1999 Scores

Status: Partly Free
Freedom Rating: 3.0
Civil Liberties: 4
Political Rights: 2

Overview

Key issues during 1999 were ongoing negotiations about the status of the Transdniester region and continued economic and political instability.

Moldova, a predominantly Romanian-speaking former Soviet republic bordering Ukraine and Romania, declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. In 1990, in response to increasing calls from Romanian-speaking Moldovans for unification with Romania, Russian-speaking Slavs in the Transdniester region proclaimed the Dniester Moldovan Republic (DMR). This was followed by the secession of the 150,000 member Gagauz, a Turkic Christian minority. The secessionists were backed by the Russian 14th Army stationed in the DMR, and a violent conflict, ended in mid 1992, has led to a stalemate since. Support for unification with Romania has since fallen to only 5 percent while 83 percent back continued state independence.

In the 1994 parliamentary elections, the Agrarian PDAM – a coalition of former Communists and moderate supporters of Moldovan statehood – won 56 of 104 seats. In 1996, Petru Lucinschi, who ran as an independent, was elected president. Ion Ciubuc was approved as prime minister by parliament in January 1997. To consolidate their activities, pro-Lucinschi forces formed the Movement for a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova.

In March 1998, capitalizing on growing popular discontent with continued economic problems, the Communists won the parliamentary elections, gaining 30 percent of the vote and 40 seats. The nationalist Democratic Convention won 19 percent and 26 seats; the Movement for a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova, 18 percent and 24 seats; and the center-right Party of Democratic Forces, won 8 percent and 11 seats. After difficult negotiations, the new government was formally approved by parliament on May 22. The 16-member cabinet consisted of leaders from the Movement for Democratic and Prosperous Moldova, the Democratic Convention, and the Party of Democratic Forces.

Economic instability is compounded by political uncertainty due to the absence of strong parties within the governing coalition. The governing centre-right coalition has been unable to create a strong cabinet because of internal disputes, and economic reform has stalled. Of those who took part in the May referendum 55.33 percent supported proposals for a change in the constitution that enables the president to appoint the prime minister and cabinet, act as head of the Supreme Security Council, and appoint the state prosecutor and judges. The proposal also increased the president's term to five years and gave the president the power to dismiss the legislature if deputies blocked approval of laws for more than 60 days.

The Moldovan economy was severely hit by the Russian financial crisis in the summer of 1998. For the second year, the economy contracted. Exports declined, and the trade deficit rose. This crisis negatively affected the standard of living as the lei plummeted. Relations with international financial institutions improved after the government adopted an austere budget for 1999 and announced ambitious plans for privatization.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Moldovans outside the Transdniester region can change their government democratically under a multiparty system enshrined in the 1994 constitution. International monitoring groups, including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, characterized the November 1996 presidential and the March 1998 parliamentary elections as "free and fair." The OSCE has suggested improvements in the legislative framework, voter registration, and access to the media during election campaigns.

The constitution and laws provide for freedom of speech and the press. The penal code, press law, and the law on audiovisual questions provide excessive restrictions on freedom of expression, and defamation of the "state and people" is proscribed. Most political parties publish their own newspapers, which frequently criticize government policies. Most electronic media are controlled by the state-owned Teleradio-Moldova. Independent media have complained about the inequality of access to information. Freedom of religion is generally respected, though a 1992 law on religion contains restrictions that could inhibit the activities of some religious groups as it prohibits proselytizing. In 1997, a Court of Appeal ruled that the government must recognize the Moldovan Orthodox Metropoly, which comes under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox patriarch in Moscow. In 1999 the government continued to refuse to register the Bessarabian Orthodox Church, which has subordinated itself under the Romanian Orthodox patriarch.

There are some restrictions on freedom of assembly. Under the law, rallies that slander the state or subvert the constitution are banned. There are some 50 political parties and groupings spanning the political spectrum. Under new rules, political parties and public movements must have no fewer than 5,000 members representing at least half of Moldova's territories. Only about 10 to 12 parties meet the criteria.

Moldova has no law on trade unions, which has blocked the registration of independent unions. The Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Moldova (UFSM), which replaced the Soviet-era confederation, is the largest labor organization. There are several hundred nongovernmental organizations registered in Moldova, among them women's groups, student organizations, policy institutes, and environmental groups.

The judiciary is still not fully independent; the prosecutor's office has undue influence, which undermines the presumption of innocence. Trials are generally open to the public. The constitutional court exercises judicial review and has overturned actions of parliament and the president. Prison conditions remain poor, and there are reports of detainees being mistreated. There has been little progress in legal and judicial reform, and Moldova still lacks a new penal code. In 1999 a new project aimed at "strengthening the judiciary" was launched by the UNDP, and a government center for human rights was established.

Moldova has ratified the Council of Europe's Convention on the Protection of Ethnic Minorities. In a referendum in early 1999 the Bulgarian minority in Taraclia opposed attempts to end their autonomous status. In August President Lucinschi asked parliament to change the constitution to make Romanian the state language, a move opposed by the communist opposition.

Freedom of movement is not restricted, though Transdniester authorities have searched incoming and outbound vehicles. The government may also deny emigration to anyone with access to "state secrets." Corruption in government and the civil service and organized crime hinder fair competition and equal opportunity.

Women are well represented in government, education, and the private sector, though they are disproportionately represented among the unemployed.

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