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Transnistria, a breakaway region of Moldova in which ethnic Russians and Ukrainians together outnumber ethnic Moldovans, has enjoyed de facto independence since a brief civil conflict in 1992, though it is internationally recognized as a part of Moldova. Its government and economy are heavily dependent on subsidies from Russia, which maintains a military presence in the territory. Political competition is limited, and the dominant party is aligned with Sheriff Enterprises, a monopolistic business conglomerate that is Transnistria’s largest employer and taxpayer. Nearly all media outlets are controlled by the state or Sheriff Enterprises, and all civil society activities must be coordinated with local authorities. The justice system features arbitrary or politically motivated arrests, harsh prison conditions, and reports of torture. The ethnic Moldovan (Romanian-speaking) minority faces discrimination, and same-sex sexual activity is illegal.
- Vadim Krasnoselsky of the Obnovleniye (Renewal) party, which is associated with Sheriff Enterprises, defeated incumbent Yevgeniy Shevchuk in the December presidential election.
- Russian and Transnistrian troops held join military exercises in August, underscoring the close relationship between Moscow and Tiraspol.
The December 2016 presidential election was held in the context of worsening economic conditions. Exports declined during the year, the Transnistrian ruble lost value, and in July Ukraine began restricting the flow of goods directly into the territory by rail, forcing such traffic to flow through Moldova proper. Obnovleniye, which controlled the legislature, accused President Shevchuk of embezzling Russian subsidies, while Shevchuk’s government backed a bill calling on Sheriff Enterprises to repay $250 million of the state benefits it had received between 2007 and 2011 in order to help cover public expenses.
Krasnoselsky, the speaker of parliament, won the election in the first round with 62 percent of the vote. Shevchuk, who had been a leading figure in Obnovleniye before he split with the party in 2011, took 27 percent, and the remainder was divided among four other candidates. Voter turnout was 59 percent.
During the campaign, the main contenders competed to demonstrate their pro-Russian credentials. Transnistrian forces held joint military exercises with Russian troops in August, and in September Shevchuk issued a decree mandating that Transnistria adjust its legislation to comport with Russian laws in order to realize the result of a 2006 referendum in which the territory’s voters affirmed the independence of Transnistria and their desire for it to join the Russian Federation.
Also in September, the parliament passed legislation giving itself greater authority over state media outlets, including the power to appoint editorial staff, and restricting the ability of any branch of government to establish media outlets without cooperation from the other branches. Moreover, the legislation enabled officials to limit media access to their activities and bar the use of recording devices. Other laws passed that month imposed restrictions or penalties related to unauthorized distribution of religious literature, preaching in public spaces, and organized religious activities in residential buildings.
This territory report has been abridged for Freedom in the World 2017. For background information on political rights and civil liberties in Transnistria, see Freedom in the World 2016.