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A Chance For Reconciliation And Progress In Moldova

  • John Todd Stewart

The July 29 Moldovan elections have produced a parliament where no single party will have a majority, much less the 61-seat supermajority necessary to elect a new president.

Agreements must now be negotiated to choose a president, form a government, and establish a legislative program for the new parliament. These negotiations will not be easy because of the interparty tensions resulting from the violent protests and unrestrained police response following the previous round of elections on April 5.

One can still hope, nonetheless, that the parties involved -- which must include the Communists, in view of their 45 percent plurality -- can overcome their animosities and approach these negotiations in a spirit of reconciliation. Their most important goal should be agreement on a legislative program that would promote fairness in future elections, develop a Moldovan national identity, integrate rural Moldovans into national and international life, insulate the legal system from political interference, and end the pernicious corruption that has frustrated economic development.

Here are some specific recommendations for approaching the most pressing issues of the day.

  • First, broadcast media. Opposition parties have complained in successive elections that the government-controlled electronic media have favored the party in power with their coverage. International observers have consistently supported these complaints. This bias could be eliminated by establishing a truly independent public television and radio system, for which there exist many possible models in Europe and North America. An agreed legislative program should promise such a system.

    Independence is not enough, however. Moldova 1, the government-operated national television channel, is all too reminiscent of television stations during the Soviet era -- watchable only in the absence of an alternative. However, in today's Moldova, there are programming alternatives in Russia's Channel 1 and other sophisticated Russian channels that can be seen throughout Moldova. Not surprisingly, Moldova 1 cedes most viewers to these channels. Adequate funding must be provided to raise production standards on Moldova 1 to a competitive level so that Moldovans will want to watch a channel that promotes their national identity.

    In addition, domestic programming alternatives should be facilitated as a spur to improving the quality of Moldova 1. The previous government repeatedly threatened the operations of PRO-TV, which the election-monitoring missions of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have recognized as the least-biased source of political news during recent campaigns. A new audiovisual regime should permit the unlimited licensing of PRO-TV and other nongovernmental television channels, providing access to the state broadcast antennas for payment of a reasonable fee.

  • Second, print media. Ever since independence, Moldovan newspaper and magazine circulation has been restricted to Chisinau and, to a more limited degree, a few other cities. An agreed legislative program should provide transport subsidies for all print media, partisan or independent, to reach smaller cities and villages quickly. Along with substantially improved electronic media, this modestly expensive measure would go far to bringing smaller cities, towns, and villages into the political, economic, and social life of the country and the world.

  • Third, the Internet. Only about 20 percent of the Moldovan population is currently online, according to the OSCE. The cost of computers is one obstacle; but as prices drop, the shortage of Internet connections becomes increasingly significant. An agreed legislative program should encourage the development of countrywide Internet connectivity, based on dial-up, Wi-Fi, or both, to integrate rural Moldova into national and international life.

  • Fourth, the electoral system. Moldovans vote in parliamentary elections for parties, not individual candidates, with the nation comprising a single electoral district. Thus, citizens have no parliamentary representatives to whom they can address concerns, and parliamentarians have no incentive to serve the interests of voters in a particular region. This arrangement frustrates communication between citizens and their parliament. It could be reformed by adoption of a model that combines the proportional representation of parties with the representation of distinct electoral districts. An agreed legislative program should promise enactment of this reform.

  • Fifth, the courts and prosecutors. The rule of law in Moldova has been severely compromised in recent years by the politicization of the legal system, a principal reason for the country's failure to attract significant investment. Having provided written testimony on two occasions, I am all too familiar with the politically motivated prosecution of former Defense Minister Valeriu Pasat. Regrettably, Pasat's case is hardly unique. An agreed legislative program should include measures to insulate both the public prosecutor and the courts from political pressures, and encourage the appointment of prosecutors and judges of unquestionable ability and integrity.

  • Sixth, anticorruption measures. Along with many other observers, the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation has identified corruption as the main obstacle to Moldova's economic development and has financed studies that have produced useful recommendations for combating corrupt practices. The European Union has added its support to this effort. An agreed legislative program must now provide for the rapid and thorough implementation of these recommendations by people with unimpeachable qualifications and reputations.

Taken together, these measures would go far to improve the quality of Moldovan public life, integrate rural areas with the capital and the world, and encourage productive investment and economic growth -- goals that all parties in the new parliament claim to share. Their adoption would be welcome evidence of the sincerity of the parties and their willingness to work together for the betterment of Moldova.

John Todd Stewart was the U.S. ambassador to Moldova from 1995 to 1998 and an OSCE/ODIHR observer for the parliamentary elections of 2005 and April 2009. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL
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