Freedom in the World
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Civil Liberties (1 = best, 7 = worst)
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Parliament finally elected a president in March 2012, ending a political deadlock that had left the post vacant since 2009. The achievement was made possible by the weakening of the opposition Communist Party, which suffered additional defections during the year. The party was also buffeted by the closure of an allied television outlet in April, a failed attempt to block an antidiscrimination law in May, and a ban on Soviet symbols in July. The antidiscrimination law was one of several measures undertaken by the ruling Alliance for European Integration as it sought to upgrade Moldova's ties with the European Union.
Moldova gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, and free and fair elections followed in 1994. Centrist parties governed until 2001, when the Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova (PCRM) won a landslide victory, promising a return to Soviet-era living standards. Communist leader 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. After charting a foreign policy course away from Russia and toward the European Union (EU) in the period surrounding the elections, Voronin steered the country back toward Russia in 2007 and 2008. The Kremlin's cooperation is seen as essential in resolving the status of Transnistria, a separatist region that has maintained de facto independence from Moldova since 1992.
The PCRM won 60 seats in April 2009 parliamentary elections, though international monitors documented problems including flaws in the voter lists, intimidation and harassment of opposition parties, and media bias. Three opposition parties won the remainder. The results triggered youth-led protests in Chisinau, and the demonstrations turned violent on the second day, with some protesters ransacking government buildings. Police responded with beatings, hundreds of arrests, and serious abuse of detainees in custody.
The PCRM failed twice to elect its choice to replace the term-limited Voronin as president, triggering fresh parliamentary elections in July 2009. Although similar electoral flaws were reported by observers, the defection of former PCRM Parliament speaker Marian Lupu to the opposition Democratic Party (PD) helped it and three other opposition parties to secure a simple majority. The new coalition, called the Alliance for European Integration (AIE), elected Liberal Democratic Party (PLD) leader Vlad Filat as prime minister, and Liberal Party (PL) leader Mihai Ghimpu as Parliament speaker and acting president. With just 53 seats, the coalition failed twice—in November and December—to secure Lupu's election as president.
A third round of parliamentary elections was held in November 2010, after a PCRM boycott helped to thwart a September constitutional referendum that would have introduced direct presidential elections. The new balloting, which was praised by observers, strengthened the AIE parties' position overall, though they still lacked the supermajority needed to elect a president. The PCRM took 42 seats, followed by the PLD with 32, the PD with 15, and the PL with 12. Lupu was elected Parliament speaker and acting president in late December, and Filat resumed his role as prime minister in January 2011.
Internal AIE feuding intensified during 2011, but further factional rifts in the PCRM also emerged. Three Parliament members defected from the PCRM caucus in early November, and after two abortive presidential election attempts in November and December, the AIE and the PCRM defectors finally agreed on a compromise candidate in early 2012. Nicolae Timofti, head of an entity that oversees the judiciary, was duly elected with 62 votes on March 16 and sworn in a week later. The PCRM refused to recognize the constitutional legitimacy of the process, mounting a series of large protests, but it ultimately ended a four-month boycott of Parliament in June.
The PCRM continued to suffer setbacks throughout the year. In July, the AIE majority passed a ban on Soviet symbols, such as the hammer and sickle, that were still used by the Communists; the ban took effect October 1. Voronin vowed to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). A group of three PCRM lawmakers left the caucus in June, and another switched to the Socialist Party in September. In October, the seven lawmakers who had quit the PCRM caucus since late 2011 announced the formation of their own bloc. Another Parliament member left the party in December, leaving the Communists with 34 seats.
Moldova is an electoral democracy. Voters elect the 101-seat unicameral Parliament by proportional representation for four-year terms. Parliament elects the president, who serves up to two four-year terms. The prime minister, who holds most executive power, must be approved by Parliament.
Domestic and international observers hailed the November 2010 parliamentary elections as a substantial improvement over the 2009 balloting, citing a more open and diverse media environment, impartial and transparent administration by the Central Election Commission, and a lack of restrictions on campaign activities. Some problems were reported, including flaws in the voter list, unbalanced distribution of overseas polling sites, and isolated cases of intimidation.
Corruption remains a major problem in Moldova, and the country's leading politicians regularly trade accusations of graft and illegal business activities. Under an EU-backed reform strategy adopted in May 2012, the scope of the renamed National Anticorruption Center was narrowed to exclude general economic crimes, allowing the agency—now an autonomous body under parliamentary rather than government supervision—to focus on corruption and money laundering. The new center was still recruiting staff at year's end. Moldova was ranked 94 out of 176 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index.
The media environment improved following the 2009 change in government. The public broadcaster, Teleradio Moldova (TRM), grew more impartial under new management, and two new private satellite television channels added to the diversity of national news coverage. However, several media outlets are perceived as party affiliates, including a number linked to AIE leaders. NIT, the only opposition-aligned television station with national reach, was known for an especially strong bias and is believed to be owned by the son of PCRM leader Vladimir Voronin. The Audiovisual Coordinating Council (CCA) had penalized it several times for politicized reporting, but the regulator's April 2012 revocation of its license—followed just a day later by the cutoff of its transmissions, before the decision had been upheld in the courts—raised concerns in some segments of civil society and the international community. NIT's appeal of the closure was still pending at year's end, following repeated court delays. Separately, unidentified attackers destroyed or stole equipment at the headquarters of regional broadcaster Elita TV in April. Reporters sometimes face physical abuse or selective exclusion from events of public interest. A cameraman for the opposition-oriented Omega news agency was hospitalized in May after four men emerged from a car and severely beat him without taking any valuables.
Although the constitution guarantees religious freedom, Moldovan law recognizes the "special significance and primary role" of the Orthodox Church. The Russian-backed Moldovan Orthodox Church accounts for more than 80 percent of the population, while the Romanian-backed Bessarabian Orthodox Church represents another 11 percent. Despite some positive steps by the AIE government in recent years, minority groups continue to encounter discrimination or hostility from local authorities, Orthodox clergy, and residents in some areas. Moldovan officials do not restrict academic freedom, though opposition parties have accused the AIE of placing political pressure on university students and seeking to inject pro-Romanian ideology into school curriculums.
The current government has generally upheld freedom of assembly. Opposition parties repeatedly mounted large antigovernment protests in 2012. Also during the year, activists who support Moldova's unification with Romania organized a series of marches, some of which had to be aborted after antiunion demonstrators pelted participants with eggs or rocks. The leader of the antiunion Social Democratic Party was facing a criminal investigation at year's end for his role in the disruptions. State relations with civil society groups have improved under the AIE, though some leading politicians have displayed wariness or hostility toward nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Domestic NGOs have actively monitored recent election campaigns. Enforcement of union rights and labor standards is weak, with employers rarely punished for violations. Workers participating in illegal strikes face possible fines or prison time.
Although the constitution provides for an independent judiciary, reform efforts suffer from lack of funds, and judicial and law enforcement officials have a reputation for political influence and corruption. Numerous cases of malfeasance and petty bribery were reported during 2012. The election of Nicolae Timofti, a proponent of judicial reform, as president in March raised hopes for future improvements. In November, the prosecutor general's office began posting online all queries from lawmakers in an effort to deter improper requests. Prison conditions are generally harsh.
Roma suffer serious discrimination in housing, education, and employment, and have been targets of police violence. Gay men are also reportedly subject to harassment. In May 2012, the AIE overcame fierce opposition to pass the EU-backed Law on Ensuring Equality. Although the law's main article does not list sexual orientation among the banned grounds for discrimination, it was understood to be covered under a reference to "any other similar grounds." Moreover, sexual orientation is listed in a section on workplace discrimination. Opponents of the law—an alliance of opposition parties and Orthodox clergy—portrayed it as part of a general assault on traditional morality, claiming that it encouraged pederasty and Islamization. Meanwhile, municipalities including the city of Bălţi passed bans on "homosexual propaganda."
Women are underrepresented in public life; just 19 were elected to Parliament in 2010. Orders of protection for victims of domestic violence are inadequately enforced. Moldova is a significant source for women and girls trafficked abroad for forced prostitution. In May 2012, Parliament overrode a presidential veto on a law that imposed chemical castration on convicted pedophiles. The measure was designed to combat the problem of sex tourism by foreign pedophiles. It would also allow courts to apply the punishment to convicted rapists on a case-by-case basis.
The numerical ratings and status listed above do not reflect conditions in Transnistria, which is examined in a separate report.