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Archive for the ‘Moldova’ Category

Whispers of change in Tiraspol.

Posted by democratist on May 31, 2011

May 31st 2011,

Rumours are circulating in Tirsapol, capital of the unrecognized breakaway Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (PMR) of a change in political leadership at the next Presidential elections, due in December.

The PMR has been run by former Communist appartchik, Igor Smirnov, since the conflict which led to its succession from the rest of Moldova in 1992, and, since that time, has developed an international reputation as a hotbed of smuggling, corruption and authoritarianism.

But while any meaningful attempt to address these problems is unlikely in a place where a handful of people own almost the entire economy, and there is no real history of free or fair elections, at least some superficial alteration among the current leadership may be in the offing.

The reason behind this trend is a newly heightened pressure from Russia, which retains 1200 peacekeepers in the PMR, and (so it is said) wants the intransigent Smirnov out of the way so they can move forward with a plan to bring the frozen Transnistria conflict closer to resolution.

This, in turn, is seen as a first step as part of a controversial broader proposed deal with the German government, contained in the “Meseberg Memorandum” (signed by Chancellor Merkel and President Medvedev last June) which could potentially give Russia an enhanced voice in the EU’s security decision-making bodies.

A possible liberalization of visa restrictions for Russians entering the Schengen zone may be an additional incentive.

Apart from the rumours, another, more concrete indication of Russian intentions is that formal internationally brokered negotiations on a settlement of the PMR’s status are expected to reconvene at a meeting in Moscow on 21st June, after a break of some five years.

But while the formal resumption of negotiations would certainly be a step in the right direction,  Smirnov’s ouster, if and when it comes, is likely to be a more significant indicator of Russian seriousness in relation to moving the process forward, and it will be interesting to see how things progress following the selection and announcement of Presidential candidates in September.

Democratist remains sceptical about the extent to which other EU members will be willing to accept any Russian influence over their foreign policies in the coming years. But we hope that some tentative peaceful move towards a resolution of the current stalemate, combined with a change at the top (even a stage-managed one) will nudge the long-suffering Transnistrian people (unemployment is 49%, and 80% in the villages) a little closer towards considering the possibility of eventually taking their destiny into their own hands.

Posted in European Union, Moldova, Russia and the EU, Russia Foreign Policy, Transnistria, Western Foreign Policy | Leave a Comment »

Moldova’s 2011 Local Elections will confirm its European Orientation.

Posted by democratist on May 27, 2011

It will be harder for Moldova to join the EU that it was for neighbouring Romania, but Moldovan society has already made its preferences clear.

27th May 2011,

Moldova remains in a state of political upheaval initiated by the inability of the Communists to win the constitutionally required 61 seats to elect a President in the April 2009 parliamentary elections. The two years since then have seen several additional early votes – the last in November – but while the three-party coalition that forms the ruling Alliance for European Integration (AIE) has gained a few more MP’s each time, they still have only 59, and so are unable to elect one of their number to the presidency.

Marian Lupu (former Communist rising star and now leader of the breakaway Democratic Party) has filled the role of acting President since December. He looks set to do so for some months to come, especially since the constitutional court decided in February that it was not necessary for the government to hold a vote to appoint a new President within two months of the resignation of the last one (and did not provide an alternate time frame).

And yet a new set of elections early next year remains a possibility: Two rounds of municipal polls are due on 5th and 19th June. If the AIE, and especially Vlad Filat’s Liberal Democrats perform well (as expected), and the Communists lose control of one of the larger cities currently under their sway, then Filat may decide to have another crack at the top job.

In the meantime, it looks unlikely that either of his two AIE partners (Lupu’s Democrats or Mihai Ghimpu’s Liberals) will seek to block his path to power by cutting a deal with the Communists: They would almost certainly be seen as traitors to the cause of Moldova’s European integration (supported by about 70% of the population), and would suffer badly at the next election.

However, this might change if the fallout from the local polls provoke a challenge to Vladimir Voronin’s leadership of the Communists. If Igor Dodon, their mayoral candidate in Chisinau does well, while the Party’s vote in the rest of Moldova declines, then the young, centrist Dodon may make a bid to take control of the Party from the septuagenarian Voronin. This in turn would make the Communists a much more acceptable prospect for a possible deal with one or more of the AIE coalition partners.

But whether the current coalition continues, or the Liberal Democrats, or (less likely) a new coalition including Lupu and Dodon comes out on top, it seems implausible the EU’s generous financial support to Moldova will dry up any time soon: Corruption remains a serious problem with has still not been properly addressed, but in terms of progress towards democratization, media freedom and civil society, as well as prospects for co-operation with the EU on issues such as border controls and visa regularization, Moldova’s prospects are notably better than those of fellow EU Eastern Partnership members Belarus or Ukraine. This is not likely to change, given the demographic situation as expressed in the last three parliamentary elections (older Communist voters are dying off, and are not being replaced by many younger ones).

On this basis, the political and sociological foundation for Moldova’s continued EU orientation will remain in place. This is a positive development which, combined with increased free trade, and ongoing remittances from the EU, will do much to propel already robust economic growth (6.9% last year) and lead to the continued entrenchment of Moldova’s remarkably vibrant democracy. However, given enlargement fatigue and economic malaise, as well as the ongoing Transnistria issue, while the EU may be able to provide some additional incentives over the next few years, it looks like Moldova’s path to membership may still take several decades.

Posted in Democratization, EU Enlargment, European Union, Historical Sociology of International Relations (HSIR), Moldova | 2 Comments »

The Great “Arab Spring” of 2011: Causes and Consequences.

Posted by democratist on March 28, 2011

28th March 2011,

As the “Arab Spring” rolls onwards through Libya, and towards Yemen and Syria, Democratist – like many others (not least a number of red-faced foreign policy professionals), has been looking to get some sort of an explanatory purchase on recent events in the middle East. Why there? And why now?

For Democratist,  the key factor lies in the interrelationship between globalization (Al Jazeera, Twitter, Facebook, Wikileaks and the rest), and a number of other historical-sociological factors that have been perhaps slightly less eagerly grasped upon by (especially the US) media.

These include the rupturing of corrupt political, economic and social systems dominated by authoritarian cliques (and supported by the West) for decades; tremendous social upheavals provoked by poverty, the evident injustice of crony capitalism (abject poverty cheek by jowl with decadent wealth), the rising expectations of the (literate and tech-savvy) young; and the delayed flowering of civil society.

Looking at the broader, global context, a superbly insightful, if so far largely ignored framework for understanding these events is to be found in Revolutions and World Politics: The Rise and Fall of the Sixth Great Power. (Palgrave, 1999) by the late Professor Fred Halliday of the LSE (1945-2010).

One of the main conclusions of this 300-page comparative study of revolutions and their international aspects is that over the last three centuries, the focus of revolutionary upheavals has been, not (as Marx had hoped) on the most developed states, but rather in the contrary direction; that revolutions have historically tended to occur in less developed countries, and during periods in which the “conflicts of modernity” were at their sharpest, with these states only subsequently settling down into democratic reformism.

In other words, the historical pattern has been one in which revolutions take place in societies that have embarked on, but are at a comparatively early stage of economic and political development: One of Halliday’s key insights is the idea that, in the contemporary world, revolutions express the pressures placed on traditional societies by international structural factors, in addition to the tensions that occur within societies in transition, and the drive for accelerated development.

All three elements have been present in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. They are also present to a very considerable degree in a large number other less developed countries – including Yemen, Syria and Iran, and throughout much of the former Soviet Union.

What the revolutions in the middle East represent therefore, are the increasingly inevitable consequences for states which refuse to meet their citizens expectations, after a certain level of development has been attained, in an increasingly integrated world.

While not linear, or liable to easy prediction, this trend has become all the more evident since 1989; in the collapse of the USSR itself, in Serbia (2000), Georgia (2003), Ukraine (2004), Lebanon (2005), Kyrgyzstan (2005). Moldova (2009), and now with the great Arab Spring of 2011, whereby the democratic agenda has been firmly set for much of the rest of the developing world.

As Halliday notes;

“Revolutions are moments of transition which, once passed, may not need replication. Instead, they lay down an agenda for political and social change that through reform, struggles and democracy may take decades or centuries to be achieved. This is at once evident from the programmes on rights of the American and French revolutions, the radical egalitarianism and the international programme associated with each; the point is not whether America or France always, or ever, lived up to these ideas, any more than Russia was to do after 1917, but rather how ideas and aspirations that emerged from these revolutions retain their validity in subsequent epochs.”

2011 may then therefore eventually come to mark the decisive point at which among the populations of developing states, democractic reformism ceased to be seen as essentially a restrictedly “Western” phenomenon, and became recognized as a potentially universal one.

See also my pieces:

Russian Autocracy and the Future of the Arab Spring

Revolution, Democracy and the West.

The Arab Spring and Structural Power

The Egyptian revolution and the precariousness of autocracy.

Posted in Democratization, Domestic NGOs, Egyptian Revolution, Fred Halliday, Historical Materialism, Historical Sociology of International Relations (HSIR), Jasmine Revolution, Libyan Revolution, Moldova, Russian Corruption, Soviet Union, Ukraine, Western Foreign Policy, wikileaks | 12 Comments »

Decision time for Moldova’s Constitutional Court.

Posted by democratist on February 8, 2011

8th February 2010,

An interesting day for those of us who concern ourselves with the (rather convoluted) domestic politics of Moldova;

Itar-Tass reports that the constitution court is due to hold a session to decide the time limits by which the president should be elected by parliamentary vote.

This was brought about through an appeal from the Moldovan Communist party (PCRM). They believe Moldovan Constitutional law requires a vote be held within two months of the resignation of the last holder of the post (in this case Mihai Ghimpu, who resigned on December 28, 2010).

But figures from the governing Alliance for European Integration (AIE) claim that this provision does not apply in the case of an interim President being in place, and that therefore there need not be any deadline in the situation as it exists at the moment, with the AEI’s Marian Lupu filling the interim role.

If the court decides that a vote does indeed need to take place within two months (i.e. by February 28th), it seems unlikely that the Communists will provide the two additional votes the AIE require to reach the sixty-one vote threshold. Instead of Lupu being officially appointed President, the most likely outcome is that he would continue in the interim role, and the country will return to the polls for the fourth time in three years, in early 2012.

However if they accept the AEI’s position, it looks as if Moldova might be able to muddle along under the current arrangement for the full length of a presidential term (i.e. until 2014).

Either way, Moldova looks likely to remain the object of ongoing geopolitical jockeying from both Russia and the EU. The Russians are currently touting cheap gas (possibly in return for basing rights), whereas the Europeans have offered a comprehensive trade deal as part of an Association Agreement.

Posted in Democratization, Elections, European Union, Moldova, Russian Foreign Policy, Western Foreign Policy | 1 Comment »

Tunisia: A New Opportunity for Democracy and Western Policy in the Maghreb.

Posted by democratist on January 18, 2011

18th January 2010,

Democratist has been taking a semi-break from the CIS for the last couple of days to watch the unfolding events in Tunisia, where the authoritarian President Zine el-Abedine Ben Ali has been deposed. A national unity government has been installed and is to prepare the country for new elections, which must take place within two months, according to the constitution.

The current situation is unstable, and it remains to be seen when those elections will indeed take place, or the extent to which elements of the old regime within the new government will attempt to interfere with them (or indeed if the new government will hold). Nonetheless, with moderate Islamists and secular leftists in the ascendant, the possibility of the long-term emergence of a reasonably stable democratic country in the Maghreb appears on the horizon, in a region where the US and EU have been all too happy to follow a realist policy of propping up local autocrats for many decades.

This is a potentially historic opportunity that needs to be grabbed with both hands while the going is good: Whereas American neo-conservatives may have been disastrously mistaken in their belief that the 2003 invasion of Iraq would lead to the rapid emergence of a democratic exemplar for the rest of the Middle East to copy, the Tunisian “Jasmine” revolution presents mainstream Western foreign policy liberals with a potential opportunity to put policy on a surer footing, and encourage the US and EU to work with the well-educated, westernized and democratically minded Tunisian population towards a similar goal in relation to North Africa; and one that has a considerably greater chance of success.

In the coming months then, the emphasis needs to placed on diplomatic engagement with the new government, economic assistance and preliminary discussions in relation to free trade and FDI. With regard to the first of these, Democratist believes Tunisia presents an important new opportunity for international election observation to make a real difference in helping to ensure the legitimacy of any forthcoming vote, as well as providing feedback on the process for future improvements.

While tellingly Russia Today has been arguing that the revolution in Tunisia took place due to a lack of jobs and economic growth rather than political rights, Democratist is of the opinion that, just as was the case in Georgia (2003), Ukraine (2004) and Moldova (2009) free and fair elections (and an associated end to corruption) have been at the heart of the protestors’ demands.

The West may well now have an opportunity to start to rebuild its reputation with the people of the Maghreb (and not just in Tunisia), but if it is to do so effectively, a commitment to free elections and human rights, and to hold any new government accountable in this regard, must play a central role.

Posted in Elections, Jasmine Revolution, Moldova, Orange Revolution, Revolutions, UK Foreign Policy, Western Foreign Policy | 1 Comment »

Moldova 2011: A Renewed Opportunity for EU Diplomacy.

Posted by democratist on January 7, 2011

7th January 2010,

Democratist has continued to take a keen interest in Russia and the EU’s geopolitical manoeuverings following the November 27th elections in Moldova. While several polls in the CIS in 2010 have been broadly perceived as “successes” in terms of Russian foreign policy (Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus) Democratist sees the current situation in Moldova as holding out at least a little hope for European influence in the former Soviet space.

In the first half of December both Russia and the EU offered alternative trade deals,designed to sway the formation of potential coalitions to their own advantage during the period of negotiation that followed the inconclusive poll: Russian presidential chief of staff Nariskin, hoping for a deal between the traditionally pro-Moscow Communists (PCRM) and Marian Lupu’s Democrats offered inclusion in Russia’s proposed customs union, as well as cheaper gas and a resumption of banned Moldovan wine imports. Meanwhile, attempting to encourage a continuation of the Alliance for European Integration (AIE) which had run the country since September 2009, the EU pushed its association agreement as a path towards more comprehensive free trade, and a proposed visa liberalization plan, while leaving the prospect of eventual Moldovan accession to hover in the background.

On 30th December, having failed to come to an arrangement with the Communists, the Democratic Party agreed to the re-establishment of the AIE; Lupu was elected speaker of Parliament and, in the absence of two of the 61 votes required by the constitution for election to the substantive post, appointed to replace Liberal leader Mihai Ghimpu as acting President. The AIE has not yet attempted to have Lupu formally elected to the presidency, since under the constitution a new parliamentary vote would have to take place if this is not a success. Instead, Prime Minister designate Vlad Filat has suggested the coalition may offer the Communists a ministerial post in the new cabinet in exchange for the two additional votes required.

It remains to be seen if the PCRM will take Filat up on his offer. They have not been willing to do so in the past and complained that the November elections were rigged (despite a thumbs up from the OSCE). If they decide against, another election seems inevitable by the end of 2011 unless a loophole can be found. However, since the electorate is unlikely to thank the Communists for having put them to the trouble of voting four times in under three years, such a strategy would not be without some risk.

As for the Russians, from what Democratist can gather from a recent article in RIA Novosti’s Russia Profile, their mood seems to have shifted over the past few weeks to a mixture of disappointment at the Communists’ waning popularity and inability to form a coalition (implying some loss of influence), a belief that Russia’s continued position as a source of remittances for Moldova will act as a counterweight to that trend, and the hope that Marian Lupu will be someone they could work with. There is also an unwillingness to allow relations with Moldova to sour the more important relationship with the EU.

And so the ball is now back in the EU’s court: Moldova may have to return to the polls at the end of 2011 or, with the support of the PCRM Lupu may be elected to a five-year term as President, but either way an opportunity now exists to show other CIS countries such as Ukraine and Belarus, what it is possible for an impoverished country like Moldova to accomplish through an improved relationship with the EU.

It is time to see whether those free-trade and visa liberalization plans are all just talk – or not.

Posted in Elections, European Union, Moldova, OSCE, Russia Foreign Policy | 1 Comment »

Moldova’s New Government: Still on a Knife-Edge

Posted by democratist on December 27, 2010

27th December 2010,

The month following the 28th November 2010 parliamentary elections in Moldova has proved fascinating in terms of Moldova’s own domestic coalition-building, but equally because the EU and Russia have both been jockeying, more or less openly, to influence that process.

With the first session of the new parliament due to take place tomorrow, and the election results finally approved by the constitutional court, horse-trading among the parliamentary political parties has reached fever pitch over the last couple of days.

The situation is on a knife-edge, and hard to predict, but following a period of several weeks during which it seemed that Marian Lupu’s Democratic Party might be able to form a coalition with the Communists (PCRM), those talks have stalled, and the main focus appears to have shifted back towards the reestablishment of the Alliance for European Integration (AIE), which has ruled the country since September 2009.

Although rarely reported in the mainstream Western press, these recent negotiations in Moldova have been closely observed by both EU and Russian diplomats; a Communist MP until 2009, Lupu has always been markedly more pro-Russian than the other two AIE leaders, and the PCRM themselves have retained their traditional pro-Russian stance with leader Vladimir Voronin stating in early December that Moldova might accede to Russia’s proposed customs union (as Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus recently agreed to do), as well as engage in a “deeper strategic partnership,” should the PCRM manage to form a coalition.

As such, it was hardly a surprise that Russian presidential chief of staff Sergey Nariskin visited Chisinau a few days later, offering cheaper gas and a resumption of banned Moldovan wine imports if the parties were able to form a pro-Moscow government.

Meanwhile, the EU have also played their hand in the form of a subsequent visit by Swedish and Polish Foreign Ministers Carl Bildt and Radek Sikorski, apparently designed to shore-up support for a pro-EU coalition.

Bildt is reported as having later commented, “What there is on the European agenda for Moldova is the association agreement. If you look at what the Moldovan economy needs, it is deep and comprehensive free trade with the EU. That is what can over time lead to a better development of what is today the poorest country in Europe. I’m not saying that cheap gas is bad, but economies and prosperity can’t be built on cheap gas.”

So both sides have mapped out their visions of Moldova’s future. Democratist (unsurprisingly) recommends the adoption of the European model as the best option for eventual political and economic reform, but the situation remains fluid, and coalition negotiations could still go either way.

Posted in Elections, European Union, Moldova, Russian Foreign Policy | 1 Comment »

Pro-EU forces gaining ground in Moldova.

Posted by democratist on December 3, 2010

3rd December 2010,

Democratist is mulling over the results of last Sunday’s parliamentary elections in Moldova; the small, very poor, and often overlooked former Soviet Republic wedged geographically between Romania and Ukraine, and geopolitically between the EU and Russia.

The 28th November poll is the third inconclusive vote to have taken place in the country since April 2009, and on each occasion no political group has been able to muster the 61 MPs (out of a total of 101) required by the constitution to elect the President.

However, despite the ongoing deadlock, these polls do seem to mark a continuing and considerable shift in political power and popular support in Moldova over the past 18 months.

While Vladimir Voronin’s PCRM Communists (who ruled Moldova between 2001-2009) have managed to remain a blocking minority of 42 seats in parliament, this most recent poll bears witness to the rapidly growing popularity of Prime Minister Vlad Filat’s Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova (LDPM), which took almost 30% of the vote (compared with 12.4% as recently as April last year).

The LDPM has therefore somewhat eclipsed the its two remaining partners in the Alliance for European Integration (AEI) bloc that came to power in 2009 (which both took around 10%) but the LDPM’s growing popularity also seems to reflect a broader consolidation of pro-European forces, and a sharp decline in support for the Communists, in polls that were described as meeting most international commitments by the OSCE.

Democratist hopes that given this setback, the PCRM might see some sense, and come to an agreement with the other parties to allow for the election of a new Moldovan President (although this currently seems unlikely).

Furthermore, we hope the EU will also take note of the implications of these results, and continue to use all the tools at their disposal (including liberalized visa regime, trade agreement etc.) to push for the continued strengthening of democracy, and implementation of structural reforms in Moldova.

Posted in Democratization, Elections, European Union, Moldova | 3 Comments »

Moldova’s Autumn Propects

Posted by democratist on June 10, 2010

10th June 2010

The next few months promise to be an interesting time for the generally ignored Moldovan political scene. What is happening? 

Most people who don’t actually live there don’t spend a lot of time worrying about Moldova; with a population of 3.4 million (about 600,000 of whom are currently working – usually illegally - abroad) and a GDP of only $5.4 bn, it has been easy to overlook this small, mostly agricultural, and very poor country, since it gained independence from the collapsing Soviet Union in August 1991.

Once part of the Roman province of Dacia, Moldova has more often than not been the play-thing of more powerful entities; it was annexed by the Russian Empire in 1812 and known as Bessarabia. Later, in 1920, the (mostly ethnic Romanian) Moldovans took advantage of the Empire’s dissolution to join the Kingdom of Romania. However, they were re-annexed into the USSR (as a result of the Molotov-Ribentrop pact in 1940)  as the “Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic.” 

Between independence in 1991 and 2009, Moldova was essentially characterized politically by the domination of the Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova (PCRM) or its allies. Thus all three post-independence Presidents prior to 2009 - Mircea Snegur (1991-1996) Petru Lucinschi (1996-2001) and Vladimir Voronin (2001-2009) were either members of the PCRM, or closely allied to it, and had also all cut their administrative and political teeth in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). Whereas other parties had helped to constitute coalition governments prior to 2001 (and it has to be said that the quality of elections since 1994 has generally been judged to be fairly good by international observers), the political instability of the late 1990′s discredited the other Parties considerably, and the Communists won a crushing majority in the 2001 parliamentary election.

But whereas the PCRM again managed to cobble together the constitutionally required 61 votes (three-fifths of the 101 seat parliament) in order to re-elect the President in 2005, it was (somewhat unexpectedly) unable to manage this after the April 5th 2009 polls (despite gaining a tantalizingly close 60 seats). Subsequently, a second vote took place on 29th July, but this only resulted in a further stalemate, with the PCRM gaining even fewer – only 48 seats, and the four opposition parties together taking 53. 

As of late July 2009 therefore, the non-Communist parties seem to have finally gained the upper hand in Moldovan politics for the first time since independence.  On August 8th they formed a governing coalition, the “Alliance for European Integration” (AEI), and after Voronin resigned from the Presidency on 11th September, he was replaced by acting-President (and leader of the AEI’s Liberal Party) Mihai Ghimpu.

However, the AEI’s two constitutionally permitted attempts  to lure the 8 Communist MPs they additionally required to make up the 61 votes needed to elect a permanent President on 7th November and 10th December 2009 both fell flat. Parliament must therefore be disbanded and new elections held, but, due to constitutional provisions, this cannot not take place until one year after the parliament was last disolved - which is to say until after June 16th 2010. In order to try to bring an end to the current disorder, the AEI has recently called for both a constitutional referendum – which is planned for this coming September (allowing for the direct election of the President), and for subsequent concurrent parliamentary and presidential elections in November (if the initial referendum proves a success).

While it currently seems likely that the constitutional ammendment will pass and the elections take place, the end result is still far from clear; the AEI will have to put forward a single “unity” candidate if it hopes to have a realistic chance of preventing the Communists – still the most popular single party in Moldova - from retaking the Presidency. 

But regardless of the final result, the West will doubtless continue to employ the three major levers of power currently at its disposal in relation to Moldova; the huge attractiveness of the promise of eventual EU membership (over 70% of Moldovans want to join); the new financial influence of the IMF acquired since the 2008 economic crisis, and above all in relation to the forthcoming referendum and elections - the democratic oversight and development role of the OSCE ODIHR. This last factor is especially important for maintaining confidence in the sometimes mistrusted electoral process, and ensuring that Moldovan politics continue to develop within a democratic context.

Posted in Democratization, Elections, Moldova | Leave a Comment »

 
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