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Moldova Politics - 1991-2000

Politics in the new Moldova was at first a multi-cornered struggle for power among pro-Romanian “unionists,” neo-communists, agrarians, regionalists, and centrist and moderate nationalist groupings. A measure of stability was imparted by de facto secession of Transnistria after the 1992 separatist conflict, adoption of a constitution in 1994, and the ebbing of pan-Romanian sentiment. But volatility persisted at higher levels of the system. From 1991 to 2001, Moldova had two presidents and a carousel of six prime ministers.

Moldovan politics after independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 was characterized during the first decade by a fierce struggle for power but also by what has been labeled “pluralism by default,” in which no one group was able to monopolize power. The Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova (PCRM), which came to power in 2001, weakened but did not destroy this pluralism. Support for the PCRM and for President Vladimir Voronin diminished as economic problems accumulated, the country drifted in foreign policy, and hundreds of thousands of citizens voted with their feet by seeking jobs and opportunities abroad. A contested parliamentary election in April 2009 put an end to PCRM dominance.

On the eve of the transition from communism, Moldova suffered from poor economic development, serious ethnic divisions within the population, and a gulf separating the population as a whole from the entrenched political elite. Serious opposition to the regime crystallized in the spring of 1989. Responding to grassroots mobilization, the government extended official recognition to the Popular Front of Moldova, which held its first public meeting in June of that year. On August 27, 1989, activists organized a mass demonstration in order to bring pressure on the government to undertake reform. The heavily nationalist appeal of the opposition generated a sharp increase in inter-ethnic tension between the Romanian speaking majority, the Russophone population concentrated on the east bank of the Nistru, and the Gagauz minority in the south.

The election of a legislature in 1990, in the context of already heightened political mobilization, opened the way for Moldova’s post-communist transition. Approximately one-third of the deputies elected to the republican Supreme Soviet were members of the Popular Front and many more were reform-oriented members of the Communist Party. Reform-minded Mircea Snegur was named President of the Supreme Soviet, and the avowedly pro-Romanian Popular Front leader Mircea Druc was appointed Prime Minister. During the August 1991 coup attempt in Moscow, the Moldovan government declared for Boris Yeltsin. Shortly afterward, on August 27, it declared independence.

A 1990 Soviet law and a 1991 Parliamentary decision authorizing formation of social organizations provide for independent trade unions. However, the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Moldova, successor to the former organizations of the Soviet trade union system, is the sole structure. It has tried to influence government policy in labor issues and has been critical of many economic policies. Moldovan labor law, which is based on former Soviet legislation, provides for collective bargaining rights.

Mircea Snegur was elected president of Moldova in October 1990 by the Parliament. A former Communist Party official, he endorsed independence and actively sought Western recognition. Moldova declared its independence from the Soviet Union in August 1991. However, Snegur's opposition to immediate reunification with Romania led to a split with the Moldovan Popular Front in October 1991 and to his decision to run as an independent candidate in a December 1991 presidential election. Running unopposed, he won after the Popular Front's efforts to organize a voter boycott failed.

In 1991, Moldova's transition to democracy initially was impeded by an ineffective Parliament, the lack of a new constitution, a separatist movement led by the Gagauz (Christian Turkic) minority in the south, and unrest in the Transnistria region on the left bank of the Nistru/Dniester River, where a separatist movement declared a "Transdniester Moldovan Republic" in September 1990. The Russian 14th Army intervened to stem widespread violence and support the Transnistrian regime, which is led by supporters of the 1991 coup attempt in Moscow. In 1992, the government negotiated a cease-fire arrangement with Russian and Transnistrian officials, although tensions continue, and negotiations are ongoing. In February 1994, new legislative elections were held, and the ineffective Parliament that had been elected in 1990 to a 5-year term was replaced. A new constitution was adopted in July 1994. The conflict with the Gagauz minority was defused by the granting of local autonomy in 1994.

The February 1994 Parliamentary elections were conducted peacefully and received good ratings from international observers for their fairness. Prime Minister Andrei Sangheli was re-elected to his post in March 1994, as was Petru Lucinschi to his post as speaker of the Parliament. Authorities in Transnistria, however, refused to allow balloting there and discouraged the local population from participating. Inhabitants of the Gagauz separatist region did participate in the elections, however.

In the presidential elections of 1996, Parliamentary speaker Petru Lucinschi surprised the nation with an upset victory over the incumbent, Mircea Snegur, in a second round of balloting. The elections were widely judged as free and fair by international observers, a hallmark that would come to characterize every other nationwide election in Moldova as well.

In the parliamentary elections of March 1998, 40 percent of the seats went to the communist party, and only a tenuous coalition of center and right parties enabled the country to function through the latter part of 1998. In fact, this coalition proved to be rather unstable. Despite this political situation, Moldova continued to make slow but steady progress toward building a democratic political system. The government formed in May 1998 continued supporting and promoting reform but the coalition broke down on February 3, 1999 and the country remained without a new government for six weeks. This situation, however, did not created political and social unrest. In the end the mechanisms of a parliamentary democracy worked in the formation of a new government.

Though President Lucinschi managed to institute some very important reforms--among them the successful fight for the "Pamint" land privatization program--his tenure was marked by constant legislative struggle with Moldova's Parliament. Several times, the Parliament considered votes of no confidence in the president's government, and a succession of moderate, pro-reform prime ministers were dismissed by a Parliament increasingly dominated by its single-minded Communist Party faction.

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