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Moldova - Political Parties

Moldova has made considerable if sporadic progress on competition and accountability. It performs here considerably better than a number of other former Soviet states. Competition occurs between well-established elite factions and within more or less recognized rules of the game. But the ability of the citizenry at large to make use of the process to shape policy is limited, as is its capacity to use either formal institutions or the electoral process to make elites accountable for their actions.

Recent elections have been efficiently administered on a non-partisan basis. Complaints of infractions have been relatively few. The Central Electoral Commission (CEC), the recipient of major assistance from foreign donors including USAID, has greatly improved its work since 2009. Parliamentary elections in November 2010 and local elections in June 2011 were considered by international observers to be generally free and fair, and were run on a non-partisan basis.

Moldovan society is divided along a number of crosscutting lines, which creates a highly complex competitive environment. In addition to ethno-linguistic politics and a separate cleavage between anti-communism and nostalgia for communist days, a number of entrenched elite factions contest control over political and economic resources. Programmatic right/left ideological competition, while real, does not play a defining role. Competition between each of the elements is evident in Moldovan politics and thus far none has been excluded from the electoral game or from public discourse. Parties are free to organize and promote their agendas. Interest groups and civil society organizations (CSOs) enjoy decent access to parties and the media.

There is not a great deal of difference between the parties in terms of their platform. Despite its "Communist" name, all parties, including the PCRM, support a market economy and promote European integration as a goal. The liberal parties (the Liberal Democratic Party, PLDM, and the Liberal Party, PL) take a more free-market stance and favor closer ties with Romania.

Parties are central to political competition in Moldova. While there are a large number of registered parties, four currently predominate. They are the PCRM and the three main non-Communist groupings that have banded into the AEI coalition: the PLDM, the PD, and the PL. The ruling parties are pitted against the PCRM in parliament and in the court of public opinion. However, competition within the threesome is also fierce and has had baleful consequences for democratic governance.

A dominant axis of partisan competition arrays the PCRM against non-communists, chiefly the three parties organized as the AEI – namely, the PLDM, the PDM, and the PL. Particular elite individuals and groups are associated with each of the parties and seek influence over economic resources through the political process. A highly restricted top group exercises disproportionate control over the parties and through them, over parliament and the government. Therefore, the parties as presently constituted are not on the whole an effective channel of representation through which citizens can exercise control over elites.

Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova (PCRM) Since competing in its first legislative election in 1998 the Communist Party played a pivotal role in Moldovan electoral competition. With support ranging from a low of 30.01% to a high of 50.07% of the vote, it has been the most successful party in each of the six legislative elections held from 1998 to the present. The PCRM’s dominant position has structured political competition for more than decade. At the height of its popularity, from 2001 through 2009, the PCRM formed a single-party government and simultaneously controlled the Presidency, effectively marginalizing its opponents. During the two periods when the Communists have been out of power (1998–2000 and 2009–2012) unstable coalitions made up of parties with little common interest other than their opposition to the PCRM have governed the country. During both of these periods, coalition governments suffered from high levels of conflict between coalition party leaders and substantial policy deadlock.

From its high point in the 2001 parliamentary elections, when it gained 49.9 percent of the vote (and 71 seats in Parliament), the PCRM suffered a steady decline: in the 2005 parliamentary elections, it received 45.9 percent (and 56 seats). The trend in local council and mayoral elections was similar. In the 2003 mayoral elections, the PCRM won 41 percent of the mayoralties, dropping to 37.3 percent in 2007; it won 48.1 percent of the votes for raion and municipal councils in 2003, dropping to 34.2 percent in 2007; and in the 2003 town and village council elections, the PCRM won 44.9 percent of votes, dropping to 32.7 percent in 2007.

The has continued to suffer from declining popularity throughout the country. By 2009 most polls put the PCRM somewhere in the 30 percent range, representing solid support (i.e., respondents express few or no second-party preferences) from mostly older and rural voters. It is expected that the PCRM will be the largest single party in the parliament, but that it will not muster enough votes to put together a majority without the support of MPs from other parties.

When the Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova (PCRM) captured 71 of 101 seats in parliament in the election of April 2001 (the first communist party to win office electorally in the post Soviet space), the country fell under the more disciplined rule of one faction. Vladimir Voronin governed as a strongman president for eight years, working with a single prime minister for most of his two terms.

Although the PCRM leadership abridged some electoral, media, and other freedoms, Moldova did not succumb to outright authoritarianism. The political environment set limits on the concentration of power, and the live-and-let-live ethos of the first decade of independence survived in diluted form. Despite centralizing tendencies, the Moldovan Communists failed to consolidate the level of political control that characterized the Putin administration’s transformation of Russian political life. While marginalized and fragmented, opposition outside government remained relatively robust, providing the basis for a democratic resurgence.” Nonetheless, the country was stagnant internally and adrift internationally – no longer a satellite of Russia and not yet a member of the Western community.

By 2009 the party split between "reformers" and "hard-liners" was obvious during the election campaign, and had sharpened over how to handle the current political situation. The PCRM's reformist camp, headed by Voronin advisor Mark Tkaciuk, included such figures as DPM Dodon, Voronin's economic advisor Oleg Reidman, Deputy Speaker Grigorie Petrenco, Minister of Reintegration Vasile Sova, Yuri Muntaneanu, and others. The hard-line camp was headed by First Deputy Speaker Turcan, and included SIS head Resetnikov, Foreign Minister Stratan, Minister of Interior Papuc, Minister of Justice Victor Pirlog, Deputy Prime Minister Victor Stepaniuc, Eugenia Ostapciuc and Maria Postoico.

Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova (PSRM) The longstanding patterns of party competition appear to be in the process of changing. In the course of the 2012 seven members of the PCRM legislative faction formed in 2010 left the Party. Former PCRM stalwart Igor Dodon and three of his colleagues found a home in the Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova (PSRM). They joined forces with previous defector Vladimir Turcan and his United Moldova Party. Dodon’s PSRM began the process of forming a bloc of left-wing parties with the intention of competing directly with the PCRM for the support of its core electorate. If this effort is successful, the longstanding dynamic of a consolidated far left vying for power with a fragmented center right may well be at an end.

This new party, which would focus on economic reform and implementing IMF recommendations, could unite with other non- Communist parties to attempt to elect a president. Dodon said that the new party would also seek to remove the hard-line PCRM Ministers of Interior and Security from office (an agenda that coincides with that of the four-party non-Communist coalition). Dodon said that the emergence of this splinter party would help create a real center in the Moldovan political spectrum. The unreformed Communists would occupy the far left and Ghimpu's Liberals the far right, while Dodon's new grouping would work with the Democratic Party, Our Moldova Alliance (AMN), and the Liberal Democratic Party to put together a government.

Alliance for European Integration (AEI) A contested parliamentary election in April 2009 rang down the curtain on PCRM hegemony. Public protest in Chisinau against what was seen as a fraudulent vote was spearheaded by well-educated youth impatient with haphazard pluralism and neo-communist rule and desirous of a more “European” future. In September 2009, in the wake of a second election, Voronin ceded power to a cabinet and interim president put forward by an Alliance for European Integration (AEI), consisting of four Western-leaning parties. The AEI, streamlined to three parties – the Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova (PLDM), the Democratic Party of Moldova (PDM), and the Liberal Party (PL) – continued to control the Government of Moldova (GOM) after a third election in November 2010. A protracted crisis over selection of a president by the national parliament was resolved in March 2012 by the appointment of a career judge, Nicolae Timofti, to a four-year term. With parliamentary elections not on the horizon until late 2014, Moldova experienced an interval of calm in which reforms can be advanced and the possibilities for cooperation with external partners will be high.

It was widely hoped and believed that the AEI alliance would move Moldova much more decisively toward greater democracy, prosperity, and Euro-Atlantic integration than the PCRM government that preceded it. These expectations have been widely disappointed within Moldova and to a lesser extent among foreign donors, although there is no denying the changes for the better in some domains. Underpinning the mood of frustration are realities that cannot be brushed aside. Pluralism by default is alive and reasonably well, but taking the country to another level in its transition will require significant new steps so as to remedy nagging problems.

The Liberal Party, (PL), which gained 15 seats in 2009, was the most stridently pro-Romanian and anti-PCRM; its social policies tend toward the populist as seen in its support for lowering the retirement age. The 18-seat Liberal Democratic Party (PLDM) is widely regarded as pro-business with some talented technocrats - but also alleged ties to dubious privatizations. The Our Moldova Alliance (AMN), with seven seats, had been in decline and our experts predicted it would disappear in the next elections. The new face in the opposition, with 13 seats, was the Democratic Party (PD), led by former speaker Marian Lupu who defected from PCRM in June 2009. PD, formerly a marginal party, lacks a fully-developed ideology but several experts said it aspired to be a center-left social democratic party. It was also the party best placed to reach out to PCRM assuming Acting President Voronin can forgive Lupu's "betrayal."

Based on a finding by the Moldovan Central Election Commission (CEC), in 2014 the courts ruled to exclude the “Patria Party” from the November 30 parliamentary electoral list less than a week prior to the election. Observers stated that this action raised concerns about respect for rule of law and a fair and democratic process. The Ministry of Justice also failed to enact a court decision to suspend the “Communist Reform Party,” which the Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova (PCRM) contended was created to reduce the number of votes cast for the PCRM. In accordance with the Ministry of Justice’s lack of action, the CEC did not review the Communist Reform Party’s registration, and it remained on the ballot.

Party Dynamics

All of the Moldovan parties, including the Communists, are best understood as clientelist organizations. Power is concentrated in the hands of a small set of leaders who are the primary source of party financing. Many of these leaders, in all of the parliamentary parties, are also influential business figures, whose business and political activities tend to overlap. It is widely believed, and was reported to the assessment team in Chisinau, that party leaders are responsible for deciding which individuals will be provided with positions on the parties’ electoral lists and allocate them either to their allies and clients or for financial considerations. As a result these leaders exercise a great deal of control over the parties and are able to use them as vehicles to pursue their political and private interests. Throughout the post-communist period, individual leaders have recurrently changed parties, or left existing parties to form new ones of their own, taking with them their political and economic resources and coteries of supporters. This weakly institutionalized and unsettled environment provides constituents with little policy certainty.

With the exception of the PCRM, which was founded in 1993 but rests on Soviet-era foundations, local party organization has been anemic. This picture, too, is beginning to change. The governing parties, now working with Western donor agencies and the European party family structures, have made some steps in the direction of institutionalization. Central party offices have become more effective and improved their ongoing operations at the level of the regions. This is particularly true of the PLDM, which is clearly attempting to match the Communists’ mobilizing efforts in the localities. However, organizational weakness, especially at the local level, remains evident. As noted above, the reliance of the electoral system on closed national lists retards the development of links between constituents in localities and elected MPs. Once an election cycle is over and MPs are safely in office, party efforts and constituency services languish.

The reputation of political parties within civil society and the general population is quite low. Representatives of CSOs interviewed by the assessment team expressed negative views of their performance and integrity. Parties participating in the governing coalition were often described as selfinterested and averse to cooperation in order to achieve common goals. In public opinion polls parties are consistently ranked at the bottom among all public institutions, and currently are perceived by the population to be no better than they were on average before 2009, when the PCRM was the governing party.

It is clear that the parties are responsive to a small number of senior leaders; the rank and file plays little role in formulating policy and does not constrain leadership decisions. Therefore, even if citizens have access to parties and elections are free and fair, parties do not constitute vehicles through which broad citizen representation occurs. Through the parties, elites control the central government that overshadows both the legislature and local administration. The mass media, while pluralistic, are for the most part under party control. Journalists do not effectively provide the public with the sort of information necessary to hold public officials accountable.

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