2 – Transnistria. Between real and imitation democracy
BSSB.BE opendemocracy.net 04.11.2015
This election fight has involved two principle players so far—the Sheriff holding group and Evgeny Shevchuk.
First formed in 1993, the Sheriff group is often linked to former president Igor Smirnov, who ruled the country from 1991 to 2011. (The current owners are former local policemen.) Up to 20% of the country’s private sector work for the Sheriff group, and it includes the Tirotex textiles company, spirits manufacturer Kvint (one of the country’s most profitable companies), bread factories, petrol stations, oil storage, supermarkets, mobile and internet operator, banks and the Sheriff Tiraspol football club. The Renewal political party—the only party to have its own parliamentary grouping (18 out of 43 deputies)—is also considered a lobbyist for the group’s interests.
Transnistria’s current, rather youthful-looking president Evgeny Shevchuk began his career in the police force. Having cut his teeth in the tax police, Shevchuk moved to the Sheriff group, becoming deputy director of the company and a parliamentary deputy. In 2011, Shevchuk was elected the country’s second president—against the will of both Tiraspol’s Moscow ‘curators’ and his colleagues at Sheriff.
But though Shevchuk quickly made amends with Moscow, the tense relations with Sheriff continue. While the Sheriff group controls Renewal, Shevchuk is yet to successfully form his own political party—though there have been two attempts in the form of the ‘Workers’ Party of Transnistria’ and ‘Rebirth’.
Shevchuk’s team is thus standing in the November elections as independent candidates. The Communist Party of Transnistria, a branch of Russia’s Communist Party, is also loyal to Shevchuk, though its influence is minimal—there’s only one communist deputy in the current parliament.
Meanwhile, Shevchuk is believed to be the beneficiary of several enterprises outside of the Sheriff group’s control, and has gained the loyalty of the security services, including the Interior Ministry, KGB and presidential security team.
Both Shevchuk’s team and the Renewal party have declared partnership with Russia and international recognition of the republic as their aims. And while Renewal accuses Shevchuk of incompetent management and corruption, the president accuses Sheriff of non-payment of taxes (which, according to Shevchuk, is the reason behind declining living standards in the republic).
Anti-Sheriff election materials are distributed officially, and can be found in state institutions. At the end of summer 2015, Russian media published a series of clearly paid-for articles against Sheriff.
Despite the fact that the Transnistrian Central Election Commission has always been the ‘little brother’ to its infamous Moscow counterpart, elections over the past 25 years have been largely competitive. But perhaps this campaign will see the authorities break with (democratic) tradition. Earlier in the summer, the authorities tried (unsuccessfully) to evict the election commission from the building that it has occupied for 20 years, which, of course, hasn’t aided preparations for the elections.
‘The election campaign has kicked off amidst unprecedented pressure on the electoral commissions, public sector workers, and this is unsurprising,’ says parliamentary deputy Oleg Vasilaty, a leading speaker for the Renewal party.
‘The coming elections will choose the republic’s national representatives and local government, but are, in effect, a referendum on the direction that Transnistria has taken under Shevchuk.’
But Roman Konoplev, editor-in-chief of Dnieser.ru, a critical news site, believes that Shevchuk may well beat Renewal this November. ‘Renewal was created as the “party of power” in benevolent conditions. [Former president] Igor Smirnov spoke at its founding meeting. It was dreamt up as a kind of analog to United Russia, to support political stability. It’s unlikely that this kind of political project will be able to play the role of “strugglers for power” or “leaders of the opposition”.
‘This is just part of their wardrobe, like an expensive bag or cufflinks. They’re [Renewal] just scared clerks, with pockets full of dubious cash, and the KGB behind them. The slightest move there, a careless word here – and they’re in prison. This is why I’m doubtful of their capabilities. But if these people suddenly change Shevchuk for one of their own, that’ll be a good thing – like any change.’
Oleg Khoshchevsky, leader of the Union of Transnistrians of Ukraine, is forced to live in Odessa, next to his homeland, but continues to try and influence the situation there. He supports Transnistrian independence, but considers European integration, rather than a pro-Russian orientation, a necessity.
Khvoshchevsky tells me that pro-European views are marginal in Transnistria. There’s no political party to represent them, but a few candidates have put themselves forward at various levels ahead of the elections. For Khvoshchevsky, pro-European citizens in Transnistria must aim to receive a platform for their views in parliament this November.
Author: ALEXANDR LITOY
This is the second part of the article about Transnistria and about election campaign in it. More information You can find in the first article
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