The rights of women, Roma, people with disabilities and the LGBT community barely feature in Moldova’s July 11 election.
Where Moldova’s pro-European Action and Solidarity Party, PAS, devotes an entire chapter of its 45-page election manifesto to the rights of women, its chief rival in this month’s election, the pro-Russian Electoral Bloc of Communists and Socialists, BeCS, mentions women only twice.
Moldova elected its first female president late last year when former PAS leader Maia Sandu thwarted Socialist Igor Dodon’s bid for a second term.
But while PAS is promising to help women advance in politics and business, secure equal pay and opportunities and to battle discrimination and violence against women, the BeCS is vowing support for the ‘traditional family’.
Indeed, with the exception of PAS, women’s rights barely feature in the July 11 parliamentary election. People with disabilities, the LGBT community and Roma fare no better, according to a review of the electoral manifestos of all 23 parties contesting the vote.
Campaign references to “vulnerable” segments of society are “somewhat vague,” said Irina Corobcenco, an anti-hate speech campaigner at Chisinau-based human rights NGO Promo-LEX. Candidates use public debates “to argue about political aspects [rather] than to discuss these concrete topics,” she told BIRN.
Female empowerment vs. ‘traditional’ family
Currently, only PAS and BeCS look certain to pass the five per cent threshold to enter parliament, with Sandu hoping to secure an assembly more likely to back her pro-European reform agenda.
The PAS manifesto promises increased rights for mothers in terms of parental leave and grants and business consulting services to help promote women in business.
“Together with PAS women, together with all women in Moldova, we will work with determination to involve women in politics,” PAS deputy Doina Gherman said in early June at the launch of the party’s election campaign. “We want good times for women in leadership positions, united families and happy children.”
For BeCS, ‘family’ is the watchword.
“The Bloc of Communists and Socialists team vouches for the traditional family consisting of a mother, father and children to become a role model, the social norm,” Dodon said in mid-June after the bloc launched ‘Week of the Family’ to “promote the traditional values of our people”.
The BeCS manifesto is similar in length to the PAS programme. But it makes only two references to women.
In terms of women, “at BeCS the emphasis is more on traditional values and family,” said Corobcenco. “The woman is pictured as having a significant role in the family as the primary cell of society.”
Campaign overlooks LGBT rights
People with disabilities fare even worse than women in the BeCS manifesto, with only one mention in the context of a promised review of disability pensions.
They feature more strongly in the PAS programme, which promises to increase the disability pension, monthly benefits and provide better access to social services and education for children.
People with disabilities represent roughly seven per cent of the Moldovan population.
The issue of LGBT rights is missing from all party manifestos for the July election, reflecting the sensitivity of the topic in Moldova’s largely patriarchal, socially conservative society.
The powerful Moldovan Church, the most trusted institution in the country according to opinion polls, openly opposes LGBT rights and its statements often chime with those of the pro-Russian left.
Pro-European parties make little public mention of the issue, but, said Corobcenco, while it is not part of the PAS manifesto the party does “somehow refer to human rights as a whole”.
On the other hand, BeCS has taken the issue of human rights as a pretext to rally against the Istanbul Convention on the prevention of violence against women, portraying the treaty as purely “calling for the extension of the rights of the LGBT community,” said Corobcenco, rather than an attempt to tackle gender-based violence.
Roma targeted for manipulation
The rights of Moldova’s Roma, a heavily marginalised community, also do not feature in the party manifestos.
According to official data, there are roughly 10,000 Roma in Moldova, but estimates suggest the real number could be closer to 20,000 given that many do not possess ID papers.
The community is a frequent target of hate speech, but is viewed by some political parties as fertile ground for vote manipulation.
This was evident in late June, when a confrontation broke out between Roma and ethnic Ukrainian residents of Otaci, a town in northeastern Moldova near the border with Ukraine.
Political parties refrained from commenting on the standoff, which saw some Roma blocking roads, despite the fact special troops were deployed for two days.
“Regarding the Otaci conflict, no party came out with any position,” said Corobcenco, “mainly because the Roma community is part of the electorate and community leaders attract campaign votes for certain parties.”