‘Heated’ referendums and new relations between Chisinau and Comrat

IPN analysis: It seems that Moldovan authorities’ attempts to prevent the holding of referendums in Gagauzia didn’t produce results. However, the events that happen in southern Moldova promise to become the start of a new dialog between the central and local authorities. What kind of dialogue? It depends on the reached conclusions.

Impossible mission

On January 22, Comrat, which is in preparation for the referendums, was visited by Head of Parliament Igor Corman and Prime Minister Iurie Leanca. The senior officials took part in a special session of the People’s Assembly of Gagauzia, where, according to official communiqués, they examined aspects of the current relations between Chisinau and Comrat in concert with representatives of the Gagauz administration. Surely they went there also with the aim of raising the issue of the referendums set to take place in Gagauzia on February 2, which the central authorities try to prevent.

In fact, after the January 22 referendums, we can speak about Moldovan authorities’ attempts to thwart the plebiscites as of something belonging to the past. As things showed, the authorities of the autonomous unit didn’t give up their intentions.

A number of meetings with people, centering on the preparations for the referendum, were held in the region on January 23-26. Village mayors, deputies of the People’s Assembly and representatives of the Executive Committee of Gagauzia assured those attending that the referendums on the country’s foreign development direction and the region’s right to self-determination will be held in any conditions. Bashkan (Governor) Mihail Formuzal confirmed that the preparations go on.    

That’s why, if the goal of the January 22 visit of the mentioned delegation to Comrat was to make the region’s administration give up holding the arranged plebiscites, the mission remained unaccomplished.

How was ‘the fire’ in Gagauzia extinguished

It should be noted that the visit by Corman and Leanca to the capital of Gagauzia was preceded by numerous attempts of Chisinau to put out the ‘fire’ in the southern districts by means typical for this case. The first reaction of the country’s administration was related to the decision of the Comrat Court, which early in January annulled the decision of the People’s Assembly to hold the referendums. As the given act produced no result and the Gagauz deputies said they will continue to implement the decision taken by them, the General Prosecutor’s Office started a criminal case over arbitrariness and invited the members of the People’s Assembly to ‘discussions’.

The last attempt to stop the preparations for the referendums was the blocking of the official operations related to the work of the Gagauz electoral authority. But the Gagauz leaders found a way out. They launched a campaign to collect funds from the Gagauz people to organize the referendums. The next day, Moldovan-born Russian businessman Yuri Iakubov expressed readiness to cover all the costs for holding the referendums, assessed at 940,000 lei.

The attempt of Chisinau to solve the referendum issue by party line should be also noted as the decision on the plebiscite was adopted by the votes of all the deputies of the People’s Assembly, including the representatives of the Democratic Party and the Liberal Democratic Party, which form part of the government coalition. But this attempt to resolve the dispute also failed. While the leaders of the Democrats and the Liberal-Democrats named publicly the initiative of the Gagauz administration as a provocation and abuse of power, their colleagues from the autonomous region took part in meetings where they urged the people to take part in the February 2 referendums.

Ambiguous allusions

Corman and Leanca, when giving speeches before the people in Gagauzia, spoke about the irrationality of the actins taken by the Gagauz administration. They provided solid arguments why the local authorities should join the central authorities in their efforts to integrate into the EU. They also assured that they want to closely cooperate with Gagauzia and to implement social and infrastructure projects in the region. They dismissed as groundless the fears of the Gagauz people, which served as an ideological basis for propagating the referendums.

The Gagauz people even applauded the Speaker and greeted with cheers some of the ideas of the Premier. Sharing his impressions of this meeting, Mihail Formuzal told the journalists that he welcomes such visits and hopes that a constructive dialogue will be established. However, the next day, the Executive Committee headed by the Bashkan published data about the amounts allocated from the state budget to the country’s districts for financing their costs in 2014. According to these data, Gagauzia ranks 33rd of 35 districts (before Chisinau and Balti) by the size of the state budget allowances per capita. A sum of 66 lei is allotted for a resident of Gagauzia at a time when the sum for the inhabitants of Soldanesti and Hancesti districts for example is 4-5 times higher.

What was the purpose of this allusion that provoked discussions? The Gagauz authorities possibly wanted to show that the arrival of the heads of the Government and Parliament of Moldova in Gagauzia was, in essence, a visit by a team of firefighters who had to ascertain that nothing can be saved already. Or, on the contrary, this visit meant that cooperation with the autonomous unit is possible, while the given figures are nothing else but an allusion as to from where the dialogue should start. The key question is what approach the Moldovan authorities will adopt: they will step up the efforts to restore the administrative subordination in the country or will admit that the Gagauz people are right and will continue to support the region’s status. This way or another, the referendums in Gagauzia may become an impetus for reforming the relations between Chisinau and Comrat so as not only to have a new ideological interpretation, but also to adopt legal amendments.

Veaceslav Craciun, IPN

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