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Moldova Politics - 2009-2014

On 05 April 2009, the country held parliamentary elections that failed to fully comply with international standards. In that election the ruling PCRM increased its previous majority in parliament. In the aftermath of the April 2009 Moldovan parliamentary elections the losing side alleged fraud. In Moldova, the fraud allegations - at least partially substantiated by foreign observers - triggered massive political protests that turned violent in the capital, Chisinau, and resulted in the destruction of the parliament building and the presidential palace. Security forces committed killings and engaged in widespread beatings and unlawful detentions during and after the April 7-8 election-related protests. Security forces beat persons in custody and while apprehending them, and they held some persons in incommunicado detention.

Following the April 5 parliamentary election and announcement that the PCRM had increased its majority, a group of between 10,000 and 15,000 persons gathered in Chisinau on April 7 to protest the election results. Protesters initially demonstrated peacefully, and police largely stood by and did not intervene. During the course of the day, a small group of demonstrators began to throw rocks at the police. Violence intensified as protestors set fire to the parliament building and severely damaged the presidential building. Several protesters and approximately 200 police officers were injured. After midnight, as police used force in an attempt to disperse the remaining demonstrators; human rights groups alleged that security forces killed as many as three persons. That night and during the days that followed, police arrested more than 300 demonstrators; many reported being beaten and abused while being taken into custody and while in detention.

During the days that followed, security forces conducted a campaign of harassment and intimidation against members of the political opposition, journalists, and others assumed to be opponents of the PCRM government. Plainclothes police abducted and detained persons suspected of involvement in the protests. Security forces beat journalists and destroyed cameras; plainclothes police abducted and detained the editor of an independent newspaper. Police visited high schools and universities, seeking the identities of protesters and threatening students with expulsion if they participated in protests. Following the disturbances on the night of April 7-8, crowds declined rapidly, and demonstrations ceased within a few days. The arbitrary arrests also ceased.

The reactions of the main Moldovan political parties and mass media reflect the deep divide running through Moldovan politics and society. President Vladimir Voronin and most of the state-run media blamed opposition parties and the Romanian government for supporting the "criminal bands" that they held responsible for the violence. The Moldovan opposition, along with much of civil society and parts of the private mass media, argued that the protests instead represented a spontaneous expression of frustration by anti-communist, pro-Western youths, especially students. Moreover, they insisted that pro-regime instigators initiated the violence to delegitimize protest and pave the way for a restored dictatorship. The heavy-handed official repression that followed resulted in hundreds of arrests and allegations of widespread police violence.

While the government eventually agreed to new elections that produced a narrow opposition victory, the Communist Party continued to command enough support to block the economic and political liberalization that could assure peaceful transfers of power in the future. Following the parliament's failure to elect a president, as prescribed by law, new parliamentary elections took place on 29 July 2009, and the four opposition parties won enough seats to establish a governing coalition, known as the Alliance for European Integration, which entered office on September 25. International observers noted some of the same problems in the July elections as in April but also reported improvement in the electoral process. On September 11, parliament appointed Mihai Ghimpu interim president. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces.

In March 2010 the leader of Moldova's opposition Communist Party accused Prime Minister Vlad Filat of smuggling cigarettes into neighboring Romania to pay for his election campaign. Former President Vladimir Voronin told a press conference in Chisinau that Filat's campaign funds were provided by Dinu Patriciu, a Romanian oil tycoon who was on this 2010's "Forbes" list of the world's wealthiest persons. Voronin said Patriciu asked Filat in February to repay the money. He said Filat then prepared 10 truckloads of cigarettes to be sent to Romania. Voronin said only two trucks made it over the border while a third was stopped by Romanian customs officials. He did not say what happened to the other trucks. Patriciu told the Romanian media that he has no ties whatsoever with Filat and did not finance his campaign. Filat called Voronin's allegations "rubbish" and said he has no time to respond to such things.

According to international observers, parliamentary elections in 2010 met most OSCE and Council of Europe commitments. On March 16, parliament ended more than two years of political stalemate by electing a president. The PCRM boycotted the presidential election and did not recognize the new head of state as a legitimate authority.

A new Moldovan government was elected in November 2010 and took office in January 2011 in a peaceful transfer of power. Three of the four parties that had formed the Alliance for European Integration (AIE) re-established the coalition government with a parliamentary majority consisting of 59 members of Parliament out of 101. Liberal Democratic Party leader Vlad Filat (PLDM, 32 seats) was re-elected Prime Minister. Democratic Party leader Marian Lupu (PD, 15 seats) became Speaker of Parliament and Acting President, and remained the AIE candidate for President. The Liberal Party (PL, 12 seats) is led by Mihai Ghimpu, former Acting President of the AIE coalition government from 2009 through the end of 2010. Our Moldova Alliance, led by Serafim Urechean, failed to pass the 4% threshold and in April 2011 merged with PLDM. Two weeks later Urechean was appointed Chairman of the Court of Auditors. The Communist Party (PCRM) remained in opposition, holding 42 seats in Parliament. Mihai Godea was the leader of the PLDM faction in Parliament, but defected in May 2011 to become an independent member and run for Mayor of Chisinau.

Ghimpu served as Acting President from September 2009 to January 2011, when Marian Lupu took over the office of Speaker and the office of Acting President. The AIE coalition failed twice in November and December 2009 to attract the additional eight votes required (61 total) for the Parliament to elect Lupu, which meant that Ghimpu was constitutionally required to dissolve Parliament and call new elections. A September 5, 2010 referendum to replace the system of parliamentary election of the president with direct popular election failed because of low turnout.

Parliament was dissolved September 28 in preparation for new parliamentary elections on November 28, 2010. In those elections, the AIE scored a 59-seat majority in Parliament, falling two seats short of the 61 votes constitutionally required to elect a President. The Alliance parties did not initiate the process of presidential elections as they did not have the two votes needed for the procedure to be successful. Instead, the AIE asked the Constitutional Court to interpret Article 78 of the Constitution, pointing to the lack of legal provisions that would forbid repeated dissolution of Parliament after failing to elect a President, and sought the Court's opinion regarding the propriety of adopting a law that would allow Parliament to elect a President with fewer votes, thus altering Article 78.

The AIE government launched an ambitious reform effort and placed a clear priority on Moldova's relations with the West and integration with the European Union. It has pledged to respect and promote human and civil rights, improved relations with neighboring Romania, and negotiated a difficult agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to help alleviate the effects of the global economic crisis.

Nicolae Timofti was elected president on 16 March 2012 by 62 votes in the country's 101-seat legislature, including three former Communists who defected to the ruling coalition weeks earlier. Sixty-one votes are needed to secure election and opposition Communist Party deputies boycotted the session. The Communists -- which comprised the single largest bloc in parliament but were outvoted by a coalition of three West-leaning parties -- continued not to recognize Timofti's legitimacy and have called on the public to protest his election. Before Timofti's election, Moldova went more than 900 days without a president. Timofti pledged wide-ranging reform, Moldovan military neutrality, and moving the country toward European integration.

Within national institutions, the circumstances of rule by a multiparty coalition have exacerbated government effectiveness. Behind the scenes, Prime Minister Filat principally negotiates many important decisions with the leaders of his PLDMs coalition partners. Cabinet ministers and administrative experts often got short shrift. Parliamentary Speaker Lupu played an outsize role because he led the PDM. In day-to-day relations among peak-level politicians, policy concerns typically took a back seat to political ones.

It was widely hoped and believed that after 2009 the AEI coalition would move Moldova much more decisively toward greater democracy, prosperity, and Euro-Atlantic integration than the PCRM government that preceded it, although most observers conceded that there had been detectible changes for the better in some domains. Undergirding the mood of frustration are realities that cannot be brushed aside. There undeniably are big DG problems across the board in Moldova. Pluralism by default is alive and reasonably well, but taking the country to another level in its transition toward democracy will require significant new steps so as to remedy nagging problems.

The government signed a far-reaching Association Agreement with the European Union in June 2014 and achieved a visa-free travel regime with the bloc. But it suffers from the perception of widespread and unaddressed corruption. The opposition communists took advantage of the three-party coalition's record of discord and infighting over the past six years, despite it keeping Moldova on track for European integration.

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