Category Archives: Human rights

Don’t give up on democracy in Moldova

My country was once a leader in democratic transition in the post-Soviet space. It had high hopes of joining the European family of nations as the poster child of the European Union’s Eastern Partnership programme. This has proven to be an illusion. Despite struggling with corruption and poor governance, political pluralism and independent media are a cherished achievement of Moldova’s young and feeble democracy. But even these achievements are coming to an end.

Moldova is now a captured state that needs to be returned to its citizens. One politician, whose party received less than 16% of the vote in the 2014 parliamentary election, now has the dubious honor of running the entire country. Despite holding no public office, oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc is now the kingpin of Moldova. He has managed to take over all of the key state institutions, including parliament, the government and the judiciary, by all the means at his disposal.

Plahotniuc’s ownership of the largest media holding in the country, coupled with his control over the nominally independent national public broadcaster, allows for his vast political influence to go completely unchecked.

Changing the rules of the game

The recent adoption of the highly controversial electoral reform and attempts to restrict the independence of civil nongovernmental organizations serve as vivid examples of Moldova’s democratic backsliding.

By changing the electoral system, Democratic Party leader Vlad Plahotniuc and pro-Russian president Igor Dodon, elected with Plahotniuc’s support, have established a de facto political cartel in order to marginalise the remaining opposition parties from political competition, even if Plahotniuc’s Democratic Party polled at just four percent in the survey conducted by the International Republic Institute last spring. The new electoral system is clearly designed to benefit the incumbent Democratic Party, which can rely on its vast resources to gain undue advantage, but it also gives the Party of Socialists a head start in almost all districts as a result of the party’s consolidated grip over the left-leaning pro-Russian electorate.

Moldova’s Action and Solidarity Party, of which I am president, as well as all of the other major opposition parties have strongly opposed these changes to the electoral system. Civil society has also vocally condemned the Plahotniuc-Dodon electoral reform. The Venice Commission criticised the proposal as inappropriate for Moldova. Nonetheless, after months of media manipulation and political intimidation, the Plahotniuc-Dodon cartel has enacted the mixed electoral system.

Protests as the last sliver of hope

Plahotniuc’s illegitimate tactics of getting lawmakers to defect and join his party by hook or by crook, coupled with his vast wealth, a private media conglomerate and the entire administrative resources of the Moldovan state, including the justice system, increasingly put him at an unfair advantage over other parties. All of these anti-democratic actions have triggered mass popular protests.

Most recently, on 17 September, thousands of Moldovan citizens came together and voiced their dissent in front of the parliament building in the capital of Chișinău. However, instead of listening to their legitimate grievances, the regime depicted the peaceful and mostly elderly protesters as a security threat to the police force.

My colleagues and I are alarmed that the next parliamentary election in November 2018 will fail to meet democratic standards, particularly when it comes to the 51 single member constituencies. As electoral districts are now being drawn by a government committee, major concerns arise about potential gerrymandering. Voter suppression and reduction of voting power in the diaspora is another cause for concern.

Most worrisome is that the district winner will be decided by a plurality vote in a single round election, which is sure to produce an incredibly unrepresentative outcome as legislators may be elected with as little as 15% of the vote or even less.

What is at stake?

After having captured the Moldovan state and continuously depriving its citizens of their basic human rights and liberties, Plahotniuc has the audacity to portray himself as the promoter of Moldova’s EU integration agenda and, recently, came up with an amendment to the Constitution, which would reconfirm Moldova’s strategic goal of European integration.

This move is yet another empty gesture aimed at maintaining the pretense of Democratic Party’s pro-European image, while also channeling the public debate along geopolitical lines away from pressing social, economic and political issues at home. Yet, it is becoming increasingly apparent, both for Moldovan citizens as well for the more astute observers abroad, that the geopolitical power play between Plahotniuc’s ruling coalition and president Dodon leaves the European Union mostly unimpressed. Through its rhetoric and actions, the party in power is only discrediting the European ideals in Moldova, helping pro-Russian parties strengthen their popular support.

Moldova is nowhere near graduating from the Council of Europe monitoring mechanism in the field of democracy, human rights and rule of law. During his most recent visit to Moldova, Nils Muižnieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, questioned the government’s human rights record, citing the recent tragic death of Andrei Braguța, a man with mental disabilities, in police custody as evidence of major systemic failures in the justice system.

We share the Commissioner’s concern about the lack of public trust in the judiciary being extremely damaging to a democracy. We are also extremely worried about the growing number of cases of politically motivated harassment and intimidation of our fellow party members and supporters in the regions. Law abiding citizens (school teachers and managers, doctors and librarians etc.) are being persecuted for their political views and their civic initiative of joining and supporting the Action and Solidarity Party. We are determined to report all of the government’s abuses in this regards to our international partners.

In light of the above, last week’s decision by the European Union to cut the budget support programme for justice reforms in Moldova and, particularly, the suspension of macro-financial assistance is an indication of the government’s lack of real commitment to EU values. But it also serves as a test case for EU’s political conditionality. It vividly highlights to even more Moldovan citizens that the government controlled by oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc does not represent the “steady path to Europe” he wants everyone to believe it does.

As a leader of a genuinely democratic, pro-European political party based on integrity, I plead with Moldova’s friends and partners in the international community not to give up on democracy in my country. Too many Moldovans still hold great hope and are willing to stand up for their country and its democratic future.

Moldova protests

Note: This is an open editorial by Action and Solidarity Party Chairwoman Maia Sandu. It was first published on OpenDemocracy.net and the original can be accessed here.

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Gender inEquality in Moldovan Politics

One would be surprised to learn that Moldova ranks 10th in the world among countries that have most women managers, with 44.1% of management positions filled by women.  The US is 15th with 42.7%, and, surprisingly, Canada is only 36th with 36.2%. Indeed, in recent years women CEOs have led some of the largest companies in the country: including, electricity giant Gas Natural Fenosa – Silvia Radu; largest telecom Orange Moldova – Liudmila Climoc, two largest banks Agroindbank – Natalia Vrabie and Victoriabank – Natalia Politov-Gangas. Prime Management – one of the largest LLCs in the country, owned by oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc, is also managed by a woman – Cezara Salinski. Ironically, none of the big state owned enterprises are managed by women.  This begs the question: Do politicians trust women less than do shareholders of the largest enterprises in the country? That may be difficult to answer. Though, what is certain is that politics is a predominantly male profession.

girls_and_boys_signs

Only 4 out of the 44 registered political parties are led by women. Moreover, two of those four parties have been created this year (Dreapta led by Ana Gutu and PAS headed by Maia Sandu), while one is inactive (Conservative Party, Natalia Nirca). Only one female party leader has been around for some time, though with limited political influence, Vitalia Pavlicenco, chairwoman of PNL. Looking at Moldova’s recent political history, women have held two of the three highest state offices: Speaker of Parliament (Eugenia Ostapciuc) and Prime Minister (Zinaida Grecianii) all thanks to the progressive vision (sic!) of former President Voronin. In light of the upcoming presidential elections, many are wondering: Can a Woman Become Moldova’s Next President? Sadly, questions like this are still being asked all too often around the world. The US, for instance, is yet to provide an answer in November. There have been over 70 female prime ministers and presidents in the world since Sri Lanka elected Sirimavo Bandaranaike in 1960.  Nonetheless, bigotry or simple ignorance still leads many to question a woman’s capacity for leadership.

Moldovan society remains highly paternalistic. Historically, women have been precluded from holding the highest office due to medieval lines of succession based on male heirs. Religion played an important role as well. Later on Soviet Communist ideology promoted the idea of having liberated women and made them equal to men. Yet, despite prominent feminist revolutionaries such as Alexandra Kollontai, no women ever made it to the highest echelons of Soviet power, with the notable exception of Yekaterina Furtseva, who served as a member of the all-powerful Politburo, but even she was a Minister of Culture – a portfolio often assigned to women. Therefore, it has long become a political cliché to say that people in this region are looking for a fatherly figure to rule over them. Yet, there are many women in positions of power not just in business, but also in local politics who are challenging this craving for a fatherly figure. A great set of infographics produced by the Central Electoral Commission with support from UNDP and UN Women shows, among other insightful statistics, the growing discrepancies between male and female participation in politics going from the local level, where it is almost even, to the regional and national levels, where women are grossly underrepresented.

Nonetheless, there are also increasingly more women in high stakes elected offices. Bucharest just elected Gabriela Firea as its first female mayor, while Chisinau residents voted overwhelmingly for Zinaida Greceanii back in 2005 local elections, but low turnout invalidated the race. Last year, Irina Vlah won a landslide victory in the race for governor of the Gagauz Autonomous Region. Therefore, there is no evidence to suggest that the majority of Moldovans are inherently sexist. In fact, some polls indicated that 70% would welcome a woman president, while only a quarter expressed reservations. Though, the ideal candidate  is still viewed as male by 72%.

Many, particularly in the media, tend to employ double standards when it comes to women candidates. Women are inevitably compared to their male counterparts, hence creating false expectations of “manliness” centering on chest-bumping and grandstanding. When women “fail” to live up to these “standards”, they are labeled as weak or uncharismatic. Yet, many tend to ignore the fact that women are becoming more qualified than men are. There are now more women in higher education, including at the PhD level than men. Not being able to fully harness the benefits that women bring to public life and public service is a sure way to undercut a nation’s competitive advantage. Why would we as a society prefer a male candidate over an equally or even more qualified female contender in 2016 is truly beyond reason. Hopefully, with more women elected to powerful state positions, the society will realize that we all benefit from women empowerment. “United, no Divided”, to quote Mihai Ghimpu – the most liberal  of all Moldovans.