Freedom in the World
Freedom Rating (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Political Rights (1 = best, 7 = worst)
Moldova’s political rights rating declined from 3 to 4 due to signs of serious political bias in budget allocations, new restrictions on access to information, and the apparent politicization of anticorruption investigations.
Moldovan president Vladimir Voronin continued his foreign policy shift toward Russia and away from Romania in 2008, seeking Russian agreement on the status of the breakaway Transnistria region. Meanwhile, the Moldovan government used politicized budget allocations and other tactics to undercut support for opposition parties, and the parliament passed legislation that threatened public access to information.
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 PCRM took 56 of 101 seats in the 2005 parliamentary elections and built a coalition to obtain the 61 votes needed to reelect Voronin. The only opposition group that did not back him was the Our Moldova Alliance. 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 had gained support in part by shifting its policy alignments from Russia toward the European Union (EU); Voronin had stepped up demands for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Moldova’s separatist region of Transnistria. Tensions mounted in 2006, as Russia briefly cut off gas supplies amid a pricing dispute and separately banned Moldovan wine and produce imports. Multilateral talks on Transnistria, which had maintained de facto independence since 1992, broke off in February 2006.
In April 2007, it emerged that Voronin had been holding bilateral talks with Russia for more than a year, prompting concerns that he would strike a deal outside of the stalled multilateral negotiations, which included Ukraine and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), with the United States and the EU as observers. In April 2008, Voronin met with Transnistrian president Igor Smirnov for the first time since 2001. The following month, he approved a national security strategy that reaffirmed Moldova’s formal neutrality, a status that pleased Russia by implicitly ruling out NATO membership. Voronin also declined for a second consecutive year to attend a summit of GUAM—a grouping of Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Moldova that Russia viewed as pro-Western—but Moldova was set to host a summit of the Russian-led Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in 2009.
As Voronin appeared to repair ties with Russia, his government’s friction with Romania increased. After Romania joined the EU in January 2007, many Moldovans had applied for Romanian citizenship, taking advantage of the fact that much of Moldova had been part of Romania prior to World War II. This trend, coupled with the two countries’ nearly identical dominant languages, stoked government concerns that Romania was seeking to undermine Moldovan nationhood.
Vasile Tarlev, the prime minister since 2001, was replaced in March 2008 by Zinaida Greceanii. The cabinet was reorganized as well, though most ministers were retained. The changes came as the PCRM sought to bolster its position ahead of March 2009 elections. Electoral code amendments adopted in April raised the threshold for party representation in Parliament to 6 percent of the vote, from 4 percent, and banned electoral coalitions. Those with dual citizenship were barred from holding office, thus excluding the many Moldovans who held Romanian passports.
Poverty and unemployment rates remain high, and the population is in long-term decline due to large-scale emigration and other factors. Roughly a quarter of Moldovans work abroad, and their remittances accounted for at least 38 percent of gross domestic product in 2007, making the Moldovan economy one of the most remittance-dependent in the world.
Moldova is an electoral democracy. Voters elect the 101-seat unicameral Parliament by proportional representation for four-year terms. Since 2000, Parliament has elected the president, whose choice for prime minister must then be approved by Parliament. The presidency, held for up to two four-year terms, has taken on significant power under President Vladimir Voronin. In June 2008, the opposition Liberal Democratic Party’s signature campaign for a constitutional referendum that would restore direct presidential elections and introduce single-mandate constituencies for half of Parliament was abandoned amid alleged obstruction by the central election commission.
National politics are dominated by the PCRM and its smaller allies. The main opposition group, the Our Moldova Alliance, holds less than a quarter of the seats in Parliament. In the 2007 local elections, international monitors reported media bias, intimidation, and other flaws, but said the balloting was generally well administered and offered a genuine choice to voters. Elections for the legislature of the autonomous, ethnically Turkic Gagauzia region were held in March 2008; both the governor and the assembly speaker chosen in July were PCRM opponents.
Corruption is a major problem in Moldova, and high-profile antigraft prosecutions often appear politicized. There were multiple cases pending against the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party by the end of 2008, but anticorruption officials reported in October that no public servant had ever been fired for missing or faulty income declarations. Access to information remains limited, and legislation adopted in February 2008 barred civil servants other than press officers from speaking to the media. A bill on state secrets that was approved by Parliament in November drew criticism for its broad scope and potential conflicts with the existing access to information law. Separately, an independent study released in March found that the central government’s funding allocations overwhelmingly favored the 37 percent of municipalities headed by PCRM mayors while neglecting opposition-held areas, including the capital. Moldova was ranked 109 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index.
Print media present a range of opinions, but they are not widely available in rural areas. The criminal code, along with June 2008 amendments to the Law on Editorial Activity, contains vague provisions banning defamation of the state and the people. Prison sentences for libel were abolished in 2004, but journalists practice self-censorship to avoid crippling fines. Only public broadcasters have national reach, and stations that air critical or opposition views were excluded from a round of frequency distributions in May 2008. Public broadcasters favored the ruling party in the 2007 local elections, and media regulators sometimes reflect the government’s tense relations with Romania. At least one Romanian journalist was denied accreditation in apparent violation of the law in 2008, and toward the end of the year, regulators threatened not to renew the license of the Romanian-owned station PRO-TV. Separately, the Moldovan investigative weekly Ziarul de Garda received threats in September after publishing an article on the Security and Information Service, and the Russian-language newspaper Moldavskye Vedomostifaced a criminal investigation after it reported on the controversial 2007 renationalization of the Soroca granite quarry. Also during 2008, authorities interrogated radio talk-show participants and website commentators whom they accused of making inflammatory remarks. The government generally does not restrict internet access.
Although the constitution guarantees religious freedom, the government has shown its preferences through the selectiveenforcement of registration rules. 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; the government has clearly favored the Russian-backed Moldovan Orthodox Church and shown hostility toward the Romanian-backed Bessarabian Orthodox Church. Several Romanian priests were expelled or denied entry at the beginning of 2008.
Moldovan authorities do not restrict academic freedom, but bribery and dismal salaries in the education system remain problems, and new regulations in 2008 favored school textbooks from government-run publishing houses.
Citizens may participate freely in nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). However, private organizations must register with the state, and some NGOs have complained of bureaucratic obstruction and police harassment. Under legislation passed in February 2008, organizers of demonstrations must give notice but no longer need permits from authorities. Nevertheless, three people were allegedly detained without cause at a March event commemorating the historical union of Bessarabia and Romania. Counterdemonstrators blocked a sexual minorities march in Chisinau in May 2008, and march organizers complained that police took no action to uphold their assembly rights. Authorities exert pressure on unions and their members, and employers are rarely punished for violating union rights.
Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, 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. An April 2008 European Commission report called for better training for judges and prosecutors and reforms to ensure the independence of the general prosecutor’s office. Opposition parties cited criminal probes aimed at critics of the 2007 renationalization of the Soroca granite quarry as evidence of the office’s politicization. Abuse and ill-treatment in police custody are still widespread, and prison conditions are exceptionally poor.
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.
Women are underrepresented in public life, though the 21 women elected to Parliament in 2005 marked a substantial increase over previous polls. Zinaida Greceanii, appointed in March 2008, was independent Moldova’s first female prime minister. Moldova remains a major source for women and girls trafficked abroad for forced prostitution. The U.S. State Department lowered the country to Tier 3, the worst ranking, in its 2008 Trafficking in Persons Report, citing the government’s failure to address trafficking-related corruption. The director of the Interior Ministry’s Center for Combating Trafficking in Persons was fired in July, and officials announced that half of the center’s 44 employees would also be dismissed. Voronin accused them of involvement in trafficking schemes.
The numerical ratings and status listed above do not reflect conditions in Transnistria, which is examined in a separate report.