The British Ambassador to Moldova, Steven Fisher: Can a Diplomatic Mission Comment on Moldovan Elections?
To the outside observer, Moldova has many attractive characteristics. Beautiful landscapes. Hospitable, hard-working people. A rich and diverse cultural heritage, reflecting the different ethnicities which have settled here over the centuries and which form the population of this unique country. And yet, despite this social and cultural wealth, the country’s international reputation is severely tarnished. Sadly, Moldova is known for poverty and the most sensational money laundering and banking scandals which the world has ever seen – all carried out with the connivance of officials entrusted to run the country and its public institutions. The roots of this problem are corruption and criminality.
One of an Ambassador’s duties is to explain to their own governments (as far as possible) what is happening in the country to which they are posted. Following the Presidential election of November 2020, I explained to London that I thought the clear majority of Moldovans had voted for a President they believed would fight corruption, uphold the rule of law, and improve the standard of living of everyday citizens. As Moldova approaches another election, on July 11, I believe the same issues are uppermost in most people’s minds.
Elections are moments of great opportunity for citizens of democracies such as Moldova. I hope that there will a massive participation in the election on July 11, and that citizens will consider their options carefully. I hope they will use their judgement to determine which statements by politicians to believe, and which mass media are reporting the electoral campaign in the most balanced way.
Unfortunately, there has been no shortage of fake news and disinformation in this campaign so far. Even former Presidents of the Republic have felt moved to contribute alarmist and unjustified opinions which have no basis in reality. For example, it is nonsense to suggest that “western Ambassadors” control certain political parties, that the President is running a “dictatorship”, or that a victory for so-called “pro-European” parties would lead to the arrival of NATO troops and tanks in Moldova. Despite this kind of disinformation, and the clear bias shown by certain mass media outlets in this country, I believe that most Moldovans are intelligent enough to see through such distortions and make sensible decisions.
There is much talk in Moldova about “pro-European” and “pro-Russian” parties and political forces. I think this misses the point. I believe that there are two kinds of political force in the country; pro-rule of law and anti-rule of law. Fortunately, I believe most of the parties running in the election on July 11 are in the former category.
Some prominent people have argued that foreign Ambassadors should not comment on political developments, nor even visit institutions of state in the pre-electoral period. This view is based on a distorted reading of the Vienna Convention. Freedom of expression, access to justice, and the ability to participate in fair processes to select those who govern us are all universal human rights. According to a well-established principle, enshrined in the Document of the Moscow Meeting of the (then) CSCE in September 1991, human rights are a subject of international concern and not a purely internal matter. So although we should categorically never take sides, or support one or other party, all OSCE Participating States have the right to monitor and comment on the quality of each others’ protection of human rights. That is why my respected colleague, the Ambassador of the Russian Federation, was entitled to raise a question of human rights with President Sandu during a recent meeting which the President hosted for the Diplomatic Corps. And that is why I am acting within appropriate diplomatic boundaries in expressing concern about disinformation, about biased media coverage of political news, and about the perplexing approach which the Central Electoral Commission took to the question of the number of polling stations to be opened for the diaspora. Many people have suggested that CEC’s approach was politically motivated. It would not be appropriate for me to speculate on that. However, it seems likely that trust in this important institution has been eroded by its handling of the issue.
The British Embassy will contribute to the international electoral observation effort on 11 July, in support of Moldovan democracy. I hope that the Moldovan people will make wise decisions, and return a parliament that can make real progress to defeat corruption, support the rule of law, and set this country onto a permanent path towards greater prosperity. That way, this country’s international reputation can become as attractive as the Moldovan countryside; and the hospitable, hard-working Moldovan people can finally enjoy the just and prosperous society they deserve.
Steven Mark Fisher
British Ambassador to Moldova