Freedom House (Autor)
When the Republic of Moldova emerged in 1991 as a result of the USSR's dissolution, it began, like other former Soviet republics, to rebuild its economic and political identity almost from scratch. Moldova soon introduced the formal structures of a democratic political system and successfully completed a voucher privatization program. Yet since then the country has failed to make substantial progress in building a stable democracy and in achieving economic growth. Some 800,000 inhabitants of Moldova have left the country to pursue a better life elsewhere, and the majority of the country's remaining population lives in poverty. In addition, frequent turnovers in the political leadership (8 cabinets replacing one another in 13 years) have left little time for the creation of consistent and effective policies. Moldova's democratic development also has been slowed by the territorial separatism of the eastern region of the country known as Transnistria, as well as by the return to power of the unreformed Communist Party of Moldova (CPM).
Like the 2001 national elections, in which the CPM obtained an absolute majority of seats in the single-chamber legislature and then gained control of the presidency in indirect voting by the legislature, the outcome of local and regional elections in 2003 was determined mainly by the public's profound dissatisfaction with socioeconomic conditions in Moldova. As in 2001, the CPM proved victorious by appealing to voters' sense of nostalgia for the Soviet regime and building unrealistic expectations for change. The democratic opposition, for its part, remained fragmented, muddled, lacking in resources, and largely unable to capture the levels of social and political support enjoyed by the CPM. International and domestic observers deemed the 2003 local elections generally less free and fair than the elections in 2001, noting many areas of concern.
The government continued to put pressure on state-owned and independent media in 2003 and remained engaged in efforts to marginalize the work of civil society groups. In addition, governance remained weak and the fight against corruption continued to be a political weapon rather than a legitimate tool for combating wrongdoing. Efforts to settle the Transnistrian conflict made little headway during the year, as Russia failed to comply with commitments to withdraw its armament and munitions from the breakaway region. Russia also proposed a federalization plan that met with strong resistance from the opposition and a large share of the population, who feared that the proposed plan could open the way to a prolonged Russian military presence in Moldova. All of these developments made the CPM's goal of applying for European Union membership in 2007 highly unlikely, if not impossible.
Electoral Process. Domestic and international observers were critical of the government's conduct of local elections in May 2003 and regional elections in November. According to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, "Opposition parties tried to portray these local elections as a 'no confidence' vote on the Government." However, the official results handed control over the majority of local mayoral and counselor positions to representatives of Vladimir Voronin's CPM rather than the opposition. Domestic and international observers highlighted numerous deficiencies. Some described the elections as "the worst since 1991." Owing to the alleged misuse of state resources, the observed imbalances in the state media's coverage, and other signs of deterioration in Moldova's electoral processes, the country's rating in this category worsens from 3.75 to 4.00.
Civil Society. In 2003, civil society groups tried to maintain the momentum achieved in 2002 when, in response to alleged government efforts to scale back basic rights and liberties, they organized mass public protests. Nevertheless, the influence of civil society actors on the political life of the country continued to be weak, with a variety of obstacles standing in their way. First, the financial sustainability of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) remained limited owing to insufficient legislation to encourage giving or to allow groups to generate their own revenues. The government even attempted in 2003 to tighten controls over NGOs receiving funding from foreign sources. Second, the government remained engaged in efforts designed to marginalize independent civic groups. Since its return to power in 2001, observers of Moldova have pointed to the CPM's use of administrative pressures, bribery, and other methods to either co-opt or divide groups. The CPM also has engaged in establishing government-sponsored NGOs as a counterweight to NGOs that are critical of the current leadership. In 2003, for example, Moldova's independent trade unions accused state officials of interfering in their activities, alleging that the state was using threats, fiscal controls, and other methods to sabotage their work. Owing to the government's efforts to marginalize independent civil society groups, Moldova's rating for civil society declines from 3.75 to 4.00.
Independent Media. In 2003, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe stated that "recent trends [in Moldova] clearly indicate that the ruling party insists in keeping the mass media under strict control." Likewise, many domestic NGOs have argued that the ruling party is increasingly using state-owned media as a tool against the opposition and putting pressure on independent media through financial and legal means. Although in 2003 the Parliament adopted long-awaited legislation transforming Teleradio-Moldova (TVM1), the state television broadcaster, into a public service company, it still remained subject to significant government influence and party control. Moldova's new criminal code, which came into effect in 2003, provides up to five years in prison for persons convicted of defamation despite strong opposition from domestic and international groups. Independent mass media also faced economic pressures such as high tax burdens and limited editorial independence owing to links with specific political parties or businesses. Given the ongoing deterioration in media freedom in Moldova, the rating for independent media worsens from 4.75 to 5.00.
Governance. Concerns persisted in 2003 that Moldova's parliamentary system of government, as adopted in 2000, provides overly favorable conditions for a single party to establish a monopoly on political power. As such, the ruling CPM has managed to keep the civil service system subordinated to its interests, to limit public access to the Parliament's meetings when desired, and to continue with plans to reintroduce a controversial Soviet-style system of territorial administration. Local and regional elections in 2003 were described by international observers as meeting basic international standards but causing concerns in numerous areas. Transnistria continued to remain outside the central government's control in 2003, thus allowing the breakaway region to remain fertile ground for corruption, crime, and violations of basic rights and civil liberties. In 2003, the World Bank described Moldova's system of governance as suffering from "chronic political instability and volatility" and, as such, to be "among the weakest in the region." Owing to this ongoing instability, its root causes, and concerns about the conduct of the local and regional elections, Moldova's rating for governance declines from 5.25 to 5.50.
Constitutional, Legislative, and Judicial Framework. Despite a fragile balance of power among legislative, executive, and judicial authorities, the Moldovan public sees courts as lacking independence and professionalism. In 2003, Moldova took some steps at judicial reform, including the adoption of a new civil code and the passage of legislation defining the prosecutor's office as an independent body within the judiciary. However, some opposition parties viewed the government's own statements about the slow pace of judicial decisions and corruption within the judiciary as a ploy for justifying other changes--such as the replacement of inconvenient judges with persons loyal to the ruling party--that actually limited judicial independence. Although human rights are generally respected in Moldova, some problems do persist, including access to justice and discrimination against minorities, especially Roma. Trafficking also remains a serious problem. In Transnistria, the situation with regard to the protection of basic human rights continues to be very restricted. Moldova's rating in this category remains unchanged at 4.50.
Corruption. As in previous years, the fight against corruption in Moldova in 2003 was seen as more of a political weapon to be used against one's opponents than as a genuine effort to combat legitimate and widespread problems. Although there is already a variety of a legal mechanism in place for combating corruption, they remain ineffectively enforced in practice. When investigative journalists uncover evidence of official corruption, their findings are often ignored by courts or dismissed without sufficient inquiry. Finally, the problem of corruption in Moldova is intensified by the unsettled territorial division of the country. That is, Transnistria's status as a haven for illegal business activity is unchanged. Moldova's rating for corruption remains 6.25.
Moldova is a parliamentary republic in which direct elections are held every four years to a unicameral Parliament according to a system of proportional representation. Although the political system is multiparty based, constitutional changes adopted in 2000 appear to have provided overly favorable conditions for a single party to establish a monopoly on political power. Direct presidential elections were eliminated in 2000 as well, formally weakening the powers of the executive relative to the Parliament. Nevertheless, the role of the president has remained dominant in Moldovan politics.
Moldova's last parliamentary elections took place in February 2001. Although 12 parties, 5 electoral blocs, and 10 independent candidates participated, only 3 parties received representation in the national legislature. The Communist Party of Moldova (CPM) won 71 seats; the Braghis Alliance, 19; and the Christian Democratic Popular Party (CDPP), 11. Voter turnout was 69 percent. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) concluded that the election was democratic and "met international standards," but it also pointed to several shortcomings such as problems ensuring the secrecy of the vote. Authorities in Transnistria refused to let the Moldovan government set up polling stations on its territory. Instead, as in previous elections, Moldova invited the region's estimated 80,000 registered voters to cross the Nistru River to vote at special polling stations.
In April 2001, Moldova's new Parliament elected CPM leader Vladimir Voronin as president. Voronin pledged to create a "technocratic government" consisting of non-Communist ministers, to maintain relations with Western nations and international financial organizations; and to transform the country "from an impoverished backwardness&into a modern, dynamically developing country." At the same time, however, he and fellow party members worried observers with promises to consider reversals in the "anti-popular" privatization process and to explore a deep union with Belarus and Russia. President Voronin also championed a quick resolution of the Transnistrian conflict, relying heavily on his warmhearted links with Moscow's establishment as well as his apparent willingness to make unlimited concessions to Transnistria's separatist leaders. The CPM's efforts to introduce Russian as an official second language, to make Russian-language classes mandatory in schools, to reinstate Soviet-style territorial administration, and to restore November 7 as a national holiday commemorating the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution were also disquieting.
The existing frameworks for political dialogue and action in Moldova are in great need of reform. Owing to the CPM's dominance in the legislative and executive branches, opposition groups in Moldova have difficulty pursuing their reform agendas and forcing the CPM to conduct itself according to democratic standards. As a result, they have turned increasingly to international institutions to voice their concerns. In 2003, as in 2002, opposition leaders took their case to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) and accused the CPM of trying to establish a dictatorship that violates basic principles of political pluralism and human rights. They also drew the Council of Europe's attention to the fact that PACE resolutions adopted in 2002 on the crisis situation in Moldova and on the worrying decline in most democratic indicators were not implemented satisfactorily.
In 2003, Moldova conducted both local and regional elections. According to the OSCE, "Opposition parties tried to portray these local elections as a 'no confidence' vote on the Government." However, the official results handed control over the majority of local mayoral and councilor positions to representatives of the ruling CPM rather than the opposition. No local elections were organized in Transnistria.
The 2003 local and regional elections exhibited signs of deterioration in the democratic nature of elections and, according to the OSCE, "may have damaged public confidence in the electoral process." Although the OSCE noted that the voting "was cast generally in accordance with...criteria for democratic elections," both domestic and international observers highlighted numerous problems and deficiencies.
First, in early 2003 the ruling CPM began making revisions to the Law on Political Parties that would require all parties to re-register with the Ministry of Justice and to double their membership. These changes were clearly aimed at ensuring the CPM's victory in the local elections by imposing requirements that the opposition could not meet and thereby would limit political competition. In response, the opposition announced that it would strike. In an effort to avoid criticism and a new wave of strikes, President Voronin stopped the implementation of the new amendments by announcing in February 2003 that the process of registering political parties would be suspended until November 2003. He also sacrificed one of his proteges, Ion Morei, who was relieved from his post as Minister of Justice.
Similarly, the ruling CPM tried to initiate in 2003 a new series of amendments to the Electoral Code that would introduce term limits by prohibiting the reelection of individuals who had already served two consecutive terms in office. The amendments were widely perceived as an effort to prevent Serafim Urechean, the incumbent mayor of the capital city Chisinau, from running. Nevertheless, Urechean, a prominent leader in the opposition party Our Moldova Alliance, remained the CPM's main competitor in Chisinau's 2003 mayoral race.
Second, CPM officials asked the Central Election Commission (CEC) to suspend the right of students living in but not from Chisinau from voting in the capital city's mayoral election. In addition to making up the most active share of the opposition's electorate, students account for approximately 10 percent of the capital's voters. However, with the majority (approximately 50,000) excluded from voting in Chisinau and told to return to their hometowns to vote, they were unable to have a sizable impact on the race between Urechean and the CPM's candidate, Vasile Zgardan, the acting Minister of Transportation.
Third, the CPM used administrative resources and pressures to weaken opposition candidates and supporters. For example, some civil servants were threatened with the loss of their jobs, while some employees at state-owned firms were threatened with staffing cuts, had their bank accounts frozen, and had their phone lines suspended. The authorities also used the legal system to pressure the opposition, including accusing Chisinau's deputy mayor, Anatol Turcan, of criminal offenses.
Fourth, state media were guilty of poor conduct during the campaign. Censorship of state-owned print and electronic mass media put opposition candidates at a disadvantage, and an active campaign against non-CPM candidates prompted no reaction from the Central Election Commission (CEC) and the National Audiovisual Council. According to the OSCE, state media "failed to provide neutral information, often serving merely as the voice of state authorities and the ruling party; it also provided scant access to opposition representatives." Cornelia Cozonac, the director of Moldpress Wire, the largest state-run news agency, was dismissed from her post for refusing to publish unverified information coming from the Presidential Press Office. According to the Independent Journalism Center and the CIVIS Analysis and Sociological, Political and Psychological Investigations Center, the 2003 elections proved to be "the worst campaign since 1991."
Finally, the use and abuse of administrative resources to favor ruling party candidates was widespread. State officials did not hide their political biases and called on residents of the capital city to vote against non-Communist candidates. There were even campaign posters with President Voronin stating that he would "vote against the incumbent mayor." However, abuses like these did not prompt a reaction from the CEC or the prosecutor's office. The CPM also used its administrative networks to bribe voters, and the Helsinki Committee and LADOM registered dozens of cases. For example, the social assistance divisions of the Ministry of Social Protection distributed flour along with small leaflets promoting CPM candidates.
In the final results, the CPM proved victorious in voting for mayoral positions (taking 42 percent of all slots) and for local councillors (48 percent of all seats). However, the CPM failed to defeat Urechean in the Chisinau mayoral race and said that this was "unfinished business" for the party. November 2003 elections to the regional assembly in the Autonomous Territorial Entity of Gagauzia (UTEG) revealed similar deficiencies.
As of 2003, more than 3,000 registered nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) were engaged in fields such as ecology, youth, mass media, gender studies, local public administration, human rights, and economic and social development. Approximately 65 percent of these groups are considered national and 35 percent local. However, only 15 to 20 percent of all registered groups are thought to be active. Most NGOs are concentrated in the capital city, Chisinau. Although still weak, coalition building and networking among civil society groups is growing.
According to the November 2003 Barometer of Public Opinion, produced by the Chisinau-based Institute for Public Policy, public trust in NGOs, trade unions, and political parties increased between 2002 and 2003. At the same time, attitudes toward the president, the government, and the Parliament grew more negative. Nevertheless, NGOs and their activities remain insufficiently known and understood by the general public.
The Parliament has adopted a series of laws regulating NGO activity: the Law on Sponsorship and Philanthropy (1995), the Law on Public Associations (1996), the Law on Foundations (1999), and the Tax code (2000). Both the Law on Public Associations and the Law on Foundations set precise norms on the procedures for establishing and registering associations and foundations. All foundations, regardless of their area of activity, must be registered by the Ministry of Justice. Local NGOs must be registered by local governments. A new civil code, promulgated in January 2003, completed the general legal framework for non-commercial organisations and the civil guarantees provided to them.
Although this legislative framework functions well in practice, leaving groups free to determine their structure and management and to carry out their activities, NGOs face a variety of institutional and economic obstacles. In particular, the financial sustainability of NGOs is limited owing to insufficient legislation to encourage donations or to allow groups to generate their own revenues. The Law on Sponsorship does allow legal entities to take a tax reduction for any charitable donation that does not exceed 7 percent of their income. However, since businesses and individuals tend to report smaller incomes owing to high rates of taxation and the substantial size of the hidden economy (estimated to reach over 60 percent of the economy), the levels of giving to non-profit organizations remain low. State fiscal bodies do not distinguish between the activities of for-profit and non-profit entities. Grants from foreign donors remain the largest source of income for groups.
In 2003, the government's move to tighten controls over NGO funding from foreign sources was widely perceived as an attempt to weaken the independence and sustainability of NGOs. A draft law supported by the ruling CPM stipulated that all foreign grants and assistance would be subject to government approval. In addition, various government bodies (such as Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Ecology) would be responsible, on behalf of NGOs, for establishing procedures, concluding contracts, evaluating projects, nominating project managers, and determining salaries for the grantees. If approved in this format, the government would gain full control over the main civil society groups that monitor its policies. The proposal has been widely criticized and rejected by the civil society sector, considering it a direct infringement upon rights to freedom of association and expression.
Since its return to power in 2001, observers of Moldova have pointed to the CPM's growing use of administrative pressures, bribery, and other methods to either co-opt or divide groups. For example, when a 2002 government initiative revealed low levels of NGO support for the CPM's policies, President Voronin moved to infuse the civil society sector with more loyal groups that are sponsored by and serve the party in power. Several of these groups were formed by the government and the president with the stated mission of serving as a counterweight to think tanks and NGOs that are critical of CPM policies and practices.
Immediately following the 2003 local elections, the government attempted to establish a nationwide association of mayors, the aim of which would be to remove existing associations from the Public Register and to create in each newly established raion a local branch of the new national association. Independent trade unions whose leaders were not sufficiently supportive of CPM policies have experienced pressure from state authorities as well. For example, the central administration has tried to force branches of independent unions to join the Solidaritatea Union, which is loyal to the government.
Some civil society groups have accused state officials of interfering in their activities, alleging that the state is using threats, fiscal controls, and other methods to sabotage their work. All of these efforts suggest that the CPM is trying to silence critical views expressed by the most dynamic parts of civil society, thus re-creating a Soviet-like atmosphere and framework in which civic groups have the freedom only to agree with the country's leadership.
The situation of civil society groups in Transnistria is even worse. The self-declared leadership has placed severe restrictions on the basic political rights and civil liberties of the region's inhabitants, including freedom of association and assembly. Groups in Transnistria are prevented from establishing linkages with NGOs in Moldova proper. In addition, the ability of groups to affect policies in the region is limited. For example, in 2003, although the Helsinki Committee-Moldova presented considerable evidence of terror conducted by Tiraspol authorities against the population of Chitcani village, neither Transnistrian nor Moldovan law enforcement agencies responded.
Although Moldova's Constitution guarantees freedom of expression and access to information, in practice these rights have been met with government resistance ever since the country gained independence in 1991. Since 2001, however, even greater concerns have been raised regarding the CPM-led government's attitudes toward an independent press and freedom of expression. This led PACE to state in 2003 that "recent trends [in Moldova] clearly indicate that the ruling party insists in keeping the mass media under strict control."
Many domestic NGOs have argued that the ruling party is increasingly using state-owned media as a tool against the opposition and putting pressure on independent media through financial and legal means. In March 2003, thousands of Moldovan citizens demonstrated in favour of freedom of speech and the press in the country. When the state-owned TVM1 censored reports of the protests, the broadcaster's journalists launched a broad strike calling for democracy at its television and radio stations. Professional media organizations spoke out against censorship at TVM1 by screening censored programs on a wall in downtown Chisinau.
Despite achieving a certain level of maturity, Moldova's independent mass media remain vulnerable in both financial and political terms. The market comprises media outlets owned by the state, political parties (including the opposition), and commercial enterprises. Since most outlets are not self-sustaining and therefore are dependent on outside financing from their owners, they are subject to editorial interference. Media outlets are also subject to burdensome taxes and fines imposed by the state. Lack of transparency in ownership is another serious impediment to the media's public credibility; however, it is also a means of avoiding direct confrontation with the ruling party. Self-censorship is common, particularly by journalists working for state-owned stations.
Russian-language periodicals make up the largest share of Moldova's print media market. These include Komsomoliskaia Pravda, Argumenty I Fakty, Makler, and Ekonomiceskoe Obozrenie, which altogether account for more than 70 percent of all advertising money. The remaining advertising moneys are diverted to state-owned outlets such as Moldova Suverana and Nezavisimaia Moldova. Newspapers and magazines, especially private ones, rely mostly on subscription revenues.
As of December 2003, there were more than 160 television and radio outlets in Moldova, including 45 television broadcasters, 35 radio companies, and 81 cable television operators. In addition, approximately 100 foreign stations rebroadcast their programs in Moldova, despite specific requirements on airing local content and original programs. In fact, only TVM1 covers the whole territory of the country.
Self-censorship, lack of good management, and the absence of a dynamic advertising market are among the most difficult problems facing electronic media in Moldova. As in the print market, Russian television broadcasters play a dominant role in Moldova's media sector. According to the June 2003 TV Media Survey conducted by CSOP/TNS Research, Russian television channels are as trusted as TVM1.
The Audiovisual Coordination Council (ACC) was created as an autonomous regulatory body whose purpose is to ensure free competition in Moldova's mass media market. In fact, it is subject to political interference and has been used by the ruling CPM to penalize television stations that are not loyal to its ideology. For example, from August 2002 to March 2003 the ACC suspended the broadcasts of Romania's national channel TVR1, which was the most popular station in the Moldova rayons bordering Romania. Although the ACC said the suspension took place owing to technical difficulties, most observers believe the station was shut down because of anti-Romanian sentiments within the ruling party. Some regional television stations such as Vocea Basarabiei have been accused by state officials of "advertising opposition meetings" and their licences were recalled by the ACC. The ACC has repeatedly rejected bids for new frequencies from individuals believed to belong to the opposition. It also has reduced the coverage of the licence for those stations that broadcast Radio Free Europe's "Hour of Moldova" program.
The ACC is the author of controversial policies that favor some broadcasters at the expense of others. For example, in September 2003 the ACC compelled private cable television networks to transmit the broadcasts of TVM1. The ACC claimed that the policy was intended to ensure access to state programming in several remote areas of the country, but the opposition interpreted it as an attempt to censor private regional networks.
Moldova's new criminal code, which came into effect in 2003 over strong opposition from domestic and international groups, provides up to five years in prison for persons convicted of defamation. Although the Council of Europe urged the government to decriminalize the offense, which is frequently invoked by politicians as a means of silencing one's critics, the government did not move to do so. Similarly, the prosecutor's office has been used to intimidate media outlets and put pressure on investigative journalists. For example, since spring 2003 government authorities have harassed journalists associated with the popular Hyde Park Radio Program, a call-in discussion show covering various hot topics in Moldovan politics. Namely, the security services have been called in to hold "preventive" discussions with the station's journalists. The authorities, who concluded that the program had called into question the "foundations of [Moldovan] statehood," collected evidence about callers to the show and later forced municipal authorities to suspend the program.
Although in 2003 the Parliament adopted long-awaited legislation transforming TVM1 into a public service company, the broadcaster still remained subject to significant government influence and party control. In 2002, PACE had encouraged Moldovan authorities to transform the state television broadcaster into an independent public station and to give serious consideration to a draft law elaborated by professional media associations and supported by one of the country's opposition factions. Yet the ruling CPM rejected the draft, which would have turned the broadcaster into a truly independent public TV.
Although a new law on transforming the state broadcaster into a public company was adopted during the summer of 2003, it simply reconfirmed the CPM's domination of the institution. A key element of the legislation was the introduction of an independent Council of Observers, whose role is to supervise the management of the new public company. However, according to the legislation, appointments to the 15-member council are to be made at large by political authorities (the presidency, Parliament, the government, and the Superior Council of Magistrates), with a minor number of seats provided to independent journalists.
Despite obstacles created by the political appointees to TVM1's Council of Observers, the efforts of some journalists working within the broadcaster had contributed to the start of a step-by-step transformation. However, in November 2003 the CPM faction in Parliament proposed a further reorganization that would significantly increase the risk of dismissal of those journalists that have insistently called for TVM1's reform.
Judicial Framework and Independence:
Moldova's 1994 Constitution provides for a separation of powers among the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government. Although there are formal mechanisms in place to ensure the independence of these branches, the actual balance of power among them is quite fragile. As a result, the Moldovan public sees courts as lacking in independence and professionalism and subject to considerable political influence.
A plan for transforming Moldova's judiciary into a genuinely democratic and independent branch of government was elaborated as early as 1993 and was enshrined in the 1994 Constitution. Since then, however, the country's judicial system has been subject to undue influences that manifested themselves in a variety of ways. First, many government officials have attempted to use the judicial system to serve their personal interests above those of the public. This has been particularly true since the return to power of the CPM, which has overseen the replacement of more than 30 percent of the country's judges in just two years. More than 50 percent of all judges are awaiting reconfirmation to their posts. According to some observers, the Communist-led government has been engaged in a systematic effort to place party loyalists in key judicial positions, removing those who are unwilling to compromise their independence. Many current high-ranking officials seemed to believe that upon coming to power their interests would be served by the rest of the state's institutions, irrespective of existing laws or regulations.
Second, the judiciary is highly dependent on the executive branch for financing. Although the High Council of Magistrates (HCM) is responsible for notifying the government of its required resources, the Ministry of Justice does not appear to engage in appropriate budgetary planning procedures such as transparent consultations with the HCM or other judicial bodies. As a result, Moldova's judiciary is consistently underfunded and lacking in qualified court clerks, chancellery employees, and administrative staff. High rates of employee turnover have a direct and negative impact on the quality of justice dispensed.
When the CPM came to power in 2001, it announced plans to pursue a variety of judicial reforms aimed at improving efficiency and cleaning up corruption within the judiciary. However, some opposition parties viewed the government's statements as a ploy for justifying other changes--such as the replacement of judges with persons loyal to the CPM--that actually have limited judicial independence. Many judges have publicly opposed constitutional amendments promulgated in December 2002 that gave the president the ability to appoint judges. The president's power gives him the right to reject judicial candidates proposed by the Superior Council of Magistrates, an autonomous body within the judiciary.
Low public confidence has also affected the independence of Moldova's judiciary. Public trust that justice will be dispensed fairly and professionally is minimal, and frequent accusations of corruption within the system have failed to create an environment that fosters the judiciary's independence and neutrality.
Of particular concern in 2003 were the hostile steps initiated by the Prosecutor General against opposition members of Parliament, particularly representatives from the Christian Democrat Popular Party, who were accused of staging illegal street protests in Chisinau "offending" the Moldovan people. Criminal proceedings against CDPP representatives in Parliament were not stopped even after PACE Rapporteurs intervened; the actions were only suspended. However, attempts contined to prosecute members of the CDPP who do not hold seats in parliament. With their 71 mandates, the parliamentary majority voted at the end of 2003 to suspend the immunity of 4 members of the legislature belonging to the CDPP.
In 2003, Moldova took some steps at judicial reform, including the promulgation of a new civil code and the passage of legislation defining the prosecutor's office as an independent body within the judiciary. For years, the status of the prosecutor's office had been the subject of political debate and controversy. Some officials had advocated that the prosecutor's office be subordinated to the executive branch as a division of the Ministry of Justice (as it was during the Soviet period), while others demanded that it be an independent judicial body (a criterion for membership in the Council of Europe). The Parliament ultimately approved legislation responding to the latter point of view.
In 2003, the CPM also initiated changes to the Constitution. On July 25, several provisions were added concerning the Autonomous Territorial Entity of Gagauzia, a thin territory in the southern part of Moldova that is populated mostly by ethnic Gagauz. Under the amendments, the Gagauzian People's Assembly received the right to initiate legislation in the national Moldovan Parliament, thus distinguishing the UTEG from other subnational governments. Observers noted that this change was aimed at fulfilling some of the CPM's 2001 campaign promises regarding territorial autonomy and securing support for the CPM prior to November 2003 regional elections in the UTEG.
Although human rights are generally respected in Moldova, some problems do persist. These include discrimination against minorities, especially Roma, and trafficking in drugs and persons. According to a report released in April 2003 by the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), the Roma community in Moldova is "especially vulnerable to economic difficulties and discrimination." To combat the problem, the ECRI recommended a number of steps to Moldovan authorities, including strengthening the role of parliamentary advocates and the Center for Human Rights, improving enforcement of the Act on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National Minorities, and finding "peaceful resolution of the language problems currently facing Moldova."
With regard to human trafficking, Moldova has taken some steps to address the problem. In a speech delivered in Chisinau in November 2003, Ambassador William Hill, head of the OSCE Mission in Moldova, acknowledged that in recent years "a great deal" had been done. According to Ambassador Hill, "We have helped create an awareness of the scope and nature of the problem.... We have assisted Moldova in creating a legislative and administrative framework for combating the problem.... And we have begun to help law enforcement and court officials to put traffickers behind bars." Nevertheless, he noted that trafficking continues to put a tremendous strain on Moldovan society and to tear families apart. Indeed, according to a December 2003 OSCE report, "Failure to protect the human rights of trafficking victims is a key obstacle to progress in the fight against trafficking and organized crime in Moldova."
In Transnistria, the human rights situation is much worse. Basic political rights and civil liberties, including the ability to change one's government in free and fair elections, the right to assembly, and the right to a free and independent media, are highly restricted. Use of the Latin script is banned by the separatist regime, and schools with Romanian-language curriculums face regular harassment and administrative obstructions.
According to a report published in 2003 by the Center for Strategic Studies and Reforms, a Chisinau-based think tank, "Pervasive corruption remains a major concern" in Moldova. In particular, the report notes that "despite vowing to fight corruption on coming to power in 2001, the current Communist leadership has so far done little to address the problem." Instead, policies and programs designed to fight corruption are often simply ignored by Moldovan authorities. Allegations of wrongdoing, as well as evidence of corruption reported in the media, typically fail to prompt any serious governmental response.
In its April 2003 monitoring report, Transparency International ranked Moldova among the most corrupt states in Europe. The report particularly noted that Moldovan authorities have made little progress in turning rhetoric into action regarding the fight against corruption. Although the government adopts an annual Program Against Corruption and there is a National Council Against Corruption, these formal programs have achieved little in practice.
Corruption in Moldova is widespread at all levels of society and government. According to a survey released by Transparency International in late 2003, 21.1 percent of respondents believed that corruption had increased within state institutions during the year; only 1.2 percent said it had decreased. Among the causes of corruption, respondents named the desire to get rich overnight (23.1 percent), the poor quality of laws (20.5 percent), excessive bureaucracy (13.4 percent), and high taxation (12.6 percent).
Tolerance for corruption as a normal part of life is considered necessary to one's survival. In the health sector, where salaries are low, payment of small bribes to receive better service remains a common practice. According to a January 2003 report by the BASA Press, nearly 90 percent of the population believes the health care sector in Moldova is corrupt; however, more than 60 percent feels that offering a gift to a doctor in exchange for better care is not a corrupt act. The same is true in education, with 70 percent of Moldovans fearing that failure to provide a gift or payment to a teacher will have a negative impact on their child's academic record.
Anticorruption efforts in Moldova are widely perceived as weapons to be used against one's political rivals rather than as genuine tools for fighting wrongdoing. During elections, for example, accusations of corruption are often used as tactical maneuvers against one's opponents. This was true in 2003 with regard to the local elections, in which the practice of accusing one's opponents of corruption and financial abuse was a common campaign tactic.
Accusations of corruption also appear to play an effective role in recruiting politicians to the ruling party. For example, during elections in 2002 for the governorship of Gagauzia, the CPM was seen as interfering in order to secure a desired outcome. Although the acting governor, Dumitru Croitor, was accused of corruption and ultimately dismissed, in early 2003 he was appointed ambassador to the World Trade Organization office in Bern, Switzerland. These events further demonstrate how the CPM has used anti-corruption rhetoric more as a tactical manoeuvre than a legitimate effort to crack down on corruption.
The problem of corruption in Moldova is magnified by the territorial conflict with Transnistria. Over the last decade, the breakaway has become a magnet for illegal activity, including money laundering, trafficking, and smuggling. As one report described it, Transnistria "is a smuggling company masquerading as a state," and President Igor Smirnov and his son are thought to be in control of all such illegal operations. According to a report by the Asia Times, there has been heightened concern since September 11, 2001, that Transnistria has become a "hub for weapons smuggling," including the so-called dirty bombs.
In 2003, the World Bank reported that Moldova's system of governance was suffering from "chronic political instability and volatility" and was "among the weakest in the region." Frequent turnovers in the political leadership (eight cabinets replacing one another in 13 years) have left little time for the creation of consistent and effective policies. The country's parliamentary system of government, as adopted in 2000, appears to have provided overly favorable conditions for a single party to establish a monopoly on political power. As such, the ruling CPM has managed to keep the civil service system subordinated to its interests, to limit public access to the Parliament's meetings when desired, and to continue with plans to reintroduce a controversial Soviet-style system of territorial administration. Finally, the unresolved conflict with Transnistria has kept this eastern region of the country ungovernable by Moldovan authorities, thus contributing to an unsustainable state structure and persistent concerns about Russian influence, and potential dominance, in the breakaway territory.
Constitutional changes in 2000 ended direct elections of the president and introduced a parliamentary system of government. Although these changes were designed to soften executive dominance over the legislative agenda and decrease the role of the resident within the political system, the head of state has remained a dominant figure in Moldovan politics. Indeed, the legislature has little say in important policy decisions: these are now made by a political board of the ruling CPM, which reports directly to Vladimir Voronin, who is both the president of the country and the head of the CPM. Similarly, the Cabinet of Ministers is more submissive to presidential than legislative control. As such, in 2003 almost all members of the acting Cabinet Members were dismissed by the president without the legislature receiving notification of the changes.
When the CPM came to power in 2001, it alarmed domestic and international observers alike with plans to reverse earlier reforms that had decentralized power to local and regional levels of government. In 2003, the CPM fulfilled its goal by promulgating the new Law on Local Public Administration, which reintroduced a Soviet-style system of territorial administration that makes both municipalities and raions highly dependent on central state subsidies and lacking in sufficient resources and powers to develop their own political infrastructures. In spite of negative reports by the Council of Europe's Rapporteurs and critics of the local authorities, the government decided in 2003 to significantly diminish the financial autonomy of local authorities, thus, securing important leverage for penalizing or rewarding local governments.
Despite regressive moves like these, opinion polls show that almost 50 percent of the general public believes the country is better governed now than under the previous government. This is the case, in large part, because the CPM has tried to pursue some populist policies that appeal to voters' nostalgia for the Soviet past. The CPM has also catered to voters' pocketbooks with policies such as increasing the size of state pensions and preventing an increase in the retirement age. At the same time, however, the CPM-led government has promised Western institutions like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development that it will continue with reforms such as privatization of state-owned enterprises. Yet these dual-track policies have proven incompatible and will likely prove unsustainable in the long run.
With diminished strength in the Parliament, opposition parties in Moldova have attempted twice since 2001 to pursue policy changes through national referendums. First, by mid-2002 the Braghis Social-Democratic Alliance had collected more than 200,000 signatures in favor of a referendum on transforming the electoral system from one based on proportional voting from party lists to one based on a majoritarian preferences. Second, in late 2002 and early 2003 the CDPP pushed for a national referendum on joining the European Union (EU) and NATO. However, in both instances the ruling party used the Central Election Commission to downplay and ultimately declare invalid both initiatives. Most observers felt that the CPM was motivated by a growing fear of competition from the country's more centrist and center-right parties.
Government officials at the local and regional levels are elected every four years. Mayors are elected directly, while local councillors are chosen in proportional voting. Local and regional elections in 2003 were described by international observers as meeting basic international standards but causing concerns in numerous areas. In particular, the ruling CPM took several steps that, according to numerous observers, appeared designed to ensure its victory. According to the OSCE, some observers believed that new amendments to the Law on Parties and Socio-political Organizations were "aim[ed] at dissolution of political parties on the eve of local elections."
Local elections were held on May 25, 2004, followed by a runoff on June 8. Both rounds were monitored by the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights and the Council of Europe's Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe. No local elections were organized in the breakaway region of Transnistria. Owing to the latest changes in the country's system of local and regional administration, there were significantly more elected positions in 2003 than in 2000.
After two rounds of voting, the CPM emerged victorious, winning 367 out of 892 mayoral positions (42 percent of the vote). Although the CPM gained a majority in most city and local councils, winning 48 percent of the vote, it failed to take control of the capital city, Chisinau; incumbent Serafim Urechean of 'Our Moldova' Alliance retained his position. Before and after the elections, many opposition supporters working at various levels of government were removed from their jobs. Although judges ruled in favor of several individuals who took their cases to court, claiming that their dismissals were politically motivated, numerous plaintiffs had not been reinstalled in their jobs by year's end.
The activities of government institutions are still not understood as services provided to the public. As such, government employees do not picture themselves as civil servants. Likewise, there is no formal system of professional promotion on the basis of performance in Moldova's civil service. The press has no access to parliamentary meetings in which the wages and benefits of the country's political elite are discussed.
Governance in Moldova has been profoundly affected by the territorial conflict over Transnistria. This separatist region has been outside the control of Moldova's constitutional authority since 1991, and its unsettled status has made Transnistria fertile ground for human rights violations, smuggling, trafficking, and other wrongdoing. Transnistria remained outside the central government's control in 2003, and a controversial Russian proposal to resolve the conflict by federalizing Moldova proved to be one of the main political events of the year. Some experts believe that federalization would in fact mean the "transnistrization" of the rest of Moldova, as the country would lose its right to self-determination and would be infused by the criminal networks operating under the shelter of the breakaway region's unrecognized "state structures" and the Russian peacekeeping forces stationed in the region.
For more than a decade, Moscow's support of the separatist regime in Transnistria has been viewed as part of a wider strategy of Russian expansion. Although Moscow signed OSCE agreements in 1999 and 2000 committing to the removal of Russian troops and military armory from the region, it has been slow to act and, as yet, has not completed the process. In 2003, Russia advocated a federalization plan that would divide Moldova into two parts and devolve substantial competencies to the two territories. Although CPM leaders have stated that they see federalization as the only way to resolve the problem--and thereby move Moldova closer to integration with the EU--opposition parties largely have been opposed to the plan. Public opinion in Moldova clearly rejects any federalized agreement with Transnistria, although considering the important leverages (administrative, mass media, financial) of the ruling CPM, one may fear that a referendum on this issue may be successfully championed to its logical end. Russia's interests in federalization are of particular concern to many in Moldova who fear Russian plans to preserve strong military and political control in the region.
To his credit, President Voronin has advocated a stronger international role in resolving Europe's frozen conflicts, including the issue of Transnistria's status. In particular, he claimed to support a greater role for the EU and the OSCE. On this point, civil society is clearly behind him, and by September 2003, the Social Liberal Party had collected more than 80,000 signatures in favor of stationing EU peacekeepers in Transnistria. The opposition has also repeatedly called for the EU and the OSCE to assist in the evacuation of Russian troops.