Even during the pandemic, we must also look to the health of Moldova’s democracy

Moldova is being tested – again. Over the last few months, the COVID-19 pandemic has infected thousands of Moldovans and killed hundreds. It has brought economic hardship and dislocation, even as many are still hurting from efforts to fight the spread of disease.

The United States and others will continue to support Moldova in dealing with this challenge. We have already provided more than $2.2 million in assistance to aid the Moldovan people and first responders in fighting the pandemic. During such times, it is hard to see beyond today’s trials to think about what can be done to make Moldova more democratic and prosperous, so that Moldovans who have returned home have a reason to stay.

But even as we grapple with this pandemic together, we must also look to the health of Moldova’s democracy. Moldova’s leaders must continue to develop independent government institutions, tackle rampant corruption, ensure free and fair elections, and protect individual rights and freedoms.

We have seen some progress. The government has significantly stepped up efforts to seize illicit proceeds from criminal activity. It has engaged with the Council of Europe, civil society, and others on planning constitutional and judicial reform, and we hope the Moldovan authorities will fully implement their recommendations. The draft NGO law now being considered by parliament would bring Moldova into line with European and international standards. These are positive steps.

But much remains to be done to secure Moldova’s path and regain the full trust of its citizens. Moldova’s leaders need to redouble their efforts to combat corruption and ensure impartial justice for all citizens. Real justice reform requires a long-term vision, broad and ongoing consultation with civil society and political parties, and sustained commitment to strengthening the rule of law.

Securing Moldova’s economic recovery, already a daunting task, will be even harder if corruption continues to flourish. It facilitates outside interference in the justice and financial systems, deters foreign investment and entrepreneurship, slows job creation, and pushes talented young people to look elsewhere for opportunity. The corrosive effects of corruption will only be compounded by the current economic crisis.

While the COVID-19 crisis will not likely end before Moldova’s presidential elections in November, this cannot become an excuse to delay needed steps to improve the electoral process. The Moldovan people have the right to choose their leaders and their future without interference – inside or outside the country.

According to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the February 2019 parliamentary elections were tainted by allegations of pressure, vote buying, and abuse of state resources. International monitors also lamented politically controlled media, a lack of transparency in campaign financing, and possible manipulation or suppression of voters from Transnistria and the diaspora. Moldovan officials should start working now to address these long-standing concerns to ensure that all citizens – in Moldova and abroad – can freely and safely cast their ballots on Election Day.

As Moldova again finds itself at a crossroads and facing unprecedented challenges, the United States remains a faithful and steadfast partner of its citizens. We firmly believe Moldovans deserve honest and accountable leaders and an opportunity to build a better life for themselves and future generations. I am confident that the fortitude and courage of the Moldovan people can overcome any challenge to forge a brighter and more prosperous future. And we will continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you on this journey.