Saturday, April 18, 2009

(Almost) Perfect

It was the perfect plan.

Internal polling revealed that the party would lose heavily at the upcoming parliamentary elections. At best the opposition would have a simple majority, enough to rewrite electoral law and free the state-controlled media. At worst they would have sufficient seats in Parliament to elect the President unopposed and modify the constition. Either of these outcomes would effectively mean the end of the Moldovan Communist Party as the sins committed over the last eight years would be brought out into the open for all to see.

The election had to be falsified and the false result defended from the anger of the people. Obviously Moldova's friends in the west could not be counted upon to actively participate in such a scheme, although under certain conditions they might be persuaded to turn a blind eye. Instead, the PCRM turned to the East for help, enlisting Russia and the Transnistrians in their plan, and promising a submissive Moldova in return for assistance.

The plan contained the following steps

1. Inflate the electoral rolls in the lead-up to the election. Dead people would be left on the in-country rolls, as would those now living overseas (and enrolled through a Moldovan diplomatic post). In some cases fictional voters would be created and squeezed into existing families.

2. Issue multiple paper ID documents to trusted party acolytes. This would enable them to vote several times on the day of the election.

3. Invite in OSCE election observers, but make sure the scope of their work was limited to observing the voting process and the count. Also make sure that the Russians would use their veto power with the OSCE to prevent any unwanted findings emerging.

4. Have the Russians ensure EU and US acquiescence in the rigged results through a mix of carrots and sticks (cooperation in Iran, Afghanistan, gas supply threats). The EU and US should accept the results of the election rapidly, on the basis of the (Russian-managed) findings of the OSCE team.

5. Falsify the exit-poll results in order to make the election result more believable. The communist share in the exit poll should be about half-way between the showing in opinion polls (36%) and the percentage needed to secure 61 seats (around 50%)

6. Handle the expected post-election demonstration by several hundred opposition supporters using standard KGB methods. Insert 'agents provocateurs' to induce violent acts against state institutions. Have them wave Romanian flags so the demonstration can be construed as an attempt by a foreign power to violently overthrow the government, thus discrediting the opposition.

7. Use the violent demonstration as an excuse to introduce elements of a police state. These should be sufficiently threatening to keep citizens in line, whilst at the same time not being of sufficient concern to warrant the implication of foreign rights watchdogs.

8. Use the 61-seat majority obtained to elect the next president and modify the constitution to introduce Russian as an official language (effectively killing the Romanian identity of the country). Continue the economic plunder of the country by leading Communists.

The plan was put into motion and ran very smoothly up to step 6. Here something unexpected happened. Moldova's young people overcame their fear and showed up 30,000 strong for a demonstration in the central square. The protest was largely spontaneous, organised by SMS and social networking.

These changes weren't seen as a big problem by the interior minister Papuc, however and the provocation was set in train anyway. News video shot around the world showing young people crashing their way into Parliament and the Presidency, and hoisting Romanian flags on both buildings.

So far, so good. One small problem began to emerge however. Being 2009, everyone had a mobile phone, and it wasn't long before a wave of video and photographic documentation of the protest was posted on internet blogs and on YouTube. Analysis of this documentation began to reveal the true nature of the demonstration. Video was posted of a policeman breaking rocks for the protesters to throw. In a now-famous photo, two policemen were spotted supporting the flag-raisers on the roof of the Parliament (a roof to which only three communists have a key). Video footage also showed how easily the police surrendered the two buildings to an unarmed group of protesters. Some of the instigators were revealed to be prisoners recently amnestied by Voronin, while others were PPCD activists (the communist's political allies). The main flag-raiser (the infamous 'boy in yellow') was revealed to have been active during the election campaign smearing opposition parties. And so on and so forth. This integrity problem could be managed, however, so long as the communists had exclusive control over Teleradio Moldova and could spin the story appropriately to the rural population.

Then the overwhelming evidence of vote-rigging began emerging. Thousands of people came forward to opposition parties and independent media, presenting proof of vote rigging in their local area. It became clear that in Moldova's democracy even the dead and the unborn got to vote, and that communists were allowed multiple votes. In one case a village mayor is reported to have entered ballot papers for all of the electors who failed to show up on election day. This evidence severely embarrassed the OSCE observer mission (and by transmission, the EU and the US). Over the next few days, information began to leak out of the OSCE observer team that, contrary to the official line, the poll had in fact been deeply flawed.

A further issue was the handling of point 7. Frightened by the size of the student's demonstration, Papuc called in reinforcements, in the form of the Transnistrian security services (with whom Moldova is theoretically at war!). He also gave his police free reign with respect to 'interrogation techniques' and the length of time they could hold prisoners without charge. The result was the worst civil rights abuse in the country's twenty-year history. Hundreds were arrested or kidnapped. Many were beaten & some sexually assaulted. At the time of writing police beatings have claimed the lives of four young men. This violent abrogation of constitutional rights will, I believe, prove to be the undoing of the PCRM.

Europe and the US were prepared to turn a blind eye to the rigged election, for the sake of 'stability' and to avoid further complicating their relationship with Russia. The rights issue, however, was twittered and blogged to the world's media and decision-makers by an army of Moldovan and Romanian internauts. As awareness began to grow of the horrors unfolding in Moldova, the US and Europe were forced to abandon their hands-off policy and take a more active interest in events in Moldova. At time of writing there is talk of a resolution of the European parliament demanding repeat elections. Let's hope that the Russians don't buy or scare off too many MEPs and this resolution becomes a reality.

The communists even managed to mess up step 8 a little bit. The central election commission counted around 99% of vote on election night and conveniently discovered that the communists had 61 seats, exactly the number required to elect the next President. What they forgot is that the last 1% of the vote came from the diplomatic posts overseas, and that this vote overwhelmingly supported the opposition parties, and that it was independently verifiable. When the overseas vote was added in, the Communists only had 60 seats, and the opposition had the 'golden mandate' required to elect the President. It should be relatively simple for the Communists to buy or scare off a single opposition deputy, however.

In summary, the early stages of the plan went very well, although now cracks are emerging due to (1) the strength of opposition by the young people, (2) the bestiality of the Moldovan police, (3) the mass of evidence relating to the voting fraud, and (4) the unmasking of the violence as an act of provocation by the Communists themselves.

It is only to be hoped that western involvement in investigating the election and the rights abuses will now continue to its rightful end, and that the earlier agreement by the EU and the US to sell Moldova to the Russians will now be trashed.

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