform, Parliament rather than the public has elected the president, whose choice for prime minister must then be approved by Parliament. The presidency, also held for four-year terms, was traditionally an honorary post, but it has taken on significant power under President Vladimir Voronin’s leadership.
The electoral code is generally considered sound, but some regulations favor incumbents. The electoral law in practice discourages the formation of ethnic or regional parties. Roma (Gypsies) are particularly underrepresented. In the 2007 local elections, international monitors reported media bias, intimidation, inconsistent procedures, and other flaws, but said the balloting was generally well administered and offered a genuine choice to voters.
Corruption is a major concern in Moldova, and officials have used anticorruption efforts against political opponents. Despite laws to promote governmental transparency, access to information remains limited. Former defense minister Valeriu Pasat, who was accused of defrauding the Moldovan government in 1997 arms sales, was released by an appeals court in July 2007 after receiving a prison sentence the year before. The prosecution was viewed as politically motivated due to Pasat’s ties to the previous administration. In another case with political overtones, Ivan Burgudji, a politician from the autonomous ethnic Turkish region of Gagauzia, was sentenced in June 2007 to 12 years in prison for embezzling funds while representing his region in Transnistria in 2001–02. Moldova was ranked 111 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2007 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Print media present a range of opinions, but they are not widely available in rural areas. Only the public service broadcasters have national reach. A new Audiovisual Code, passed in 2006, was praised by press freedom advocates, although some provisions raised concerns, including a vague obligation to ensure “balanced” and “comprehensive” coverage. Prison sentences for libel were abolished in 2004, but journalists often practice self-censorship to avoid crippling fines. The criminal code prohibits the “profanation of national and state symbols” and the defamation of judges and criminal investigators. Despite their legal transformation into public service stations, state-owned broadcasters favored the ruling party in the 2007 local elections. After the Audiovisual Coordinating Council (CCA) warned some outlets to curb electoral bias, four council members were detained by anticorruption investigators in June, creating the appearance of retaliation. In early October, the government faced accusations of political manipulation when the CCA withdrew the Moldovan frequency license of Romania’s public broadcaster, which had been due to expire in 2010. An assortment of press freedom and journalists’ organizations endorsed an appeal of the decision in November. The government does not restrict internet access.
Although the constitution guarantees religious freedom, the government has shown its preferences through the selective enforcement of registration rules. Unregistered groups are not allowed to buy property or obtain construction permits, and many smaller sects, including all Muslim groups, have been denied registration. A law passed in July 2007 banned “abusive proselytism” and denied legal status to groups with fewer than 100 members. It also acknowledged the “special significance and primary role” of the Orthodox Church, although no branch was specified. Earlier that month, President Voronin had indicated his loyalty to the Russian-backed Moldovan Orthodox Church, rather than the Romanian-backed Bessarabian Orthodox Church. Moldovan authorities do not restrict academic freedom, but bribery in the education system remains a problem.
Citizens may participate freely in nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). However, private organizations must register with the state, and some NGOs have complained of government interference. Demonstrations require permits from local authorities. The Supreme Court ruled in February 2007 that the previous year’s ban on a gay rights march in Chisinau had violated freedom of assembly, but the city banned a similar march in April. Authorities exert pressure on unions and their members, and employers violate union rights.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary. However, there is evidence of bribery and political influence among judicial and law enforcement officials. Some courts are inefficient and unprofessional, and many rulings are never carried out. Laws passed in 2005 on appointments to the Supreme Court and the Superior Court of Magistrates have had some success in strengthening judicial independence. Abuse and ill-treatment in police custody are still widespread and are often used to extract confessions. Prison conditions are exceptionally poor. The government has reportedly handed over suspects for trial in Transnistria, where human rights are not respected. The death penalty was abolished in July 2006.
Members of the Romany community suffer the harshest treatment of the minority groups in Moldova. They face discrimination in housing and employment and are targets of police violence.
Parliament in April 2007 passed a package of economic reforms, including tax cuts and amnesties for black-market assets, that were designed to stimulate investment. However, the International Monetary Fund’s representative in the country warned that such measures would be ineffective without better private-property protection by the judicial system.
Women are underrepresented in public life, though the 21 women elected to Parliament in 2005 marked 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. In February 2006, the government adopted the Law on Ensuring Equality for Women and Men, which addresses inequalities in education, employment, and health care.