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Live and unfiltered, PMR"s President Smirnov answers viewer questions on TV

For two hours straight, Igor Smirnov took live questions over the air from TV viewers in Pridnestrovie. Viewers attacked with hard questions and criticism. None of the calls were pre-screened or filtered.

With twenty days left for Christmas, and less than a week to go before Sunday's presidential election, Pridnestrovie's incumbent president Igor Smirnov has gone live on TV to take questions from viewers. Unfiltered and uncensored, callers were able to speak to the candidate on the air.

On Sunday, Smirnov appeared live on two local television channels, state-owned TV PMR and the private channel TVS ("Television of Free Choice"). In a talkshow format, he answered the audience's questions for two hours, with no prior filtering of any of the live calls. The broadcasts, which covered the length of the country, were also seen in the streets of the major cities where outdoor screens had been set up to display the question-and-answer session and take questions from ordinary pedestrians.

Answerin a question about democracy, Smirnov said that Pridnestrovie's right to self-determination is a result of simply respecting the will of the people to decide their own future. Pridnestrovie was founded in 1990 with a declaration of independence based on a referendum by the people, which was in contrast to how Moldova was founded: The Republic of Moldova was founded in 1991, but a referendum to ask the people about this was not held until three years after the fact, in 1991.

Likewise, the constitution was approved by referendum in Pridnestrovie, and the course towards international recognition of independent statehood was reaffirmed again on 17 September 2006, in another independence referendum where voters rejected unification with Moldova by 94%. Igor Smirnov also stressed that the result of the September 17 referendum is a final choice, and it fails to coincide with the course the neighbor Moldova has taken.

" - Without asking its people, Moldova has said that it will join NATO and the European Union. As for us, we have also defined our strategic line, but in our case, our choices are based on the people's will", stated Igor Smirnov.

Pridnestrovie, which is frequently called Transdniester or Transnistria, has been called an "autocratic state" by the West and a "dictatorship" by Moldova which pursues a 16 year old territorial claim and considers Pridnestrovie's statehood illegal. Local residents disagree, calling the claims wrong and based on a lack of knowledge and factual information about the current state of democracy in the new and emerging country.

Harsh criticism for head of state
Answering a question from a resident of Kamenka, the northernmost city of Pridnestrovie, Smirnov said that the question of de-blockading Pridnestrovie is being solved little by little. The issue of the blockade of the country, which in his opinion was subjected to an "economic war" on Moldova's behest from March 3, is gradually getting solved. Thus, the transit of freight trains via Pridnestrovie has already been resumed, and passenger train circulation will be re-started from December 16.

Questions reached also the candidate via text messaging and e-mail, with TV PMR's studio hooked up to the Internet and receiving questions live which were then read out on the air. Throughout the two hour session, Smirnov answered more than twenty questions from callers.

Some of the question included harsh criticism of the Smirnov's administration and the role of the cabinet, including what one viewer saw as a failure to stamp out corruption. Igor Smirnov answered that Pridnestrovie's own law-enforcement agencies will rigidly fight this phenomenon: "We have bribery in the judiciary," he admitted, "and in the structures of the executive power, all the way up to the Deputy Heads of Administration. I consider that any official must personally be held responsible for this", said Smirnov.

Analysts consulted by Tiraspol Times saw the two hour talkshow as being as high on fluff and low on substance, but also revealing by the fact that problems of the unrecognized country could be discussed openly, without fear from the citizens or from the administration of revealing weaknesses.
" - Taking questions live is one thing," says columnist Michael Garner, "but what should be of interests here is not just that Smirnov opened up like that, but that the viewers responded the way they did. It was clear to anyone who watched the show that they are not afraid of biting into him, or asking the tough questions. This should be a lesson to anyone who doubts that democracy has changed in PMR in recent years."

" - There is a sense of ownership present in the questions by the citizens who called in," added Petru Gladchi, a civil society activist. "And no fear of Smirnov or of the state. The feeling is that 'this is our state' and that we are all in together. It was very interesting to watch, live and totally un-screened. I doubt that Putin or Bush would ever do the same, let alone Voronin in Moldova"

" - What will 2007 be like for the republic?" a viewer wanted to know.

" - It is hard to say," answered the incumbent President, "but according to the results of year it will be better."