Freedom in the World
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Moldova is a multiparty democracy that holds regular, credible elections, but struggles with serious corruption among public officials and within the judicial system. The country continues to reel from a 2014 banking scandal, which led to a bailout that devastated its national budget and fostered deep mistrust in the political establishment.
- In June, former prime minister Vlad Filat, who during his 2009–13 tenure had worked to bring Moldova closer to the European Union (EU), was convicted on corruption charges related to a banking scandal that had rocked Moldovan politics. He was sentenced to nine years in prison.
- In March, the Constitutional Court struck down constitutional amendments mandating parliamentary selection of the president, paving the way for the first direct presidential election since 1996.
- Socialist Party leader Igor Dodon won the presidency in two rounds of an election held in October and November. In his campaign, Dodon promised to bring about prosperity through closer ties with Russia, and his victory highlighted voters’ rejection of pro-European parties that had been embroiled in numerous scandals.
- Several controversies involving members of the judicial system drew attention to continuing issues with corruption in the courts.
Moldovan politics in 2016 largely revolved around political and economic fallout from the corruption scandal that emerged in late 2014, in which the central bank had eventually taken control of three troubled financial institutions, and an independent assessment concluded that $1 billion had disappeared from the banks in a fraudulent borrowing scheme. In June 2016, former prime minister Vlad Filat was convicted on corruption charges related to the scandal and sentenced to nine years in prison; Filat, a member of the center-right Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova (PLDM), had worked to bring Moldova closer to the EU, but had become embroiled in multiple corruption cases and in 2015 was stripped of parliamentary immunity.
In the wake of the banking scandal, many people turned against the European-leaning yet oligarchic parties that dominated previous governments, including the one headed by Filat. Popular support for Russian-oriented parties has since been building. Newly created political movements seeking to capture pro-European and anti-oligarchic ground have also seen increasing popularity. Meanwhile, some corruption investigations are progressing, and the political situation stabilized somewhat in 2016 compared to the previous year.
In March, Moldova’s Constitutional Court struck down constitutional amendments mandating that the president be elected by the parliament, paving the way for a popular vote for president later in the year. The court’s decision prompted criticism from some political parties and from civil society, who said it had acted outside its jurisdiction. Nevertheless, Moldova subsequently held its first direct presidential election since 1996, in two rounds held in October and November 2016. Socialist Party leader and prominent Russophile Igor Dodon won in the second round; he had campaigned on boosting the economy by establishing closer ties with Russia. Monitors deemed the vote credible, but noted issues with media bias and misuse of administrative resources, while some overseas voting posts in Western Europe reportedly ran out of ballots. The vote for Dodon brought into sharp relief voters’ ambivalence toward the EU and their rejection of previous pro-European parliamentary coalitions that were bedeviled by corruption crises. (Earlier, in January, a pro-European coalition government was voted in, amid calls by protesters and pro-Russian lawmakers for snap legislative elections.)
Several incidents in 2016 prompted concern about politicization, corruption, and a lack of professionalism within the judicial system. In March, a judge was appointed to the Supreme Court of Justice despite failing to meet requirements for financial disclosures, and amid questions about whether she had adequately managed past caseloads. As Moldova lost cases at the European Court of Human Rights and was required to pay damages to plaintiffs, Minister of Justice Vladimir Cebotari called for those Moldovan judges and officials who lost the cases to bear the costs of those payments, saying their personal property could be confiscated, if necessary. In May, a court suspended the popular mayor of Taraclia, Sergei Filipov, ostensibly for the improper removal of trees from public property. Filipov called the move political retaliation for his refusal to support the Democratic Party of Moldova (PDM) presidential candidate in a past election. He was reinstated after a court battle, and while the issue was ultimately adjudicated in Moldovan courts, the head of the EU’s delegation to Moldova highlighted the case as emblematic of Moldova’s problems with a politicized judiciary.
This country report has been abridged for Freedom in the World 2017. For background information on political rights and civil liberties in Moldova, see Freedom in the World 2016.
The numerical ratings and status listed above do not reflect conditions in Transnistria, which is examined in a separate report.