Despite the collapse of Vlad Plahotniuc’s regime, the situation of the democracy development in Moldova has not changed dramatically, and even worsened in a number of important indicators
Authoritarian trend in democracy
As you know, under oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc’s rule, the quality of democratic processes in Moldova, lacking particular success, began to plummet down. Neither international and local human rights organizations, nor official structures of foreign states, such as the US Department of State, left this without attention. In 2018, Moldova crossed another grievous line, siding with “hybrid” regime countries. Thus, relevant Western organizations admitted that authoritarian elements began to get along quite well together with democratic ones in our republic.
As experts believed at that time, the sharp drop was mainly caused by further strengthening of Vlad Plahotniuc’s oligarchic power, as well as a number of scandalous episodes, for example, when Chisinau mayor elections were cancelled or when electoral system was changed.
All the above seemed to have been “rolled back” last year: Plahotniuc fled the country, the mayoral elections were held according to the rules, and the electoral model returned to its original version. However, in the new Democracy Index for 2019, compiled by the British research organization The Economist Intelligence Unit, Moldova dropped by another five points. Now it is only on the 83rd place in the group of “hybrid” countries.
The “hybridity” of the Moldovan political regime is also recorded in the latest May report of a reputable non-governmental organization “Freedom House”. In 2020, according to its research, Moldova scored only 35 points out of 100 in the democracy rating, which is compiled on the basis of scoring according to several criteria of democratic freedoms. The average rating of Moldova in all categories is a little over 3.11 points (out of 7 possible).
Although the level of democratic governance in Moldova has slightly increased, by the end of 2019 Moldova was still a borderline case, which authors of the report describe as a “hybrid regime with obvious elements of authoritarianism”. Researchers point to a number of important problems, some of which appeared for the first time in many years. Thus, they note that observers monitoring the voting process at the parliamentary elections were intimidated, which has not happened in the country since 2009. And civil society, in their opinion, still faces serious problems, including slanderous campaigns arranged by state bodies, political parties and the media affiliated with them.
Local democracy is rated extremely low by the Freedom House: only 2.5 points out of 7. This year, as the authors of the report note, there was a massive political migration of local administration representatives from the Democratic Party, “spurred by intimidation”, and there was no advance in the administrative-territorial reform planned in 2016. Judiciary independence score has also decreased: according to human rights activists, some of the successes achieved do not compensate for serious problems, such as the ongoing practice of political appointments in the judiciary.
Non-free media and high corruption
The activities of the “fourth estate” – the media – especially vividly demonstrate the systematic nature of the accumulated problems of Moldovan democracy. The working environment for independent media in the country did not improve at all in 2019, and the past years’ excesses in some cases even intensified: in particular, the Freedom House reports that journalists face threats.
Moldova’s problems in the field of media work were also highlighted by the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) international non-governmental organization. In its 2020 study, Moldova ranked 91st in the media freedom rating, repeating last year’s result. The authors of the report concluded that “the editorial policy of the main media institutions is closely linked to the political and business interests of their owners, and this problem is especially exacerbated during election campaigns.” According to the report, the media in the Republic of Moldova are diverse, but “extremely polarized”, like the country itself, which is characterized by “chronic political instability and excessive influence of the oligarchs”.
The media situation did not improve even after overthrowing Vlad Plahotniuc and a significant weakening of his media holding, which at its peak included a number of television channels, newspapers, radio stations and online portals. The authors of the document note that the media empire of the former Democrat leader was quickly replaced by a media group associated with the Party of Socialists. Thus, according to RSF, the concentration of media ownership, the lack of editorial independence and quality journalism remain the main problems of the media in the Republic of Moldova. The organization is also concerned about the Broadcasting Council activities, which has shown through several decisions that it is not an independent body.
The anti-corruption situation has worsened. With 32 points, the Republic of Moldova took only 120th place in the ranking of the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) for 2019, presented by Transparency International, down three positions compared to last year. The organization emphasizes that, “despite the fact that the Prosecutor General’s office checked the activities of specialized prosecutors, the real reform of the entire judicial system is stagnating.” According to TI, significant funds were invested to create Agency for the reimbursement of criminally obtained property, but the process of returning stolen money is protracted. At the same time, experts of the association believe that in order to maintain a democratic rule of law in the Republic of Moldova, the EU and Eastern Partnership countries should apply restrictions on the movement or freeze the assets of large corrupt officials.
New challenges on the horizon
As we see, the hopes for flourishing democracy in Moldova, after the main “bad guy” was expulsed from the country, have not yet been justified. The “deoligarchization”, propagated over the past year, in many respects so far remains only a sweet dream without any palpable results. Even the current progress in the stolen billion case, according to experts, became possible only thanks to the intensified domestic political struggle.
The main obvious conclusion is that the data of human rights organizations and democratic indices confirm that all the roughness and distortions of Moldovan democracy are still preserved, and in some places they are taking on increasingly alarming forms. And the various tricks worked out by the “master of Moldova” over many years, which made it possible to extensively violate democratic values and human rights in his own interests, were grasped in one form or another by those who came to power after him.
What’s next? Problems in ensuring human rights during the lockdown period (including those not specifically related to the pandemic – for example, the Russian language removal from ballots), which were noted not only by local human rights organizations, but also by the Moldovan ombudsman. The oligarchic reaction taking place right now which has every chance to end with the restored Plahotniuc regime already this year. A future election campaign (perhaps not one) that will inevitably expose new problems with democratic voting. All this means that Moldovan democracy is extremely far from an optimal state of health, and positive changes are clearly not expected in the near future. So, one can expect new gloomy levels and anti-records in the next year’s indices and ratings.
Get real time update about this post categories directly on your device, subscribe now.