Residents of Transnistria cannot choose their leaders democratically, and they are unable to participate freely in Moldovan elections. While the PMR maintains its own legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government, no country recognizes its independence. Both the president and the 43-seat, unicameral Supreme Council are elected to five-year terms. In June 2011, the legislature approved constitutional amendments that created a relatively weak post of prime minister and set a two-term limit on the presidency. While the December 2011 presidential election was not recognized internationally, it featured increased competition and a somewhat broader choice for voters compared with previous polls.
The majority party in the legislature, Obnovleniye, is associated with Transnistria’s monopolistic business conglomerate, Sheriff Enterprises, and maintains a close relationship with the ruling party in Russia. All of the PMR’s political establishment, including nominal opposition parties, supports the separatist system and Russia’s role as patron.
Native Moldovan speakers are not represented in government. While the authorities do not allow voting in Moldovan elections to take place in PMR-controlled territory, residents with Russian citizenship had access to two dozen polling stations for Russia’s tightly controlled presidential election in March 2012. PMR president Yevgeny Shevchuk strongly endorsed the candidacy of Vladimir Putin.
Corruption and organized crime are serious problems in Transnistria. The authorities are entrenched in the territory’s economic activities, which rely in large part on smuggling schemes. In October 2012, the deputy director of Moldova’s Information and Security Service (SIS) alleged that criminal groups used the PMR’s banking system to launder proceeds from trafficking in persons, drugs, and arms. PMR officials strongly denied the claims. The EU assists Ukraine and Moldova in efforts to maintain customs controls along their mutual border. Russia has a major stake in the Transnistrian economy and backs the PMR through loans, direct subsidies, and natural gas supplies. Transnistria has not paid the state-owned Russian energy giant Gazprom for gas imports since 2007, building up a debt of about $3.5 billion. Shevchuk said in September that the PMR’s budget deficit of some 70 percent is largely supported by Russian assistance. Oleg Smirnov, son of the former president, remained under investigation in Russia in 2012 over his alleged embezzlement of Russian aid.
The media environment is restrictive. Nearly all media are state owned or controlled and refrain from criticizing the authorities. The few independent print outlets have small circulations. Critical reporting draws harassment by the government, which also uses tactics such as bureaucratic obstruction and the withholding of information to inhibit independent media. Sheriff Enterprises, which dominates the private broadcasting and cable television sectors, is the territory’s only internet service provider. The government is not known to restrict internet access.
Religious freedom is limited. Orthodox Christianity is the dominant faith, and authorities have denied registration to several smaller religious groups. Unregistered groups face harassment by police and Orthodox opponents. There are no legal exemptions from military service for conscientious objectors, leading to criminal punishment of Jehovah’s Witnesses and others.
Although a small minority of students study Moldovan using the Latin alphabet, this practice is restricted; the Moldovan language and Latin alphabet are associated with support for unity with Moldova, while Russian and the Cyrillic alphabet are associated with separatist goals. Parents who send their children to schools using Latin script, and the schools themselves, have faced harassment from the security services. An October 2012 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights found Russia liable for the PMR’s restrictions on Moldovan-language education, ordering Moscow to pay about $1.4 million in damages to 170 Transnistria residents who had sued in 2004 and 2006.
The authorities severely restrict freedom of assembly and rarely issue required permits for public protests. Freedom of association is similarly circumscribed. All nongovernmental activities must be coordinated with local authorities, and groups that do not comply face harassment, including visits from security officials. The region’s trade unions are holdovers from the Soviet era, and the United Council of Labor Collectives works closely with the government.
The judiciary is subservient to the executive and generally implements the will of the authorities. Defendants do not receive fair trials, and the legal framework falls short of international standards. Politically motivated arrests and detentions are common. Human rights groups have received accounts of torture in custody, and prison conditions are considered harsh and unsanitary. Suspicious deaths of military conscripts occur periodically amid reports of routine mistreatment.
Authorities discriminate against the ethnic Moldovan plurality. Ethnic Russians and ethnic Ukrainians together account for some 60 percent of the population. An estimated 150,000 residents hold Russian passports, and about 100,000 have Ukrainian passports, though many are believed to have multiple citizenship.
Travelers are frequently detained and questioned by the PMR authorities. In an incident that raised tensions along the de facto border, a Russian peacekeeper shot and killed a motorist in January 2012 as he returned home to Transnistria from Moldova and reportedly ignored commands to stop at a checkpoint. A Russian military court found the shooting lawful in July, but in December Moldovan authorities said their investigation remained open.
Women are typically underrepresented in positions of authority, though Shevchuk’s government included several female deputy premiers and ministers. Domestic violence against women is a problem. Transnistria is a significant source and transit point for trafficking in women for the purpose of prostitution. LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people are reportedly subject to discrimination.