Saturday, March 27, 2010

Down, but not out

Moldova's Liberal Party has been having a bit of a hard time of things lately.

Mihai Ghimpu has ended up on the receiving end of criticism from the EU, the Venice Commission,  the Communists, political commentators and even his own AIE partners for his championing of the constitutional referendum idea.  Much of this criticism is patently unfair.  The man wanted to overcome a political stalemate that needs to be overcome.  He wanted to fix things in the existing constitution that need to be fixed.  And he wanted it done by those with the authority to do it - the people of Moldova.

There are a number of oddities about the referendum issue which suggests there is more here than meets the eye:

  1. Why, after so much discussion, did the other AIE parties agree to support Ghimpu's position, and then just as quickly back away, leaving him high and dry?
  2. Why is the EU so fervent in its wish to see Art. 78 amended in parliament, and yet so silent on the medium-term need to fix the other broken elements of the constitution?
  3. Why did the chairman of the Venice Commission allow himself to comment on the political context (the timing and method of changing the constitution) rather than on the elements of detail he should have been looking at?
Romanian Global News sees the hand of a certain recently reappointed EU emissary at work, the theory being that he is trying to undermine the AIE (and the Liberals in particular) in order to give his communist friends a fighting chance of regaining power...

Over at city hall, Ghimpu's nephew, Dorin Chirtoaca, has his hands full with local issues.  On stray dogs, he is stuck between rabid Ruso-Communists on one side and Brigitte Bardot on the other.  On pensioner allowances, his attempts to bring order into the city's heating and transport budgets while protecting the poorest have been completely deformed by his political opponents.  Even the weather is against him, with the heavy snows of the last winter opening up potholes big enough to swallow even the most successful of politicians.

The only other Liberal politician making a serious impact is Corina Fusu.  the president of Parliament's culture etc. commission.  She has a couple of major achievements under her belt already.  First and foremost she has managed to take Teleradio Moldova away from the Communists and give it back to the people of Moldova.  Second she managed to engineer the dismissal of Ion Muruianu as President of the Supreme Council of Magistrates after his 'rabid dog' comment revealed him to be unsuitable to hold that position.  And then, just a couple of days ago, she tabled legislation which will give journalists some of the strongest free speech protections anywhere in Europe.

My take on the Liberal Party (PL) is that they are honest and well-meaning (just what Moldova needs!), but a little less polished and worldly-wise than some of their political opponents.

Vlad Filat and the Liberal Democrats (PLDM) in particular seem intent on increasing their electorate by attracting votes away from the Liberals.  To me, that's a strategy that may pay off in the short term, but which in the long-term is quite stupid.  The PLDM needs the PL as its natural alliance partner.  It needs the PL to set out radical and reformist agendas which the PLDM, as a "conservative centre-right" party will be unable to do.  Accordingly the PLDM should be going easy on the PL and instead seeking new votes elsewhere (e.g. in the countryside, recently liberated from the Communist information blockade).  We need these two parties to stop cannibalising each other and instead maximise their total number of seats in Parliament.

The Liberals themselves have work to do.  Notwithstanding his genuineness and openness, Mihai Ghimpu seems to be incapable of connecting with the Moldovan electorate.  In part this is communist slander having its effect, in part it is that Ghimpu himself tends to cede the limelight to his more charismatic nephew.  It may soon be time for him to cede leadership of the party to either Chirtoaca or Fusu and move 'honourably' upstairs like Diacov & Petrencu.

The party also needs to work on its image, its funding base and its organisation.  With respect to image, I believe the party should be more openly unionist, as this is a valid ideology in Moldova and represents 10-15% of the electorate.  Here the party should present a formal roadmap to reunification with Romania, addressing all of the perceived and real impediments that need to be dealt with along the way and describing what Basarabia might look like as part of a reunified Romania.

The other element of the party's image that needs to be strengthened is its liberal agenda.  If the PLDM is to be the party of stodgy conservatism and statist economic meddling, then the PL needs to fly the flags of economic and social liberalism, pleading for a free economy and the rights of the individual.  It needs to be the party of reform & the party of bright new ideas.  They're doing this already, but they need to take more credit for it.

With respect to funding base, the party will need to rely on Moldovan individuals in order to keep its clean reputation.  So that it isn't beholden, it shouldn't seek funds from commercial groups as the other major parties are wont to do.  It sounds difficult, but that's how Obama got himself elected ahead of Clinton.

The top figures need media training, so that they can learn how to handle the press to their advantage, rather than allow the party's inherent strengths to be turned into weaknesses.

And finally, it needs a good party secretary, who is able to build a great on-line presence and strong grass-roots organisations even in the least fertile of territories (e.g. Gagauzia and the ethnic Ukrainian community).


  1. pls explain to a non-moldovan: as md is not part of the eu, why do eu commissions/emissionaries etc. decide whether to hold a referendum in md or not?

    secondly, promoting reunification is not the best idea because it would not stop there but create new problems with parts of former bessarabia (i.e. today's ukraine). there must be other ways - partnership agreements, associations, sth that does not need to draw on past & history, but takes the present situation into account and creates some vision of a future

  2. The EU gets to decide whether or not to hold a referendum because (a) they are providing massive financial support which is keeping the country afloat and (b) Moldova wants to join the EU, so needs to keep its nose clean.

    I am not necessarily a supporter of reunification (although a China / Hong Kong SAR-style arrangement could be interesting...). All I am saying is that there is a certain section of the electorate to whom this is important and the Liberals should seek to represent them better.

  3. I definitely agree that the PLDM and the PL should not lose sight of the fact that they are natural partners and will be the backbone (if not the entirety) of a possible liberal coalition after the new round of elections. They have a golden opportunity to capitalize on the harping of the leftist parties (that is Moldova Unita and the PCRM, as well as the PDM to some extent) and win a majority. But of course if they will start to bicker among themselves, this can only go against them, even if one of the two parties will make gains at the expense of the other.

    It does seem like they toned down the rhetoric a bit since the brouhaha over the referendum between Ghimpu and Filat a week ago, hopefully this is a sign of things to come in the near future...