2 – Moldova. Great expectations
BSSB.BE freedomhouse.org 13.10.2016
Political infighting, extensive corruption, and deep social divisions have put Moldova’s democratic development on hold. In 2015, the country experienced further setbacks to developing inclusive, transparent, and efficient governance.
National Democratic Governance:
- After a relatively stable political year in 2014, Moldova saw in 2015 the most intense political turmoil and instability since the regime change in 2009, with three different governments in the course of the year. Following the November 30, 2014, parliamentary elections, the political parties were unable to form a governing alliance for two and a half months. After nontransparent negotiations, a new minority government joining the Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova (PLDM) and Democratic Party of Moldova (PDM) was installed in February as the Political Alliance for a European Moldova, headed by PLDM-affiliated Chiril Gaburici.
- Unable to reach agreement with the Liberal Party (PL) on joining the coalition, it relied instead on the communist party (PRCM), which remained formally in opposition but often acted de facto as part of the coalition. The country’s two top oligarchs, Vlad Filat of PLDM and Vlad Plahotniuc of PDM, divided the ministerial portfolios as well as other important institutions, as has been the custom since 2009.
- The coalition barely functioned at a minimum level of competence—in April it adopted a state budget without a parliamentary vote, as required by law—and did not last long. Infighting led to its collapse in June, and a new coalition was formed by PLDM, PDM, and the Liberal Party (PL), headed by Valeriu Strelet of PLDM. The Strelet government was sacked in late October, formally on allegations of corruption. It then took two months for president Nicolae Timofti to nominate businessman and public figure Ion Sturza to form a new cabinet.
- Public protests begun in February by the civic platform “Dignity and Truth” over the failure of law enforcement to investigate the $1 billion banking theft and the country’s worsening living conditions gathered momentum through the year and into the fall. Although some leaders of the platform were connected to Victor and Viorel Topa—oligarch brothers who fled the country five years ago due to conflict with Plahotniuc and later convicted of a variety of crimes—the initial protests were authentically civic in nature.
- Through all of these events, the population’s trust in governing elites dropped to a new low. Clear evidence of oligarchic capture of state institutions and use of ostensibly independent institutions for political ends decreased the level of trust in the parliament to 6 percent (compared to 41 percent in 2009) and similarly low levels for the government and president.
- Also in December, former education minister Maia Sandu announced she would start her own party, “Action and Solidarity,” drawing on her reputation for integrity and positive results she takes credit for in reforming the education system.However, polls at the end of the year still showed the pro-Russian Our Party (16 percent) and Party of Socialists (10 percent) performing well.
- Relations with the EU worsened significantly as the reform agenda under the 2014 Association Agreement stalled, with implementation of only 19 percent of its planned activities.Rampant evidence of grand corruption and lack of basic progress in good governance among ostensibly pro-European elites undermined the pro-EU agenda and strengthened the positions of Euroskeptic and Russia-loyal center-left parties.
- Local elections were held in June for Moldova’s 898 mayors, elected under a two-round majoritarian system, and 11,680 local council members, elected under a proportional representation system without a threshold.
- Unlike the problematic 2014 parliamentary elections, the 2015 local elections were generally free and fair and well administered by the Central Electoral Commission. The elections offered the public a diverse choice, despite a difficult political context compounded by the resignation of the prime minister just two days before the first round. The declared pro-European incumbent parties won the most seats and mayoralties in the elections, although Euroskeptic center-left parties also secured significant support. Ilan Shor, an oligarch publicly named as a participant in the $1 billion banking theft, was elected mayor of Orhei (see Local Democratic Governance).
- There were documented issues in the election. According to the local election monitor PromoLex,one major problem was access to voter-list verification, which diminished voter confidence in the electoral process. An inconsistent interpretation of the electoral law on the preparation of voter lists relating to the use of residence permits created circumstances that may have allowed for fraud.
- A dramatic increase in the number of voters registered in some districts since November 2014 (for instance, a 10.6 percent increase in Codru) could indicate vote manipulation and may have affected the results.
- Certain amendments were positive, such as making vote-buying and illegal campaign funding criminal offenses. Other sanctions for electoral violations include warnings, fines, confiscation of funds, suspension of public funding, and deregistration. However, the provision on sanctions is ambiguous and sometimes conflicting, as well as non-exhaustive. The OSCE noted that this could lead to discretionary application by the Central Electoral Commission, which also received more powers under the legislative amendments.
- Following the elections, OSCE/ODIHR and PromoLex offered additional recommendations to improve the legal framework with regard to party funding, election administration, media, voter registration, and the election campaign. So far, the recommendations have not been converted into policies.
- Civil society organizations (CSOs) continued to play an important role in the public life of Moldova in 2015. The number of CSOs is growing, with 10,074 at last count,but the number of organizations functioning properly is much smaller. Despite their participation in dialogue platforms with the authorities, and even their role organizing mass demonstrations in 2015, the impact of CSOs on policy remains limited.
- One factor hampering their work is the suspicion that many civil society figures or experts are “sponsored” by political actors, especially from the dominant parties PDM and PLDM. Yet despite constant rumors about biased experts advocating for their patrons, there has been no serious investigation proving allegations of hidden political affiliation. In a November survey, only 24 percent of the population expressed trust in civil society in Moldova.
- In 2015, civil society was critical to monitoring local elections and pressuring the political elite to investigate the $1 billion banking theft. The Dignity and Truth platform organized in February, which initiated mass protests against the captured state that continued throughout the year, included within its founding ranks a number of influential civil society leaders.
- Seeking to defuse the protests, Prime Minister Valeriu Strelet ordered in September that civil society be included in a number of governmental bodies. Civil society groups rejected the proposal, arguing that the government was trying to deflect attention away from the banking scandal with a show of dialogue.
Local Democratic Governance:
- In Moldova’s local democratic governance in 2015, implementation of the Law on Local Public Finances significantly reduced the political influence of central authorities over local governments. Yet elections during the year did not bring significant changes to actual local governance, as incumbent parties managed to secure most of the votes.
- There were disturbing developments in the election of Renato Usatii, a controversial politician with an alleged criminal background,as mayor of Balti, the country’s second-largest city; and the election of Ilan Shor, an oligarch under investigation in the $1 billion banking theft, as mayor of Orhei. Balti is a broadly Russophone city, and Usatii was likely elected due to his links to Russia and a pro-Russian vision. Shor was elected in Orhei as a kind of protest candidate due to the deep dissatisfaction of residents, and because he is widely known as the owner of the local football team.
- On the positive side, the Law on Local Public Finances was fully implemented for the first time across the entire country, following a pilot implementation in certain regions in 2014.The main achievement of the law is to change the system of transferring funds from the central budget to local authorities with a new objective formula, removing political influence from the process.
- This reduces the ability of politicians to make budget allocations based on mayors’ political allegiances, freeing local decision-makers from being hostage to political parties and allowing them to put the interests of the local community first. So far, the law functions well in all districts, or raions, with the exception of Chişinău, which is facing a budget deficit as the new law puts the capital at a comparative disadvantage.
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