Wednesday, April 15, 2009

European Scene: Poll & Crisis in Moldova


By Dr. Abdul Ruff 


Moldova or Moldavia, a former Republic of the Soviet Union and now a part of “democratic” Europe, however, remains, like the Central Asian states that also once formed the parts of the USSR, one of the pro-communist dispensations. Moldavians went to the polls on April 05 to vote for a new parliament that will in course choose a replacement for President Vladimir Voronin, the only Communist leader in Europe and the former Soviet Union. Voronin, in office since 2001, cannot stand for a third consecutive term but has made it plain that he wants to remain close to power by taking another senior post in the manner of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Russia.

The final election results released on April 08 showed the Communist Party with 49.5% of the vote, winning 60 parliamentary seats. That is one seat less than the number required for the party to control the presidential election. Three other parties are more amenable to working with the Communists, and they may pass the 6 percent of support needed to gain a seat in the parliament. The Communists need 61 seats if they want to vote through their candidate for the presidency. No candidate has been named so far. The Communists gain much of their support from the older generations and civil servants.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has already congratulated Voronin on his party's election win, and the Foreign Ministry said Russia was deeply concerned by the events in Moldova.  The Moldova parliament elects the president, and the Communists appeared very close to securing the 61 seats they need in the 101-seat assembly to secure victory for their chosen candidate.  Voronin's Communists, who held 56 of the 101 seats in the outgoing parliament, are far ahead in a field of 15 parties, with support of 36 percent. Three opposition parties, broadly favoring closer ties with Romania and the European Union, lie far behind. Voronin did not rule out forming a coalition in the parliament, saying, "It would be good for as many parties to get in ... then there'll be someone with whom to create a coalition."

Opposition leaders said the election result was fraudulent. Moldova's president has since called for a full recount of disputed elections won by the ruling Communist Party, bowing to a key demand of protesters who stormed the parliament. Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin said in an official statement: "I am convinced that a complete recount of votes will become a major argument for maintaining political stability, peace and mutual trust in Moldova".

Meanwhile, about 10,000 demonstrators massed for a second day in the capital of Europe's poorest country to denounce the vote as rigged. The opposition called for ballots to be recounted or the vote to be re-held. Most of the protesters are students who see no future if Communists keep their hold on the former Soviet republic of 4 million people -- located on the European Union's border but within what Russia sees as its sphere of influence. They hurled computers into the street while police took cover behind riot shields. Moldovan protesters ransacked the president's offices and the parliament on April 07in violent protests over parliamentary elections that President Vladimir Voronin said amounted to a "coup d'etat, referring to opposition leaders." RIA-Novosti reported that the authorities and opposition leaders agreed to a recount of votes cast in Sunday's parliamentary election, which was easily won by Voronin's Communist Party. Voronin said in a television address that opposition leaders had embarked on a "path to the violent seizure of power." He said the authorities "would resolutely defend the state against the leaders of the pogrom."

Some of the protesters had carried Romanian flags and called for the unification of Moldova with Romania, its bigger neighbour and even shouted "We are Romanians".  Protesters overwhelmed riot police protecting both the president's office and the parliament -- located opposite each other on the capital Chisinau's main boulevard -- and poured into both buildings through smashed windows. They heaped tables, chairs and papers onto a bonfire outside parliament, and fires could also be seen in some of the building's windows. Some people gathered to demand the release of the 193 people reportedly arrested. Vlad Filat, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, called the demonstrations "a spontaneous action by protesting young people". He said the opposition had tried to prevent excesses.


Protestors indirectly sought to end communist regime and also seek better ties with neighboring Rumania. They however did not demand the resignation of Voronin. The leaders of three opposition parties that won seats in parliament spoke to reporters after emerging from talks with Moldova's president and prime minister in the aftermath of protests that caused serious damage to government buildings. They sought to stop violence. "We must stop this violence, secure the right to a recount of all the votes. And we demanded the right to stage peaceful protests “Dorin Chirtoaca, leader of the Liberal Party and mayor of Chisinau, said. Vlad Filat of the Liberal Democrats said the opposition, which stands broadly for closer ties with neighboring Romania, was demanding the right to check all electoral lists.. "As a result of this, I can assure you that the elections were rigged and we will organize a new election."

Opposition leaders called for a halt to the protests and said they were pressing for a recount of all votes cast. Moldovan state television said one young woman choked to death from carbon monoxide poisoning in the parliament building. It cited a senior doctor at Chisinau emergency hospital as saying 34 other protesters had been injured, including two in a serious condition in hospital. Some 80 police officers also received treatment for injuries, it said. Some demonstrators were seen chasing police away after seizing truncheons and riot shields

Officials in Moldova and Russia accused Romania of fomenting the riots, but witnesses said they were spontaneous. Moldova's president has accused neighboring Romania of stoking the protests that erupted into violence in the capital Chisinau. Romania has rejected the accusation as a "provocation". Vladimir Voronin, a communist, was quoted by Russian agency Interfax saying: "We know that certain political forces in Romania are behind this unrest. The Romanian flags fixed on the government buildings in Chisinau attest to this." He ordered that Romania's ambassador be expelled, recalled the Moldovan envoy from Bucharest, and said Romanians would in future need visas to cross into Moldova. But Romania's foreign ministry said: "This accusation is a provocation aimed at the Romanian state." It is "unacceptable that the Communists in power in Chisinau shift the blame for internal problems in Moldova onto Romania and the Romanian people", the statement added.


International observers said the vote appeared to have been fair. The EU sent an envoy to Moldova to mediate in the dispute between President Voronin's Communist Party and the three centre-right opposition parties. Observers from the European security body, the OSCE, concluded that the vote had been generally fair, but opposition parties and many students accused the authorities of fraud. A report by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s vote gave a mostly positive assessment of the poll. But the BBC in Moscow says that any Romanian connection with the uprising is to do with economics, rather than politics. EU foreign policy Chief Javier Solana called on all sides to show restraint and to refrain from violence and provocation..

Moldova is one of six former Soviet states with which the EU is due to launch a new program of enhanced ties at a summit in Prague next month. Moldova, sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine, is the poorest country in Europe, where the average wage is just under $250 (£168) a month. The people speak Romanian and the country shares many cultural links with Romania. However it was annexed by the Soviet Union in World War II and gained independence in 1991. There remains an unresolved conflict with the breakaway region of Trans-Dniester, which has run its own affairs, with Moscow's support, since the end of hostilities in a brief war in 1992.

President Voronin, in power since 2001, is governing a country where poverty has pushed a quarter of adults to work abroad. Voronin has overseen stability and economic growth since 2001 but has been unable to solve the rebellion in its Russian-speaking breakaway region of Transdnestr, where Russia has had troops since Soviet times. The region, like in previous elections, boycotted Sunday's vote. With little mineral resources, Moldova's economy depends on agriculture, including wine production, and remittances from the hundreds of thousands who left the country to work in EU states. The global economic crisis threatens to aggravate Moldova's poverty as workers' remittances dry up.

As it stands now, Moldova's liberal, pro-Western opposition on April 14 dismissed as a "trick" a planned recount of the recent disputed election won by the ruling Communist Party and said it would take no part in the process. Opposition parties demand a new election and say they expect no new results. They say their concern is fraud with voters' lists, which they allege contain the names of dead voters and Moldovans working abroad.

Word of the demonstrations was spread by text message, via the internet, and on social networking tools. Moldovans can see the success that Romania has enjoyed since throwing off communism and joining the EU. On average, Romanians earn five times as much as their Moldovan neighbours. The conclusion that many young Moldovans have come to is that a return to communist government and close friendship with Moscow has brought them nothing. Needless to state that the Western powers are instrumental in the post-poll troubles in Moldova but their merits or otherwise cannot be diagnosed here. Voronin is due to step down, having served the maximum of two consecutive terms.

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