A new constitution, which replaced the 1978 document that had provided for a Soviet-style government structure, was approved by the Moldovan parliament in July 1994 and promulgated on August 27. Describing the republic as a "sovereign, independent" state in which "justice and political pluralism" are guaranteed, this constitution formally established a unicameral parliament comprising 104 members who are directly elected for four-year terms. The president, who is directly elected for a five-year term, serves as the head of state and the commander in chief of the armed forces.
The president shares executive power with the Council of Ministers (cabinet), which is led by the prime minister, who is designated by the president (after consultation with the parliamentary majority) and approved by parliament. The council is responsible for implementing the domestic and foreign policy of the state.
Moldova is administered locally by elected town and village councils and mayors; their activities are coordinated by district councils, which also are elected. The constitution guarantees all citizens the right to "preserve, develop and express their ethnic, cultural, and linguistic and religious identity" and grants special autonomy to the predominantly Russian region on the left bank of the Dniester and to the Gagauz region.
The judicial system comprises the Supreme Court of Justice (with members appointed by parliament), a Court of Appeal, and lower courts (whose members are appointed by the president). The Higher Magistrates' Council nominates judges and oversees their transfer and promotion.
The Communist Party of Moldavia - until 1990 the only legal party - was dissolved in 1991. Since independence a variety of political parties have emerged, most of them based on ethnicity (including the Gagauz People's Party) and advocacy of independence or unification with either Romania or Russia. (A national referendum on Moldova's status as an independent country was held on March 6, 1994, with a large turnout of eligible voters. More than 95 percent voted in favour of continued independence.)
Significant changes occurred in Moldovan society during the years of Soviet power. Illiteracy was eradicated, and, as in other union republics, emphasis was placed on technical education in order to satisfy the steadily growing needs of agriculture and industry for specialists and a highly skilled workforce.
Before 1940 the republic had only one institution of higher education, a teacher-training college. Since then, several institutions of higher education (including the University of Chisinau) and numerous specialised middle schools have been established.
At the highest level, the Moldova Academy of Sciences, established in Chisinau in 1961, coordinates the activities of some 16 scientific institutions. An additional 50 or so research centres in the fields of viticulture, horticulture, beet growing, grain cultivation, and wine making have been set up, and Moldovan scientists have won international acclaim in these fields.
In 1991 the Moldovan government established social service programs to supplement the monthly income of the average citizen during the transition from a command to a market economy. These programs were designed to preserve and strengthen the social safety net put in place during the Soviet period. The Social Assistance Fund supplies the needy with medical payments and housing and food subsidies. The Social Security Fund provides pensions for workers, invalids, and soldiers; assists workers during illness or temporary disability; and aids the unemployed. These programs, as well as free elementary and secondary education, are supported by the state.