Five Vital Questions for Moldova

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Anton ŠVEC On October 25, not only local elections, but also a nationwide poll will take place in Ukraine, at which citizens will have to answer five questions important for Volodymyr Zelensky. If in Moldova, what five questions could be put by its authorities to the population? On October 25, 2020, local elections will be held in Ukraine. Given the low level of power centralization, the relatively weak vertical and the traditional regionalization of the state, where individual regions are run for years by representatives of specific financial-industrial groups and clans, these elections will have rather serious implications for the country’s further development. At the same time, the upcoming vote will become a kind of plebiscite (in fact, the first one) on confidence in the incumbent President Volodymyr Zelensky and his Servant of the People political party. These elections will in many ways help the Ukrainian leader determine his political future, realizing the real level of popular support in comparison with the unprecedented sympathy of 2019. A keen supporter of direct democracy, Zelensky decided to embrace the opportunity to ask Ukrainians a number of questions, the answers to which may have an impact on the strategy and tactics of the presidential office in the coming years. The topics turned to be wide-ranging enough, which, of course, will play into the hands of the President’s political strategists. At the same time, despite the consultative nature of the survey, the very questions were formulated as sterile as possible. They are listed as follows:
  1. Do you support the idea of ​​life imprisonment for corruption on a particularly large scale?
  2. Do you support the creation of a free economic zone in Donetsk and Luhansk regions?
  3. Do you support the reduction of the number of people’s deputies to 300?
  4. Do you support the legalization of cannabis for medical purposes – to reduce pain in critically ill patients?
  5. Does Ukraine need to raise the issue of using the security guarantees set out in the Budapest Memorandum at the international level to restore its state sovereignty and territorial integrity?
The first question will obviously gain the majority of “yes” votes but will lead nowhere in modern Ukraine, since even the current longest possible term of 12 years’ imprisonment for corruption is extremely rare in practice. Similarly, the second question will have little effect, even if the FEZ concept is implemented in the Donbass regions controlled by the Ukrainian authorities. The ideas of creating such zones in Ukraine have repeatedly failed, turning into incentives for offshore companies, the shadow and criminal economy, or economic collaboration, as, for example, in Crimea in 2014. Without ending the war, stabilizing the demographic situation and the overall investment and business climate in the country, the limited prospects for the FEZ in Donbass are easily predictable. The third question is nothing but an attempt to fulfill Volodymyr Zelensky’s election promise, openly stated in his 2019 presidential program. By the way, this is not the first attempt, since such an initiative was already put forward by Leonid Kuchma and supported by the absolute majority of the population exactly 20 years ago. However, things did not go beyond promises. The medical cannabis legalization may be the only tangible change following the results of the survey, but sociological data so far suggest that this really controversial issue may be the only one with a “no” verdict. The fifth question is purely pragmatic, since it is associated with the Ukrainian tactics in international negotiations on the eastern territories status. Kiev is interested in reconfiguring the “Minsk process”. The emphasis on international security guarantees (including territorial integrity and refraining from economic pressure) stipulated by the Budapest Memorandum, which was supported by the absolute majority of the Ukrainian population, will reinforce Kiev’s negotiating positions, intensify pressure on Moscow representatives, distracting from Russian demands for a gradual implementation of the Minsk agreements. In general, the answers to Volodymyr Zelensky’s questions will not be fateful for the Ukrainian state. The truly important topics – i.e. about attitude towards Russia, relations with Crimea and Donbass, cooperation with NATO and the EU, real de-oligarchization – were left behind brackets. In this sense, experts admit that the very idea of a poll is rather predominantly electoral in nature, namely, to increase the turnout, especially of young people, in regional elections. Nevertheless, the democratically organized consultative plebiscite designed to review a real public opinion on pressing issues (and not legitimizing the decisions already made by the authorities) is quite an adequate practice that forms the electoral culture of the population and creates preconditions for a normal dialogue between authorities and society. If consider Zelensky’s initiative as a trial balloon, then a too fierce criticism does not seem appropriate. Moldova, by the way, has already tried to hold a consultative referendum. During the parliamentary elections in February 2019, two questions were raised for the plebiscite at the initiative of 53 Moldovan deputies prompted by Vladimir Plahotniuc:
  1. Do you support the reduction of the number of deputies in Parliament from 101 to 61?
  2. Do you support that people can recall (remove) deputies in case their duties are improperly performed?
The artificially propagandistic nature of the above referendum also stemmed from the wording of the questions in imperative mood and from the project’s author himself. As expected, after a year and a half, no practical initiatives followed. However, for many years Moldova remains a country at a crossroads, a state with a fading identity. There are many ways to assert yourself and improve a country’s reputation in the transformation period. And submitting vital issues to a referendum in order to mobilize society and start a healthy debate about further development is by no means the worst option. Of course, this will have to be done, as they say, contrary to the Moldovan tradition of the authorities’ indifference to the opinion of the people. We believe that the pressing issues requiring public attention in the Republic of Moldova could be as follows:
  1. Should Moldova unite with Romania to join the family of European nations?
  2. Which of the languages, Romanian or Moldavian, should be a state language in Moldova, and the history of which nation, Moldavian or Romanian, should be studied?
  3. Should Russian become the second state language in Moldova in order to increase the country’s attractiveness for residents of the Transdniestrian region and the Gagauz autonomy?
  4. On what principles should the Transdniestrian problem be settled - unitary with a special status for Transdniestria, federative, or abandoning the territory of Transdniestria in order to accelerate integration with Romania?
The fifth question could be devoted to a less global problem, but urgent for the society, in order to make the survey a little more acute and close to common people. For example, a moratorium on increasing the retirement age, the state apparatus reduction, a tax on excess profits, etc. For Moldova, where society is fairly split on geopolitical grounds, the idea of such a plebiscite seems to be far more vital than for Ukraine. Since a fully-valid referendum failed (although its holding was specified in Igor Dodon’s program in 2016), a consultative poll timed to coincide with the presidential elections (or early parliamentary elections) could provide a good snapshot of the mood in society and an opportunity to bring the foreign and domestic policy to a certain common denominator in line with the wishes of the majority.