The forthcoming Presidential and Parliamentary elections in Moldova, to take place in autumn 2024 and spring 2025 respectively, are anticipated to be heavily centered on the theme of European integration—an essential internal and external development vector for the country. Local election results underscore a critical juncture for Moldovan political elites to recalibrate their focus and to refocus their priorities, aligning them with citizens' needs. It necessitates a shift towards implementing impactful reforms rather than superficial legislative changes. The goal for the upcoming elections should center on elevating citizens' quality of life and translating European reform concepts into tangible improvements in pivotal areas.
First, governance and basic rights
The dimension of "governance and basic rights" stands as one of the nine crucial quality of life indicators identified by an expert group dedicated to evaluating this framework. Eurostat, an online publication focusing on Quality of Life Indicators, provides statistical insights showing how civil society, the respect for human rights, and adherence to the rule of law emerge as pivotal components that significantly influence the quality of life experienced by European citizens.
The European Commission's latest report on Moldova highlights the presence of an enabling environment for civil society organizations, supported by established legal and financial frameworks which aligns with international standards and is facilitating their involvement in decision-making processes. Moreover, civil society monitoring reports indicate that the country has exhibited a commitment to meeting its international human rights obligations, with a well-established legislative and institutional framework for fundamental rights. Efforts have been made towards implementing the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, indicating progress in this area.
Notable concerns arise regarding the rule of law, as statistics reveal significant levels of distrust and a prevailing sense of vulnerability among citizens towards the judicial system with only 22,5% trusting the system. Addressing these issues requires paramount attention because the efficacy of public institutions, including the police force, the judicial system, and civil services, is contingent upon their freedom from corruption, political influence, and bias. Achieving accountable governance necessitates addressing issues such as institutional checks and balances, transparency, and ensuring unrestricted access to information. These aspects are frequently highlighted as critical areas requiring attention to foster accountability within governance structures. As experts highlighted, despite the unprecedented existent political will, implementing reforms faces resistance and obstacles, particularly in the context of pre-vetting and de-oligarchizion.
The Moldovan civil society reports and the European Commission's report further emphasizes the necessity for Moldova to guarantee the effective functioning of anti-corruption institutions within a well-defined organizational framework and with sufficient resources. It recommends Moldova to persist in the updating and execution of the de-oligarchisation action plan, encompassing pertinent regulations concerning cash payments and financial flows.
Second, economic security and physical safety
Political elites, whether in governance or opposition, bear the responsibility of addressing numerous risks that can significantly and unexpectedly impact an individual's or a household's security. Focusing on mitigating these risks related to economic security and physical safety is vital to enhancing the overall quality of life for citizens. Eurostat's assessment indicates the economic dynamic in different member-states showing if and how citizens struggle as well as how safe citizens feel in their countries. To this, OECD analysis emphasized the importance of understanding and taking into consideration the factors that cause these insecurities in order to address them.
Moldova faces significant economic challenges that have had a profound impact on its citizens' economic security. According to the Commission’s report, the country grappled with high inflation averaging 28.7% in 2022, primarily driven by soaring energy and food prices. This surge in inflation eroded households' disposable incomes, exacerbating the already vulnerable economic situation. The ongoing uncertainty related to the war in Ukraine further compounded the economic distress, resulting in weaker investment and exacerbating Moldova's economic downturn. Factors such as weak agricultural performance due to drought, declines in construction and manufacturing activities, and disruptions in supply chains due to the conflict also contributed to the country's economic woes. The widening current account deficit, reaching 15.7% of GDP in 2022, was primarily attributed to a high trade deficit. Moldova's private sector suffered significantly due to the dual impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia's war against Ukraine. These challenges underscore the urgent need for Moldova to accelerate structural reforms aimed at fostering formal job creation and increasing the availability of skilled labor. Addressing gaps in the education system and reducing the substantial number of young people not engaged in education, employment, or training are crucial aspects that require immediate attention. Moreover, despite approximately 70,000 families benefiting from social aid in 2022, the statistics regarding poverty rates reveal significant disparities. While the absolute poverty rate stands at 24.5%, only 3.4% of the population receives social benefits. This disparity is also evident in the child allowance and social benefit, which contribute minimally, with only 4.1 percentage points reduction in poverty among households with children. Alarming statistics indicate that 24.4% of children live in poverty, with 8.9% experiencing extreme poverty, highlighting the urgent need for comprehensive measures to address poverty and inequality in Moldova.
On the issue of personal safety, Moldova faces critical challenges reflected in public trust deficits, vulnerabilities to human trafficking, and criminal activities. The most recent public opinion barometer reveals substantial distrust in law enforcement, with approximately 55% lacking confidence in police, border patrol, and national patrol authorities, while only 28-30% have some level of trust in these institutions. Moreover, a significant percentage—70-72%—expresses distrust in judges and prosecutors, with 68.4% believing that justice would not be served if a relative were involved in the judicial system. This distrust is consistent with earlier data from the World Bank's 2017 Surveys of Court Users, where 76% of respondents found court performance poor, and 62% believed an ordinary citizen wouldn't receive a fair trial.
Additionally, according to the Global Organized Crime Index, Moldova grapples with organized crime activities, notably arms trafficking and environmental crimes. The country serves as a source and transit point for arms trafficking in the region, driven by sophisticated organized criminal groups using legitimate businesses as fronts to conceal illegal activities. Environmental crimes, particularly illegal logging, and deforestation, persist despite low forest coverage, as a result of regulatory loopholes and high levels of corruption. Moreover, Moldova operates as a transit point for heroin trafficking destined for countries bordering the Black Sea and across Eurasia. Cyber-dependent crimes pose a significant threat due to existing technical, procedural, and human vulnerabilities, raising concerns about potential cyber-attacks on critical infrastructure. These issues collectively highlight the complex challenges facing Moldova's security landscape, necessitating urgent and multifaceted interventions to address them effectively.
And finally, the European Commission report also highlights Moldova's status as both an origin and transit country for human trafficking. Although the number of identified adult victims significantly decreased in 2022, there were still 107 adult victims (32 women/75 men) and 44 child victims (43 girls/1 boy) reported. Labor exploitation primarily affects men and vulnerable individuals, including those with disabilities. Concerns persist over a potential rise in human trafficking amid the mass displacement caused by Russia's war against Ukraine.
Lost in translation citizens?
Recent public opinion polls have unveiled profound concerns among citizens, focused on issues of poverty, escalating prices, and the future prospects for their children, and generally considering that the country’s direction is totally wrong. Moreover, a mere 7.4% of the population exhibits active interest in politics, with greater trust placed in institutions like the church, the town hall, and the President. Despite some faith in political figures, ranging from 19,6% in Maia Sandu to 9,6% in Igor Dodon, a significant majority distrusts most politicians (45.4%). Notably, a significant proportion of citizens are uncertain about voting preferences (27,9%) along with an additional 11.9% intending not to vote, if tomorrow the country hosts Parliamentary elections. Furthermore, there's a narrow gap between those preferring the EU (47%) and the Customs Union with Russia (32.5%), while 14.4% remain undecided on this matter.
Governments and institutions often construct democracies independently, overlooking the crucial role of citizen engagement in shaping modern democratic systems. Mere social media posts do not constitute engagement; genuine engagement involves directly involving people in decisions affecting their daily lives. According to the international organization Eurocities, European cities boast a network of civic organizations, volunteers, and activist groups. For instance, Poland is increasingly integrating urban citizen assemblies into mainstream practices, while Brussels is introducing mixed citizen-politician committees to address complex issues. And, throughout Europe, practical and research programs are linking civic engagement concerning climate change. So where could Moldovan political elites start to instigate effective change:
- Strategy Development: both central and local public administrations should collaborate to devise a unified strategy for citizen participation. This necessitates a shared vision and comprehension of the significance, purpose, and advantages of the participation structure. Additionally, it involves allocating adequate financial and human resources to support citizen engagement initiatives and processes. Such an investment will enhance the focus on citizens' needs and preferences;
- Cultural Shift: Moldova needs to integrate citizen participation as a core element of its democracy, moving beyond considering it as an optional aspect. Establishing a culture of trust and collaboration between governments and citizens is vital, requiring diverse and appealing participatory processes. To prioritize citizen-centric actions, there is a need to invest in organizational, administrative, and political innovations.
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