Monthly Archives: December 2014

Meet Moldova’s New Parliament Members

Today is the first meeting of the newly elected Parliament.  It is the 20th legislature in Moldova’s history, formally counted from 1940, which is rather odd. Normally, it should be Moldova’s 8th legislature, counted from Independence Day and the adoption of the current Constitution.  However, in the current political climate, this is indeed the least of anybody’s concern, maybe except for the Liberal Party, which tried and failed to change the formal count in 2012.

The new set of lawmakers is not at all remarkable in any particular way. Precisely, only 61 are actually new, while 40 are incumbents. About a third of those 61 have been elected to Parliament at some point before.  These numbers are interesting to ponder on and compare with previous parliaments or other countries. First, I would like to consider the indicator that is talked about the most, albeit generally in vain – women representation. There are only 21 women elected to the new parliament. Still, that is an improvement from 19 in the previous one.  Ironically, Liberals are the worst at promoting women, while Communists are the best. In fact, we can see that right wing parties have a slightly worse record in promoting women compared to their left wing competitors. These numbers are a far cry from the modest one third quota advocated by civil society and light years away from the more equitable 50-50 representation, not even achieved by  Nordic countries – averaging 42% . To put things in perspective, women hold 18.7% of seats in the US Congress (20% in the Senate and 18.4% in the House), while the global average for singe or lower house is 22.2%. Thus, sadly only the Communists are above this benchmark.

Green – more women; Yellow – average; Red – less women.


Number and percentage of women in each faction.

Things are even worse when we look at rural vs. urban representation.  Hardly a surprise, Moldova is the most rural country in Europe – 57.8% of Moldovans live in villages. However, 94 of the 101 newly elected lawmakers live in towns and 78 of them in the capital. To make things worse, three of the seven ‘rural’ legislators come from central Moldova and only two from the north and the south. Even though the vast majority of MPs were born and raised in villages, they have since lost touch with rural life, which may be one explanation behind the medieval conditions in many Moldovan villages.

The other highly promoted indicator is youth participation in government. Youth are a key political demographic for parties right of center, namely liberal democrats and liberals. Yet, they appear to disenfranchise their electoral pools, as all three center right parties rank average in terms of youth representation, with Liberals doing especially badly, while Socialists lead the charge in promoting the youth, at least that is what the numbers indicate. Communists, with no young fellow faction members, have finally ‘accepted’ their gerontocratic label.  No wonder their youth wing – Komsomol, sided with Tkaciuk and the other rebels recently expelled from the party. It is interesting that three quarters of the Democrat faction are of middle age.  Liberal democrats are average across all age groups.

 Green – more youth; Yellow – average; Red – more seniors.


Number and percentage of lawmakers in each of the three age groups by faction.

The two youngest members of Parliament are Socialist Marina Radvan (23) and Liberal Democrat Mihaela Spatari (25). I cannot avoid mentioning the scandal that Radvan was dragged into when someone posted several photos of her on Facebook, presenting the would-be lawmaker in amusing, yet somewhat shameful circumstances. One side of the debate accuses her of ignorance and irresponsibility given her public profile (even though the photos were made before she became a politician, I believe), while her supporters said the pictures were doctored.  I, for one, am conflicted about the situation. Despite not having the full picture, I would strongly suspect that this avalanche of personal attacks and humiliation would have been avoided had she: 1. Not taken those incriminating photos 2. Kept better track of who has access to those photos and 3. Not become a politician.  Personally, I have a problem with all these conditions.  Yes, she made a mistake, but it was blown out of proportion and employed in a series of vicious politically motivated attacks, which is simply wrong on so many ethical levels.

The second youngest legislators, I have the pleasure of knowing personally. Mihaela is truly impressive in her drive to empower the youth. To my mind, she is probably one of the most professional and engaged youth leaders in the country. I am sure she will make a good name for herself in Parliament by not only being the voice of her party’s youth organization, but also the embodiment of all intelligent, enthusiastic and ambitious young Moldovans. It is important that all of those young lawmakers as well as the more senior once find their own voice first and learn to stand up for their opinion, particularly when it goes against the party bosses.  Unfortunately, the outgoing parliament has failed on so many occasions to protect the public interest that there is little hope of this legislature being any different, but it is not hopeless. Mihaela, and hopefully Marina too, are a small wave in a much awaited tide of change.


Note 1: These numbers are likely to change as certain lawmakers will refuse their mandates in favor of their current jobs, while some will take executive positions in the government.

Note 2: Association for Participatory Democracy is the source for most input data in this article. The team there does a great job of providing political junkies like myself with valuable quantitative and qualitative material!


Gagauz Autonomy Marks 20 Years of Pride and Prejudice

Autonomous Territorial Unit of Gagauzia was established on December 23, 1994 when the Law on its special status was passed by the Moldovan Parliament in line with the newly adopted Constitution, approved in July the same year.  This ended a stalemate between Chisinau and Comrat that threatened Moldova’s territorial integrity, or so everyone thought.   Twenty years later, Gagauz people have come as close as it gets in defying the central government in Chisinau, stopping short of declaring a full blown independence last February.

Gagauz leaders organized a referendum on February 2, 2014 in which autonomy’s residents overwhelmingly supported closer ties with Russia at the expense of EU. With turnout over 70%, voters almost unanimously (98.4 %) supported closer integration with the Russia-led Customs Union, while 97.2 % firmly stood against closer ties with the EU. It is really difficult to love something you know next to nothing about. In addition, when asked about Gagauzia’s future should Moldova lose its sovereignty, 98.9% agreed that Gagauzia should have the right to independence.  This is the where the shoe pinches, as it remains unclear whether the third question implied potential unification with Romania or also covered Moldova’s accession to NATO and especially the  EU.  Regardless, neither makes the referendum legal.  According to the law, only matters of local relevance can be subject to local referenda, whereas foreign policy is a matter of national importance, therefore to be decided exclusively by the central government or national referenda.

However, legal considerations played second fiddle to local political expediency and regional geopolitical competition. This referendum was perceived by many in Chisinau as an attempt by Moscow to derail Moldova’s European integration, by precluding Chisinau from signing the Association Agreement with the EU. Lacking any better options, leaders in Chisinau chose to ignore developments in Comrat and let the local Gagauz elites have their way, much like Transnistrian leaders had organized equally illegal referenda before. In retrospect, Chisinau’s feeble response to a de facto regional insurgency might have given Moscow just enough confidence to take the referendum on tour, first stop – Crimea.  It is futile to ask what could have happened, had Moldova given a steadfast pushback in Comrat, because what followed one month later in Crimea is already contemporary history.

Gagauzia and the rest of Moldova have been at logger heads for most of the last 20 years. It is only during those brief moments when Chisinau had control over Comrat politicians that things went more or less smoothly.  That rarely happened because, unlike Chisinau politicians, Gagauz lawmakers are elected in single member districts, and the head of the executive (president and prime minister in one person) is also elected directly. With no regional parties allowed and chronic distrust towards national parties, Gagauz often elected strong minded populist independents who made it their sole purpose to make life difficult for Chisinau.  Yet, to be fair local elites have had their hands tied by Chisinau’s power of the purse. Chisinau’s drive for centralization and malign disregard of Comrat’s autonomy allowed incremental watering down of autonomy’s prerogatives. Mainly, subsequent amendments to national legislation automatically chipped away power from Comrat, be it in appointing local heads of law enforcement, judges, yet more importantly in dealing with taxes and customs duties.

Chisinau often chose to ignore Gagauzia mainly because of electoral considerations. Gagauz people were either repeatedly punished for “voting the wrong way” or they simply did not matter enough in national political calculations as they only represent less than 5% of the electorate. Furthermore, Chisinau habitually accused Comrat of lacking a desire to integrate in national processes, while Comrat responded with accusations of deliberate isolation. Ethnic and linguistic differences only exacerbated the divide, derailing too many policy discussions.

Not very numerous, but extremely proud people, it is no wonder that the Gagauz are frustrated with how things turned out. Despite the cliché ridden comparison between Gagauzia and Transnistria and attempts to present the former as a blueprint for diffusing the standoff with the latter, Chisinau has been largely consumed by mitigating daily governance fiascos, becoming chronically short-sighted. Failing to articulate an inclusive democratic vision for the entire country, instead succumbing to widespread prejudices, Chisinau politicians do not live up to the expectations of the Gagauz or the Moldovans for that matter.  Hopefully the next 20 years will make a difference.