President Shevchuk strives to gain parliamentary majority in Transnistria elections

President Shevchuk strives to gain parliamentary majority in Transnistria elections
By Iulian Ernst in Bucharest November 27, 2015

The president of Moldova’s separatist republic of Transnistria, Yevgeny Shevchuk, is hoping to gain the support of a parliamentary majority after the November 29 elections. This would allow Shevchuk to continue with his plans to drag the self-declared republic out of recession by streamlining its centralised economy.

Whoever wins the upcoming parliament elections, the republic, which broke away from Moldova in the early 1990s, will maintain its separatist stance and will continue to depend on support from Russia. All the candidates have focused their campaigns on their strategies for resolving the difficult economic situation, while their views on foreign policy topics seem to converge.

Shevchuk's main rival is the Obnovlenie (Renewal) party, backed by giant economic holding company Sheriff and its founding oligarchs. The third force is made up of the supporters of hardliner Igor Smirnov, the separatist republic’s first president.

Oblovenie is the only major party represented in the parliament, where it currently holds 18 seats, down from 25 after the 2010 elections. There are also two smaller parties - the Pridnestrovie Communist Party and Proriv - each of which took only one seat in the 2010 elections.

Most other MPs are formally independent but in fact backed by either Shevchuk or Smirnov. Another peculiar feature of Transnistrian politics is that the vast majority of politicians - including Smirnov and Shevchuk - were at one time either members of Oblovenie or worked for Sheriff.

Transnistria’s economy has plunged this year, with industrial production down 16% y/y. A slump in budget revenues has resulted in the government cutting state sector wages and pensions by 30%.

The situation is set to worsen at the end of this year, when the free trade regime with the European Union - the destination for 70% of Transnistria’s exports - is due to expire. Future access to EU markets depends on Transnistria endorsing the Association Agreement signed between Moldova and the EU in 2014, but so far there has been no progress in talks on this issue.

There are no polls available, but indications so far are that Shevchuk’s candidates and Obnovlenie are roughly neck and neck, with a possible marginal advantage for the president’s candidates, according to independent analysts.

However, a fairly equal split within the parliament would favour Obnovlenie. While Shevchuck needs a two-thirds majority to push through many components of his reform agenda, Obnovlenie has the ability to prevent changes proposed by the president with just a blocking minority.

Shevchuk is in favour of a centralised command economy and wants to boost Transnistria’s distressed public finances by higher taxation and tighter control over the economy. He frequently argues against the “liberalism” of his political enemies.

Obnovlenie’s policies are mainly those that favour Sheriff, whose holdings include a chain of supermarkets, petrol stations, a mobile phone network and the FC Sheriff Tiraspol football club.

Its current 18 MPs are sufficient to block any bill that needs the support of two-thirds of lawmakers in the 43 seat parliament. Recently, the party has rejected government bills on a new fiscal policy, an anti-trust bill and the anti-crisis economic strategy.

The two sides agree on the need for more financial support from Russia to enable the republic’s economic recovery, but neither are particularly favoured by Dimitry Rogozin, Russia’s special envoy for Transnistria.

The parliamentary and local elections in Transnistria on November 29 will prepare the ground for the more important presidential elections next December. Transnistria is a presidential republic and Shevchuk recently rejected rumours about planned amendments to the constitution to transform it into a parliamentary republic. The president is elected directly by voters.