Author Archives: Anna Fruhstorfer

Moldova – Temporary Suspensions of the President of the Republic

The constitutional choices made in the Republic of Moldova throughout the past 25 years cover an intriguing variety of executive-legislative relations. In the style of a ping-pong game (Fruhstorfer 2016), the idea of going back and forth between a parliamentary and semi-presidential system is a constant theme in the political discussion. At the moment, the game has moved back to a semi-presidential system. This change was not based on a constitutional amendment, but a decision of the constitutional court to declare the 2000 amendments unconstitutional (Constitutional Court 2016). This decision helped to diffuse the massive protests after a corruption scandal and bank heist in course of which the country lost approx. 1 billion USD (Kottasova 2015, see also Brett et al. 2015). During this crisis, the constitutional court showed an unprecedented level of judicial activism that was, as we will discuss below, no isolated case. It was the start of the Moldovan political elite relying on the constitutional court to help solve inter-institutional conflicts. It is also an example of how a ruling elite tries to preserve its hegemonic status (see Hirschl 2004). To address these issues, this post will briefly describe the chain of controversial decisions of the constitutional court concerning the president since 2016. This is followed by an analysis of the most recent decision to temporarily suspend the president.

The constitutional court and the direct presidential election

In a controversial and surprising decision in March 2016, the constitutional court ruled the 2000 constitutional amendment unconstitutional (Constitutional Court 2016) and de facto re-established the 1994 constitution and reinstated the direct election of the president. (For an analysis of this court decision, see an earlier post). The first presidential elections under the reinstated 1994 constitutional order took place in November 2016. Igor Dodon won the run-off vote with 52.28% of votes (47.82 voted for Maia Sandu). As in many semi-presidential systems, this led to a period of cohabitation with the government of Pavel Filip. This per se conflictual situation is exacerbated by the constant, yet informal influence of Vlad Plahotniuc. Plahotniuc is a wealthy oligarch, chair of the PDM (Democratic Party of Moldova), and is incredibly unpopular according to recent polls (IRI.org 2017, originally cited by Popșoi 2017). But he managed to transform the PDM that won only close to 16% of the votes in the 2014 parliamentary election into the main political force in Moldova. Right after the election, it was unclear how confrontational the Filip-Plahotniuc-Dodon relation might be. Since then, we have seen an “inter-institutional deadlock” (Popșoi 2017), which is, according to a variety of independent observers, only a sham to disguise how Plahotniuc and Dodon have consolidated their power with the help of each other.

The suspension of the president

The activism of the court in recent years has often targeted the presidency, yet the suspension of the president in October 2017 and again in January 2018 added a whole new chapter to the already complicated relations between the president and government. Much of the reasoning behind the motivation of Dodon and Plahotniuc is highly speculative, so it seems useful to describe the facts first.

In October 2017, the Moldovan Constitutional Court suspended the president temporarily. The reason was Dodon’s refusal to appoint Eugen Sturza as Minister of Defense, an appointment process that had already started in December 2016. Early in 2017, the constitutional court had issued an interpretation of Art. 98 of the constitution, whereby the president can only reject the nomination of a cabinet member once (Constitutional Court 2017). Thus, the repeated refusal to appoint Sturza led the government to appeal to the constitutional court again. The court first decided that the refusal to confirm a cabinet nomination is considered a violation of the constitution and can led to a temporary suspension. This suspension was issued by the court and was in force until the acting president (the head of parliament) appointed the new minister.
Yet, the constitutional procedure stipulated by Art. 89 would have been entirely different:

(1) In the event where the President of the Republic of Moldova commits grave offenses infringing upon constitutional provisions, he may be suspended from office by Parliament if two-thirds of the members cast their votes in support of suspension.
(2) The motion requesting the suspension from office may be initiated by at least one-third of the members, and it must be brought to the knowledge of the President without delay. The President may give explanations on the actions for which he is being censured before Parliament.
(3) If the motion requesting suspension from office meets with approval, a national referendum shall be organized within 30 days for removing the President from office.”( Constitution of the Republic of Moldova)

A temporary suspension – not because of health reasons – is thus an invention of the constitutional court that sets a dangerous precedent. Two months later the government again appealed to the court to temporarily suspend the president from office, because Dodon refused to appoint seven new ministers. And again in early 2018, two days after the decision of the court on the second appeal, a third complaint reached the court for another temporary suspension, because the president refused to sign a law banning alleged Russian propaganda. According to Art. 98, the president has only a suspensive veto power, but has to promulgate a law after the initiative is reconfirmed by parliament. However, Dodon refused to promulgate the law and the interim president (again the speaker of parliament) appointed both the ministers and promulgated the law.

Any assessment of the role of the constitutional court, the president and the head of the PDM in this complicated power structure is hardly possible without a partisan reading. Some describe Plahotniuc as a pro-democratic, pro-western figure and the PDM as the main party that guarantees democratic development (RFE/RL 2017). But Plahotniuc is also profiting from East-West tensions, has autocratic tendencies and is accused of corruption (Popșoi 2017a). In any case, he is a main player within the government, although he has no formal governmental role (he is member of parliament and chair of the PDM). Dodon’s role and motivations are less clear. On the one hand, he was the former head of the Socialist Party and has a declared pro-Russian stance. This is a logical explanation for his refusal to promulgate the anti-Russian propaganda law. On the other hand, he cooperated closely with Plahotniuc and the PDM to change the country’s electoral law to a mixed electoral system. This move was widely condemned by international actors (among them most importantly the Venice commission, see Venice Commission 2017). Some observers have even argued that Dodon has reached an informal agreement with Plahotniuc and informally supports the political course to hold his position (see for example Necsutu 2017). Authors have described this as a “political cartel narrative” (Popșoi 2017a) with the aim of a Russia-backed coalition between the Socialists (PD) and the PDM after the upcoming parliamentary elections in November this year.

Beyond the speculation about the motives that led Dodon to comply with the course of Plahotniuc, it is clear that the constitutional court is instrumentalized in allowing the ruling elite to preserve their newly won influence and power. The inter-institutional deadlock is nothing new for the Republic of Moldova and neither is the issue of EU integration vs. close ties with Russia. Neither is necessarily beneficial for democratic development, but both always seemed possible to overcome. Yet, what will have a lasting influence on the downward spiral of Moldovan democracy is the unprecedented involvement of the court in the power struggle that will undermine what is left of the public’s trust in the constitutional court.

Literature

BBC (2016): Pro-Moscow figure Igor Dodon claims Moldova presidency. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-37970155. November 14 [accessed November 15, 2016]
Brett, Daniel; Knott, Ellie; Popsoi, Mihai (2015): The ‘billion dollar protests’ in Moldova are threatening the survival of the country’s political elite. http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2015/09/21/the-billion-dollar-protests-in-moldova-are-threatening-the-survival-of-the-countrys-political-elite/, September 21 [accessed November 15, 2016]
Constitutional Court (2017): http://constcourt.md/libview.php?l=en&idc=7&id=938&t=/Media/Noutati/The-President-of-Moldova-may-only-once-decline-PMs-proposal-of-Cabinet-reshuffle/ [accessed January 14 2018]
Fruhstorfer, Anna (2016): Moldova, in: Constitutional Politics in Central and Eastern Europe. Edited by Anna Fruhstorfer and Michael Hein, Springer VS, 359-387.
Kottasova, Ivana (2015): How to steal $ 1 billion in three days. http://money.cnn.com/2015/05/07/news/economy/moldova-stolen-billion/. May 7 [accessed January 10, 2018]
IRI.org (2017): Public Opinion Survey (2017). http://www.iri.org/sites/default/files/iri_moldova_poll_march_2017.pdf. [accessed January 10, 2018]
Necsutu, Madalin (2017): Dodon Response to Suspension Puzzles Moldova’s Socialists, in: http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/dodon-response-to-suspension-puzzles-moldova-s-socialists-01-10-2018 [January, 14, 2018]
Popșoi, Mihai (2017): Moldovan President Igor Dodon Suspended by the Constitutional Court. https://moldovanpolitics.com/2017/10/25/moldovan-president-igor-dodon-suspended-by-the-constitutional-court/ [last accessed January 15, 2018]
Popșoi, Mihai (2017a): Moldovan Politics 2017: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. https://moldovanpolitics.com/2017/12/27/moldovan-politics-2017-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly/ [accessed January 15, 2018]
Venice Commission (2017): Joint opinion on the draft laws on amending and completing certain legislative acts, in: http://www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/?pdf=CDL-AD(2017)012-e [accessed January 10, 2018]

Albania – Government formation after months of partisan turmoil

In this post, I examine the most recent developments in Albania after an unconventional presidential election in April, a months-long boycott of parliament by the oppositional Democratic Party (DP), and the parliamentary election with Socialist Edi Rama as clear winner of a majority that enables him to govern without a coalition partner.

Presidential election in April 2017
Since February 2017 the oppositional DP was boycotting the Albanian Parliament. Despite calls by the European Union and several European governments the DP was determined in its course. Among their demands were the resignation of Prime Minister Edi Rama and the formation of a caretaker government. This parliamentary boycott – that could not be solved by several rounds of EU-led negotiations – not only resulted in a political stalemate that largely influenced and hindered the political decision making but also impacted the presidential election. As explained in a blog post published earlier this year, Albania is a parliamentary system with a president elected by parliament. Candidates are nominated by at least 20 deputies. In the first three rounds a presidential candidate has to gain the support of 3/5 of the members of parliament, i.e. 84 votes out of the 140 seats (Art. 87). The constitution stipulates a maximum of five rounds. Only after three rounds failed, the majority requirement changes. The fourth ballot (and the fifth) require only the absolute majority and are held between the two leading candidates from the third round. In case the fifth round fails as well, parliament is dissolved and snap elections take place within 60 days. (Art. 87).

Hence, after three rather unconventional rounds of presidential elections, the president/chairman of the Albanian Parliament, Ilir Meta was elected as 7th President of the Republic of Albania. This presidential election was unusual because the ruling Socialist Party did not nominate a candidate during the first three rounds of presidential elections. Party representatives declared that they are not “nominating anyone for president to demonstrate its willingness to conduct a dialogue with the opposition [DP, author] over the next president and achieve a consensus with all political forces in the country” (EurAsia Daily 2017).

Parliamentary elections in June 2017
As could be expected the election of Meta as President was heavily criticized by the DP, a fact a lot of observers deemed hypocritical because of Meta’s ties to both DP and the Socialist Party. And although some DP deputies threatened to boycott both the parliamentary elections and local elections, the parliamentary elections were held in June 2017 after the leaders of the main parties – Edi Rama and Lulzim Basha – agreed on several measures to meet the demands of the boycotting DP. Next to the inclusion of representatives of the opposition in the cabinet and as heads of some state agencies, the center-right opposition was also put in charge of the Central Electoral Commission (Mejdini 2017). This agreement ended the three-months long boycott by the DP and allowed the parliamentary election to be rescheduled. Within the short campaign time, Prime Minister Rama ran mostly on an anti-corruption and a pro-EU message. And his declared goal was to get enough support among the electorate to govern without a coalition partner (Keleka 2017). With the lowest voter turnout since the end of communist rule (44.9%) (Keleka 2017), the Socialist Party of Rama won the majority of 48 % and 74 seats in parliament. This means a plus of 9 seats compared to the previous election. The DP of Basha won 29 % and 43 seats in parliament (a minus of 7 seats) (RFE/RL 2017). With this result, Edi Rama exceeded expectations and was able to form a new government. As Article 96 of the constitution stipulates, the prime minister is nominated by the president with the approval of the party with a majority of seats in parliament. With the now absolute majority of the Socialist Party secured, the old and new Prime Minister Edi Rama announced the new cabinet on August 27.

What to expect from the new government?
The results of the parliamentary election allow the Socialist Party to govern without a coalition partner – “a unique opportunity for a country that has been marred by political divisions and coalition in-fighting to pursue an ambitious agenda of reform and European integration” as Fras (2017) has convincingly stated. But some observers have also identified a concrete threat to the democratic development in Albania, the tendency to rely on so-called Balkan strongmen (Fischer 2007 and 2010), strong leaders without a proper check by other institutions. Prime Minister Rama faces no real opposition at this point. The president – Ilir Meta – does not have a lot of constitutionally assigned competences. His authority beyond the constitutionally assigned power is certainly limited because of his difficult election by a boycotted parliament and his long and controversial political career with allegations of corruption and not a lot of partisan support. Some authors and analysts have even suggested that it was Rama’s intend to place Meta in a position where he could not become a threat against his political ambitions (see for a collection of these statements Koleka 2017). At the same time, the electoral defeat and the months long boycott has left the main oppositional party – DP – and its leader in a precarious position: “In Albania’s strongly divided personality politics, Lulzim Basha’s decision to push the old DP grandees aside could cost him his post. His earlier decision to abandon an election boycott was a smart move but the defeat might lead to the party’s collapse” (Fras 2017) and the re-structuring of the whole party system. But Rama’s presentation of his cabinet also offered a glimpse into his ideas about the future of Albania. He announced a near equal representation of male and female ministers and emphasized his clear commitment to a fast EU-accession. Taking up this leading role – also among Western Balkan leaders – is certainly a hopeful sign for the whole region.

Literature
EurAsia Daily (2017): Political crisis in Albania: parliamentarians failing to elect president
Подробнее: https://eadaily.com/en/news/2017/04/20/political-crisis-in-albania-parliamentarians-failing-to-elect-president
Fischer, Bernd J, 2007. ed. Balkan strongmen: dictators and authoritarian rulers of South Eastern Europe. Purdue University Press.
Fischer, Bernd J. 2010. “Albania since 1989: the Hoxhaist legacy.” In Central and Southeast European Politics since 1989, edited by Sabrina P. Ramet, 421–44. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ Press. Accessed August 05, 2014
Fras, Max (2017): Prime Minister Edi Rama takes total control in Albania, but who can keep him in check?, in: blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2017/06/30/edi-rama-takes-control-albania/
Mejdini, Fatjona (2017): Albania Opposition to Join Govt Ahead of Election, in: http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/opposition-enters-with-technical-ministers-in-albanian-gov-05-18-2017
Koleka, Benet (2017): Albanian Socialists to get parliamentary majority: partial vote count, in: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-albania-election-result-idUSKBN19H18L
RFE/RL (2017): Albania’s Socialists Secure Governing Mandate In Parliamentary Vote, in: https://www.rferl.org/a/albania-socialists-parliamentary-elections/28581341.html, June 27.

Albania – Suppose they had an election and no one ran for office

In this post, I examine the most recent presidential elections in Albania in April this year. Presidential elections are often surrounded by unusual or newsworthy events, but I could not find a lot of incidents where presidential elections were held without a candidate. Yes, that’s right. No candidates were nominated in the first three rounds of the presidential elections in Albania. This proves to be an interesting case for arguments that involve the effective number of presidential candidates. The reasons for the decision to not put forward a nominee are manifold, but reflect the level of political stalemate and conflict in today’s Albania. The circumstances of this election and its four rounds, a brief biography of the new president, as well as the prospect this gives us for the parliamentary elections in June 2017 will be the focus of this post.

Constitutional provisions for the presidential elections in Albania
Albania is a parliamentary system with a president elected by parliament. Candidates are nominated by at least 20 deputies. In the first three rounds a presidential candidate has to gain the support of 3/5 of the members of parliament, i.e. 84 votes out of the 140 seats (Art. 87). The constitution stipulates a maximum of five rounds. Only after three failed rounds does the majority requirement change. The fourth ballot (and the fifth) require only an absolute majority and are held between the two leading candidates from the third round. In case the fifth round fails as well, parliament is dissolved and snap elections take place within 60 days. (Art. 87).

The incumbent
Legally, former President Bujar Nishani could have run for a second term after being the president for the last 5 years. His election in 2012 was, however, a rather surprising event and took place also in the fourth round of the presidential elections. He only became a viable option because his well-known and influential opponents withdrew their candidacies. Already back then some oppositional forces boycotted the presidential elections. In a similar, yet much more forceful move, the oppositional Democratic Party (DP) of Albania – which is Nishani’s party – has also been boycotting parliament since February 2017. Despite calls by the European Union and several European governments, the DP is determined in its course. They demand the resignation of Prime Minister Edi Rama and the formation of a caretaker government by all parliamentary parties. This boycott is and was accompanied by street protest, most importantly against the threat of voter fraud in the upcoming elections. During EU-led negotiations, the government made far-reaching promises, but the DP representatives insisted on the resignation of the Prime Minister. With his party boycotting parliament, it was clear that Nishani would not run for a second term.

The new president
In this context, the ruling Socialist Party did not nominate a candidate during the first three rounds of presidential elections. Party representatives declared that they were not “nominating anyone for president to demonstrate their willingness to conduct a dialogue with the opposition [DP, author] over the next president and achieve a consensus with all political forces in the country” (EurAsia Daily 2017). Yet, in the fourth round of the presidential elections, the president/chairman of the Albanian Parliament, Ilir Meta, was finally elected “after Prime Minister Edi Rama and his Socialist Party put their weight behind his candidacy” (Likmeta 2017). Meta will be the seventh president of the second Republic. His long political career was not entirely without controversy. As a longtime member of the Socialist Party, he established his own political group (Socialist Movement for Integration) and later joined forces with the DP in 2009 (Likmeta 2017). However, he switched sides again and supported the Socialist Party under Prime Minister Rama with his movement and was elected president of parliament in 2013.

Meta also faced a slew of allegations of corruption and voter intimidation. In 2011, a video even surfaced in which he discussed bribes over government contracts. He resigned, but  violent protests still broke out and during these protests four people were killed. In the course of these events, the opposing groups tried to achieve their respective goals with a variety of measures. The general prosecutor decided to open an investigation as to whether Meri was guilty. At the same time, then-Prime Minister, Sali Berisha, showed his support for Meta and even started an “independent investigation” accusing his opponents of “trying to overthrow the government (Abrahams 2015, 290). The discussion in the Supreme Court then was not so much about the allegations against Meta as such, but “whether a secretly recorded video could be admitted as evidence” (Filaj-Ballvora 2012). In the end, the Supreme Court declared Meta not guilty, which was in line with a variety of corruption charges against a string of politicians being postponed. It should be added that Meta has denied the accusations and insisted that they were “political in nature” (Likmeta 2017). The process did not hamper Meta’s political career as he became speaker of parliament after the victory of the Socialist under Edi Rama in 2013. Now he is even the new President of the Republic of Albania.

Prospects for the parliamentary elections in June 2017
The election of Meta as the new President will certainly not help to solve the political stalemate between the oppositional DP and the ruling Socialist Party with Rama as Prime Minister. As might have been expected, the DP heavily criticized the election and in particular the Prime Minister for “being a hypocrite for handing the presidency to a man he once accused of being ‘the symbol of everything rotten happening in Albania’” (Koleka 2017). But in this ‘mélange’ the hypocrisy lies on both sides, because it was Sali Berish as DP Prime Minister, who supported the acquittal of Meta in 2012.

Nevertheless, this election will only make the DP and its allies more determined – a decision that was criticized by representatives of the European Union and the United States, who urged them to withdraw their boycott and reach a compromise. But after the election, some DP deputies threatened to boycott both the upcoming parliamentary elections as well as local elections. As David Clark has correctly emphasized, “(a)n election with only one participant would install a government with immense power but no legitimacy, dividing the country and forcing politics on to the street” (Clark 2017). This would make Albania ungovernable and with its key role in the Balkans, this would be a horrifying prospect for the whole region.

Literature:

Abrahams, Fred (2015): Modern Albania. From Dictatorship to Democracy in Europe. New York University Press.
Clark, David (2017): EU cannot ignore Albania’s descent into disorder, in: https://www.ft.com/content/7350d242-36fd-11e7-99bd-13beb0903fa3
EurAsia Daily (2017): Political crisis in Albania: parliamentarians failing to elect president
Подробнее: https://eadaily.com/en/news/2017/04/20/political-crisis-in-albania-parliamentarians-failing-to-elect-president
Deutsche Welle (2017): Ilir Meta ist neuer Präsident Albaniens, in: http://www.dw.com/de/ilir-meta-ist-neuer-pr%C3%A4sident-albaniens/a-38635445
Filaj-Ballvora, Vilma (2012): Acquittal highlights Albania’s ‘culture of impunity’, in: http://www.dw.com/en/acquittal-highlights-albanias-culture-of-impunity/a-15680992
Likmeta, Besa (2017): Albania MPs Elect Speaker Meta as President, in: http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/parliament-speaker-ilir-meta-elected-albania-president-04-28-2017

Serbia – Aleksandar Vučić: the old and new strongman of Serbian politics

In this post, I examine the first and because of the results also final round of presidential elections in Serbia. The election was held on April 2 and Prime Minister Vučić won in this first round with predicted 54.9 % of the votes (with Sasa Jankovic coming as second with 16.2%) (see for the results Rudic 2017). This election comes roughly one year after the early parliamentary dissolution and the ensuing snap elections also won by Vučić. In the following, I will first briefly describe the process between the parliamentary and presidential elections, the campaign and motivations that might have driven Vučić’ candidacy. This is then followed by an assessment of the consequences of the results for the political process and the democratic development in Serbia.

In March 2016, the Serbian President – then Tomislav Nikolić – dissolved the National Assembly (Narodna skupština) and called for early elections (the third in four years). The reasons for the dissolution that I described in an earlier blog post discussing the parliamentary elections apply surprisingly well again and show the motivation why Vučić ran as candidate for the presidency.

Similar to the snap parliamentary elections last spring, the run for president by Vučić is widely viewed as move to cement the ruling of the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS). One main motive for the 2016 snap election was pointedly formulated by the following quote: “Vučić may simply […] cash in on his popularity, while it lasts” (Stojanović and Casal Bértoa 2016). But considering the results of the early parliamentary elections, the political move of Vučić did not work as expected. The SNS lost 27 seats in parliament and was far off by the projected +50% result (Pavlović 2017, 55). Even more important was a newly emerging opposition that was virtually non-existent or heavily discredited prior to the 2016 election. As Prelec (2016) has pointedly argued: “Vučić is no longer the only bastion of ‘Europeanness’ in Serbia”. This opposition consists now of an even more diverse group ranging from far-right to progressive movements. But still 48.2 percent of the votes guaranteed Vučić and the SNS a strong position, albeit within a coalition government he formed with some delay in August 2016. Many observers, including me, assumed that the new and old Prime Minister could continue his “domestic and foreign policy course [..] enacting the political and economic changes required for membership in the European Union, while simultaneously seeking closer relations with Russia.” (Brunwasser 2017)

But then something unexpected happened. Several viable candidates outside of the SNS influence emerged and made the presidency suddenly a possible veto point for Vučić’s plans of political leadership. Among possible contestants the most promising where Ljubisa Preletacevic-Beli (an alias used by a satirical campaign) and the former ombudsman, Sasa Jankovic.  Vučić’s solution to the problem was running for president by himself. Next to the obvious threat of a loss of power Boban Stojanović, Fernando Casal Bértoa (2017) named 2 further reasons why he decided to do so, “the temptation of ‘illiberal democracy’” and “little significant change in terms of his [Vučić] capacity to influence policy or exert power”. In particular, the second argument needs some clarification. Contrary to what a variety of outlets reported, we should be careful when we characterize the presidency in Serbia as “largely symbolic” (Brunwasser 2017). Depending on the party majorities and the actors occupying the main posts within the executive, the assessment of intra-executive relations varies dramatically. One example would be the comparative case of the presidency of Boris Tadić. During his first term – also a period of cohabitation – he was often described as inactive. This however changed dramatically when his Democratic Party (DS) won the 2007 and 2008 parliamentary election. In his double role as chair of the party and president of the country he wielded enormous political influence and clearly dominated intra-executive relations. Mirko Cvetković as Prime Minister was however highly respected and his term and cabinet broke for a short time the unfortunate tradition of frequent cabinet reshuffles and snap elections.

After Sunday’s election and the landslide victory of Vučić, we can expect a similar development for Vučić’s presidency, when it comes to the part about the president’s dominance over the prime minister. He will influence the political landscape more than his predecessor Tomislav Nikolić. Vučić will also aim for stability but this stability will actually mean something entirely different: stabilizing in this case will result in an even firmer and more authoritarian grasp on power in his bid for even more. Shortly after the election results were published, demonstrations against Vučić started all across Serbia and the organizers in several cities announced that they plan to continue their protest against election fraud, partisanship of media outlets and Vučić’s authoritarian tendencies.

Literature

Brunwasser, Matthew (2017): Serbia’s Prime Minister Projected to Win Presidency, Consolidating Control, in: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/02/world/europe/serbia-aleksandar-vucic-president-elections.html

Pavlović, Dušan (2017): Serbian Presidential Elections, in: Contemporary Southeastern Europe, in: http://www.suedosteuropa.uni-graz.at/cse/sites/default/files/papers/pavlovic_serbian_elections_2016.pdf

Prelec, Tena: Serbian parliamentary election 2016: A gamble that almost backfired, in: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2016/04/26/serbian-parliamentary-election-2016-a-gamble-that-almost-backfired

Rudic, Filip (2017): Vucic Wins Serbian Presidential Elections, in: http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/vucic-wins-serbian-presidential-elections-04-02-2017-1
Stojanović, Boban and Casal Bértoa, Fernando (2017): Serbia’s prime minister just became president. What’s wrong with this picture? https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2017/04/04/serbias-prime-minister-just-became-president-whats-wrong-with-this-picture/?utm_term=.8cdfe26a5d7e

Stojanović, Boban and Casal Bértoa, Fernando (2016): There are 4 reasons countries dissolve their parliaments. Here’s why Serbia did, in: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/04/22/there-are-4-reasons-countries-dissolve-their-parliaments-heres-why-serbia-did/ (April 22).

Republic of Macedonia – Problems of government formation

In a blog post in December 2016 about the parliamentary elections in the Republic of Macedonia[1] I already chose a pessimistic tone about a swift and stable coalition formation. The events since then have confirmed this pessimistic outlook. In the following I will briefly describe the problems preceding the election results and constitutional provisions regarding government formation. This is followed by an analysis of the coalition talks and the current crisis following President Ivanov’s decision not to agree to the formation of a new social-democratic government under a new Prime Minister, the Social Democrat Zoran Zaev.

On December 11, 2016 the Republic of Macedonia held parliamentary elections – after rescheduling two times (KAS 2016). The European Union had forced the different political groups to settle their conflict with the Pržino Agreement (European Commission 2015) and the resignation of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski. Gruevski was accused of being responsible for spying endeavors, allegedly using the information in the tapes to enhance his economic status and his personal political power. To further stoke up the conflict President Ivanov even pardoned some public figures accused in the wiretapping scandal – a decision he later revoked (see e.g. Casule 2016).

The parliamentary elections were supposed to solve this crisis but resulted in a narrow win of 51 seats (in the 120 seats parliament) by the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE and its chair, the former Prime Minister Gruevski. They were closely followed by the oppositional Social Democrats (SDSM) with 49 seats (Sekularac/Casule 2016). Art. 90 of the constitution stipulates a 10-days deadline within the president must ask the representative of the winning party to hold coalition talks. President Ivanov did just that and Gruevski had 20 days to organize a coalition majority to win the investiture vote in parliament. But the negotiations with the three ethnic-Albanian parties did not result in any coalition agreement with Gruevski. Instead Zoran Zaev and the Social Democrats could find support with the three minority parties and agreed on a coalition. But President Ivanov did not give Zaev the constitutionally required mandate for a new government (Verseck 2017).

President Ivanov based his decision officially on – what he calls a threat “of the unity of the country as the ethnic Albanian parties want greater rights for their community and a broader use of the Albanian language” (Dzhambazova 2017). This is a particularly odd claim as the ‘leading’ Social Democrats within this coalition are still mainly ethnic Macedonians. But further reasons that were listed that demands made by the Albanic minority parties concerning the official language and the status of the minority are allegedly unconstitutional (Verseck 2017). These are perceived – by some – as treats to the unity of the nation and an interference by another country.

Prior to the start of the coalition talks, these parties were determined to strengthen their claim on enhancing minority rights and better representation of Albanian demands. Among these demands were a constitutional amendment to recognize both Albanian and Macedonian as bilingual languages and “’equal participation’ in the country’s army, security, intelligence and judicial branches and a say in negotiations with Greece regarding a dispute over the country’s name.” (Testorides 2016) It is not clear how much of these demands will be met by the Social Democrats but Zaev presented his platform during a news conference. During this he explained that part of the coalition agreement was the “official use of Albanian and of other languages of ethnic minorities” (Marusic 2017). He also confirmed that he had met with constitutional experts and got their opinion on different aspects of a new language law. The overall sentiment was his intent to inform the reeling parts of the Macedonian population about his ideas.

Most observers agree that President Ivanov’s decision to withhold the mandate for government formation was, as Florian Bieber put it for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, “an effort to ‘ethnicize’ a party conflict” (RFE/RL 2017). Even Federica Mogherini (Foreign Policy Chief European Union) has cautioned President Ivanov and reportedly asked him to “scale down the rhetoric” (Dzhambazova 2017). Her valid fear is that this inter-state conflict might turn into something large, affecting the whole – geopolitically sensitive – region. At the same time the Russian Foreign Ministry has declared its support for President Ivanov’s decision (Dzhambazova 2017).

Others have argued in a similar direction highlighting the instrumentalization of this political conflict. Not least, a lot of representatives within the VMRO-DPMNE have a lot to lose when facing an actual investigation and/or prosecution. This is something we can expect as soon as they lose power. What President Ivanov declared as necessary to guarantee the unity of the nation was called a “coup” (The Economist 2017) by the Social Democrats. Both sides seem to be determined to stand their ground: former Prime Minister Gruevski has called the ‘people’ to defend their state on state television (N1 TV 2017), opposition leader Zaev at the same time called for a peaceful transfer of power (Marusic 2017).

The influence of the European Union at this critical stage will be decisive, it is however unclear what strategy official EU representatives will pursue: today, March 22, Johannes Hahn (Commissioner European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations) will head to Skopje giving his input on the solution of the crisis (Hahn 2017). This will most probably be one of many attempts that might even lead to another round of parliamentary elections.

References:
Casule, Kaev (2016): Macedonian president pardons 56 in wiretap scandal, U.S. raps move.  April 13, in: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-macedonia-wiretap-usa-idUSKCN0XA1ZB (last accessed June 5, 2016)

Dzhambazova, Boryana: Macedonia sinks deeper into post-election limbo, in: http://www.politico.eu/article/post-election-limbo-deepens-macedonian-stand-off-gjorge-ivanov/ (last accessed March 19, 2017)

European Commission (2015): Agreement in Skopje to overcome political crisis. July 15, in:
https://ec.europa.eu/commission/2014-2019/hahn/announcements/agreement-skopje-overcome-political-crisis_en (last accessed June 5, 2016).

Hahn, Johannes (2017): Twitter Feed, https://twitter.com/eu_near/status/843796060745162752 (last accessed March 20, 2017)

KAS (2016): The Republic of Macedonia’s 2016 Parliamentary Elections Handbook, in: http://www.kas.de/wf/doc/kas_21036-1442-61-30.pdf?161201152443 (last accessed January 16, 2017)

Marusic, Sinisa Jakov (2017): Zaev Unveils Platform, Vows to Respect Macedonia’s Constitution, in: www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/macedonia-s-zaev-reveals-new-govt-platform-03-10-2017 (last accessed March 19, 2017)

N1 TV (2017): Gruevski: Država napadnuta, potrebno je da je narod odbrani, in: http://rs.n1info.com/a236089/Svet/Region/Gruevski-Drzava-napadnuta-potrebno-je-da-je-narod-odbrani.html (last accessed March 19, 2017)

RFE/RL (2017): http://www.rferl.org/a/macedonia-analysis-albanian-law-political-crisis-gruevski-zaev-ivanov-vmro/28358253.html

Riedel, Sabine. 2005. Die Erfindung der Balkanvölker. Wiesbaden: Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.

Sekularac, Ivana/Casule Kole (2016): Macedonia’s nationalists win election: official results. December 25, in: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-macedonia-election-result-idUSKBN1412L2 (last accessed January 16, 2017)

Testorides, Konstantin (2017): Macedonia’s Ethnic Albanians Want Nation Declared Bilingual. January 7, in: http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/macedonias-ethnic-albanians-nation-declared-bilingual-44621387 (last accessed January 16, 2017)

Verseck, Keno (2017): Wahlfälscher, Erpresser, Provokateure, in: http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/mazedonien-machtkampf-droht-die-gesamte-region-zu-erfassen-a-1138223.html (last accessed March 19, 2017)

Notes

[1] In this post the constitutional name ‘Republic of Macedonia’ is used (as it is accepted by the majority of UN member states). For the Greek-Macedonian naming dispute, see e.g. Riedel (2005, 141ff.)

Republic of Macedonia – Parliamentary elections and government formation

After nearly two years of intense political conflict, the Republic of Macedonia[1] finally held parliamentary elections in December 2016. In the following I will briefly describe the problems preceding the first attempt to elect a new parliament. This is followed by an analysis of the campaign and final attempt to hold the elections as well as the government formation in the Republic of Macedonia.

Early in 2015 a dramatic spying operation was made public by the Republic of Macedonia’s opposition and led to political unrest and protests. This scandal and the ensuing events[2] made the difficult situation of the Republic of Macedonia – that comes with the many sensitive issues in a multiethnic state, where the Slavic-Macedonian majority and the Albanian minority claim the same territory – even more difficult.

The EU forced the different political groups to settle this conflict with the Pržino Agreement (European Commission 2015) and the resignation of Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski. Gruevski, who was widely accused of being responsible for the spying endeavors, allegedly used the information in the tapes to enhance his economic status and his personal political power. Despite the objections of the leading opposition party, parliament was dissolved and early parliamentary elections were scheduled initially for April, and then for June 2016. Yet, after the constitutional court declared the dissolution unconstitutional, parliament decided to move the elections (Mikhaylova 2016).

After this disaster, the next parliamentary elections were scheduled for December 11, 2016 and they were the fourth consecutive snap elections in the Republic of Macedonia (KAS 2016). But again, since the announcement of the election date, several issues continued to emerge. A recent analysis of the parliamentary election by the German Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation listed several issues, among them most importantly “the disproportionate number of voters in the electoral units and the initiative to alter the electoral units“ (KAS 2016, 11). The Przino Agreement was also aimed to confront some of these problems and parliament adopted several laws that amended the electoral code (Election Code 2015).

Finally, on December 11, 2016 the parliamentary elections were held and resulted in the narrow win of 51 seats (in the 120 seats parliament) by the nationalist VMRO-DPMNE and its chair, the former PM Gruevski. A contentious re-run in one electoral district was organized but did not change the overall result. The oppositional Social Democrats won 49 seats, and it seems that “Albanian voters in Macedonia shifted toward the Social Democrats in significant numbers for the first time since a 2001 interethnic conflict“ (Sekularac/Casule 2016). Within the 10-days deadline as stipulated by Art. 90 of the constitution, President Gjorge Ivanov asked Gruevski to hold coalition talks with the goal to form a new government. Gruevski has now 20 days to organize a coalition majority to win the investiture vote in parliament (Art. 90)

The only possible coalition partner comes from among the three Albanian parties, most probably Gruevski’s former coalition partner Democratic Union for Integration (DUI). DUI will be represented with 10 deputies in the new parliament. Yet, the DUI is far from consolidated as it splintered in 2015 when key members left the party (RFE/RL 2016). Additionally, it faced several new parties that also represent the ethnic Albanians as well as the shift of Albanian votes towards the Social Democrats (RFE/RL 2016). Shortly before President Ivanov announced his decision to ask former PM Gruevski to form the government again, the three ethnic Albanian parties adopted a joint platform to strengthen their claim on enhancing minority rights and better representation of Albanian demands. Among these demands are a constitutional amendment to recognize both Albanian and Macedonian as official languages and “’equal participation’ in the country’s army, security, intelligence and judicial branches and a say in negotiations with Greece regarding a dispute over the country’s name.“ (Testorides 2016) Thus, it remains to be seen whether the future actually holds a stable parliamentary majority that can implement some of the necessary reforms. Considering the events of the last two years, it would be a surprise if the pattern of snap elections, scandal and intense political disputes does not persist in the near future.

References:
Casule, Kaev (2016): Macedonian president pardons 56 in wiretap scandal, U.S. raps move. April 13, in: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-macedonia-wiretap-usa-idUSKCN0XA1ZB (last accessed June 5, 2016)
Election Code (2015): Law on changes and amendments to the Election Code, Official Gazette of Republic of Macedonia, No. 196 of 10 November 2015, in: http://www.slvesnik.com.mk/Issues/63cc34eb402342698f7e82e59629175a.pdf (Accessed 16 January 2017)
European Commission (2015): Agreement in Skopje to overcome political crisis. July 15, in:
https://ec.europa.eu/commission/2014-2019/hahn/announcements/agreement-skopje-overcome-political-crisis_en (last accessed June 5, 2016).
KAS (2016): The Republic of Macedonia’s 2016 Parliamentary Elections Handbook, in: http://www.kas.de/wf/doc/kas_21036-1442-61-30.pdf?161201152443 (last accessed January 16, 2017)
Mikhaylova, Marina (2016): Macedonia’s Constitutional Court annuls parliament dissolution. May 25, in: https://seenews.com/news/macedonias-constitutional-court-annuls-parliament-dissolution-526229#.dpuf (last accessed June 5, 2016)
RFE/RL (2016): Macedonians vote in tiny election rerun with national vote in the balance. December 2016, in: http://www.rferl.org/a/macedonia-election-vote-rerun-one-district/28195638.html (last accessed January 15, 2017)
Sekularac, Ivana/Casule Kole (2016): Macedonia’s nationalists win election: official results. December 25, in: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-macedonia-election-result-idUSKBN1412L2 (last accessed January 16, 2017)
Riedel, Sabine. 2005. Die Erfindung der Balkanvölker. Wiesbaden: Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.
Testorides, Konstantin (2017): Macedonia’s Ethnic Albanians Want Nation Declared Bilingual. January 7, in: http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/macedonias-ethnic-albanians-nation-declared-bilingual-44621387 (last accessed January 16, 2017)

[1] In this post the constitutional name ‘Republic of Macedonia’ is used (as it is accepted by the majority of UN member states). For the Greek-Macedonian naming dispute, see e.g. Riedel (2005, 141ff.)

[2] For example the pardoning of public figures accused in the wiretapping scandal by President Ivanov – a decision he later revoked (see e.g. Casule 2016).

Moldova – Presidential election Round 2 between Igor Dodon and Maia Sandu

The Republic of Moldova is a small country, penned in between Romania and Ukraine. It holds the sad title of being the poorest nation in Europe. And sure, one reason to engage more thoroughly with Moldova is the unquestionable wine culture; yet even more important is its geopolitical position in between two influential poles (the European Union and Russia) and its fascinating constitutional development since its independence in 1991. The constitutional choices made throughout the last 25 years cover variations of executive-legislative relations rarely found in the post-soviet area: in an earlier blog post I described it as a ping pong game (see Fruhstorfer 2016). At the moment the game is back to a semi-presidential system with a directly elected president. In this post, I try to offer a brief overview of the campaign and an analysis of the second round of the presidential election in Moldova.

One of the important slogans of the presidential campaign was in this or similar style “Viitorul Moldovei este alături de o Rusie puternică“ (Moldova’s future is with a strong Russia). This slogan illustrates the choice that was proposed to the people of Moldova. The two frontrunners after the first round of the election were generally described as the embodiment of this choice. Igor Dodon of the Party of Socialists (PSRM) plays the pro-Russian role and promised – among other things – to call for a referendum to withdraw from the European Union trade agreement. Maia Sandu played the clear role of an outspoken supporter of Moldova’s integration into the European Union.

But next to these candidates, who faced each other also in the second round, there are several other important actors that in one-way or another are of interest for the understanding of these elections. I would like to mention them briefly: First, Renato Usatii, who was no candidate in this presidential election. This is mainly related to the constitutional court decision to abolish the 2000 constitutional amendment and re-establish the direct election of the president. In this decision the court excluded some provisions. Most importantly it did not return to the age limit for running as president as stipulated by the 1994 constitution. This means the court showed great judicial activism and thus presumably excluded Usatii from running for president. In his place, Dumitru Ciubasenco (a journalist and self-proclaimed opponent of Plahotniuc’s oligarchic regime) ran as candidate for Our Party (he received only 6% of votes during the first round).

Another candidate, Andrei Năstase, withdrew his candidacy shortly before the election in support of Maia Sandu. Some argue that he was forced to do so by external pressure (i.e. the United States of America), but Năstase claimed he wanted to help in building a strong anti-Dodon coalition led by Sandu. The presidential bid of Marian Lupu, the chairman of the Democratic Party (Tass 2016) took a similar road, he also withdrew in support of the pro-EU candidate Sandu.

After the first round of the presidential election, during which only 49% of eligible citizens cast their votes (Rusnac 2016), none of the candidates received the necessary absolute majority. 48.3 % votes for Dodon and 38.4 % for Sandu (Rusnac 2016). These two candidates were then also the choice that represented itself to the people of Moldova: voting for Igor Dodon from the Party of Socialists (PSRM), an outspoken Putin fan, who campaigned for closer ties with Russia (BBC 2016) or voting for the pro-EU candidate Maia Sandu. Dodon won with 52.28% of votes (47.82 voted for Sandu). The voter turnout for the second round (53.54%, see BBC 2016) increased, which I initially assumed would lead to a better chance for Sandu to win the election. So why did Igor Dodon win?

There are several reasons and we have to analyze each of them very carefully in further research: Yet for this post I will suggest that the following aspects played an important role.
First, the campaign for the second round was – although brief – dirty, revengeful and consisted merely in the smearing of candidates. But Dodon also managed to paint a slightly different picture of his ties with Russia than during the first round. This obviously was intended to gain the support of more moderate voters. It is also astounding that an anonymous ambassador for a EU member state revealed, “Dodon had privately told diplomats his party would not jettison the EU accord“ (CBC News 2016).

But still, Dodon (Minister of Economy during the ruling of the communist party 2006-2009) was running a smear-campaign. He attacked Sandu, her integrity and her past as member of the ruling elite (she was Minister of Education 2012-2015). He even tried to associate her with the devastating billion-dollar heist that left the country’s monetary system in peril (as far as the evidence suggest this allegation is unsubstantiated and she even demanded a more thorough investigation, see Brett et al. 2015).

Furthermore Dodon was supported by traditional media, had a much stronger ground game and was even supported by the Moldovan Orthodox Church (RFE/RL 2016). The support of the church is a particularly interesting element in this election as it points to an increasing influence of the Russian Orthodox Church on Moldova (a phenomenon which can be observed in a variety of post-soviet countries). It is also worth noting that parts of the church leadership also engaged in the smear campaign against Sandu.

Similarly, the media support for Dodon might seem surprising as one of central figures in Moldovan politics and owner of a large media group is Vlad Plahotniuc, vice chair of the pro-EU Democratic Party (PDM). His role is mysterious. Some argue that he did not declare his support for Sandu publicly (see RFE/RL 2016), although some reports suggest otherwise (Popsoi 2016). Either way if Sandu had his support it was not necessarily helpful for her campaign; some labeled the support “toxic“ (Popsoi 2016). What is even more unexpected is that traditional media largely owned by him seem to have been more inclined to support Dodon. Some reports even claim that Dodon used Plahotniuc’s private jet during this campaign, but I cannot confirm this information with reliable sources.

As in many semi-presidential systems, also the Republic of Moldova now faces a period of cohabitation. It is unclear how confrontational this one will be. Prime Minister Pavel Filip from the Democratic Party (PDM) suggested a pragmatic working relationship. Thus, it remains to be seen if the future actually holds a Filip-Plahotniuc-Dodon cooperation or if we will observe a further perpetuation of the conflict between the government in favor of EU integration and a head of state in favor of close ties with Russia.

Literature

BBC (2016): Pro-Moscow figure Igor Dodon claims Moldova presidency. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-37970155. November 14 [accessed November 15, 2016]
Brett, Daniel; Knott, Ellie; Popsoi, Mihai (2015): The ‘billion dollar protests’ in Moldova are threatening the survival of the country’s political elite, in http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/europpblog/2015/09/21/the-billion-dollar-protests-in-moldova-are-threatening-the-survival-of-the-countrys-political-elite/, September 21 [accessed November 15, 2016]
CBC News (2016): Moldova elects a new president, who is seen as friendly to Putin, in http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/moldova-presidential-election-dodon-sandu-1.3849499, November 14 [accessed November 15, 2016]
Fruhstorfer, Anna (2016): Back to the future: The abolition of the parliamentary system in Moldova, in http://presidential-power.com/?p=4588
Popsoi, Mihai (2016): Russia Scores Symbolic Victory in Moldova’s Presidential Election, in:  https://moldovanpolitics.com/2016/11/14/russia-scores-symbolic-victory-in-moldovas-presidential-election/, November 14 [accessed November 15, 2016]
RFE/RL (2016): Moldova Presidential Election Headed For Runoff, http://www.rferl.org/a/moldova-presidential-election-close-contentious/28082659.html. October 31 [accessed November 15, 2016]
Rusnac, Cornelia. 2016. “Moldovan Presidential Election Goes to Runoff“, ABC News, In. http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/moldovan-presidential-election-runoff-43185557 [accessed October 31, 2016]
TASS (2016): Moldova’s opposition candidate drops out of presidential race, in http://tass.com/world/908914. October 26 [accessed November 15, 2016]

Sources

Constitution of the Republic of Moldova. Available at https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Moldova_2006?lang=en. (accessed July 13, 2015)
Constitutional Amendment. 2000. Law No. 1115-XIV of July 5, 2000. Monitorul Oficial al R. Moldova, No. 88–90 July 28, 2000. Chișinău, July 28.
Constitutional Court of Moldova. 2016. Curtea Constituţională a restabilit dreptul cetăţenilor de a-şi alege Preşedintele. March 4. http://www.constcourt.md/libview.php?l=ro&idc=7&id=759&t=/Prezentare-generala/Serviciul-de-presa/Noutati/Curtea-Constitutionala-a-restabilit-dreptul-cetatenilor-de-a-si-alege-Presedintele. (Accessed March 6, 2016)

Presidential elections in Moldova

In this post, I examine the first round of presidential elections in Moldova. The election was held on October 30 – for the first time in 20 years as direct election. After the surprising ruling of the Moldovan Constitutional Court in March 2016 the country returned to a semi-presidential system by abolishing the constitutional amendment of 2000. Hence, the direct election of the Moldovan President is nothing completely new. And it is probably also not surprising that the cleavages and the areas of tension remained the same as during the last direct presidential election of Petru Lucinschi in November 1996. In the following, I will first briefly describe the important constitutional amendments and decisions concerning the direct election of the president. This is followed by an overview of the campaign preceding the election, and the results. The two frontrunner during the campaing – Igor Dodon of the Party of Socialists (PSRM)  and Maia Sandu of the Action and Solidarity Party – will also face each other in the runoff election on November 13 (this also means to stay tuned; this post will have a follow-up after the second round of the elections in two weeks).

Until recently Moldova was one of the few parliamentary systems with a not directly elected president in the post-soviet space. A constitutional amendment to the 1994 constitution abolished the direct election of the president and significantly reduced the presidential power (see Fruhstorfer 2016). This 2000 amendment was however not uncontroversial and was rather the culmination of an enduring conflict between President Lucinschi and several prime ministers. The amendment was intended to solve this conflict and to put the president in a clearer position and strengthen the power of the prime minister and the parliamentary majority. Yet this did not have the intended effect and resulted in further constitutional conflicts. In particular the constitutional provision that a president needs a three-fifth majority in parliament to be elected, led to several deadlocks over the years. This specific majority was also the reason why the constitutional court declared the 2000 amendment unconstitutional (Constitutional Court 2016). According to Art. 141 on the amendment of the constitution, amendment laws can be “submitted to Parliament on condition that the Constitutional Court issues the appropriate recommendation supported by at least 4 judges”. But the constitutional amendment procedure did not correctly follow these rules. In particular the text of the amendment initiative changed between first and second reading in parliament. The initial draft included the more reasonable 51 votes (out of 101) majority (Digi 24 2016) to become elected president of Moldova.

Thus, for 20 years the president was not directly elected and political actors struggled with the increased majority provision. But the issues that triggered the 2000 amendment are not solved by a return to the constitutional provisions of the 1994 constitution. I wrote in an earlier Blog post on the constitutional court decision that “the 1994 constitution failed to establish a clear separation of competences, especially favoring presidential dominance.” (Fruhstorfer 2016a) And although 20 years have passed, a lot of the struggles that tormented the country in the 90ies are still on the table and became important issues in the 2016 presidential campaign.

This campaign was – as in a variety of other countries in the region – dominated by two topics: first, the orientation towards the European Union or a return to Russian influence and second, the fight against corruption. Whereas the first issue is one of the dominant features, it is also generally pretty vague. Yet, the two frontrunners after the first round of the election have issued rather clear ideas what their plans on this issue are. Igor Dodon of the Party of Socialists (PSRM) who is consistently labeled as pro-Russia promised to call for a referendum to withdraw from the European Union trade agreement. Instead he plans to work closer with the Eurasian Customs Union. Maia Sandu on the other side is an outspoken supporter of increasing ties with the European Union. Her platform Action and Solidarity, now labeled Action and Solidarity Party, promises instead „to build a European Republic of Moldova“ (Program 2016). Concerning the second issue, corruption, also both candidates promise to fight it once and for all. This is mostly with reference to the many political scandals – most severely the 1 billion USD theft and the arrest and involvement of a number of political actors, among them former Prime Minister Vlat Filat. Already in her manifest, Sandu and the Action and Solidarity Party declare: „Minciuna a devenit o normă“ (Lying has become a norm) (Manifest 2016). And they promise to fight corruption with a new sincerity. This is seconded by Dodon, who declares himself outside the corrupt elite. But newspaper reports outside of Moldova paint a different picture about the actual wealth and involvement of Dodon in different enterprises and possible schemes over the last years.

These issues dominated the campaign throughout the summer. In particular the orientation towards the European Union or Russia shows how divided the country is (both in terms of regions that opt for different ties but also youth against elderly). Despite the intensity of the campaign, the turnout of election is rather low. According to Associated Press, only 49% of eligible citizens cast their votes (Rusnac 2016). This number is particularly low among young people and seems to hurt Sandu more than Dodon. Dodon received 48.3 %, hence did not get the absolute majority. Sandu received 38.4 % of votes (Rusnac 2016).  Based on these results it will largely depend on the voter turnout on November 13, 2016 who will become the next president and in which direction the Republic of Moldova is going to head.

References:
Digi 24 (2016). Surpriză totală în R. Moldova: Președintele va fi ales direct de popor, decide Curtea Constituțională, March 4. http://www.digi24.ro/Stiri/Digi24/Extern/Europa/Surpriza+totala+in+R+Moldova+Presedintele+va+fi+ales+direct+de+p. (accessed March 7, 2016)
Fruhstorfer, Anna. 2016a. Back to the future: The abolition of the parliamentary system in Moldova, In. http://presidential-power.com/?p=4588
Fruhstorfer, Anna and Michael, Hein. 2016. From Post-Socialist Transition to the Reform of Political Systems? Comparing Constitutional Politics in Central and Eastern Europe, in (ibid). Constitutional Politics in Central and Eastern Europe.
Fruhstorfer, Anna. 2016. “Constitutional Politics in Moldova.” In Constitutional Politics in Central and Eastern Europe. Edited by Anna Fruhstorfer and Michael Hein. Springer VS.
Quinlan, Paul D. 2002. “Moldova under Lucinschi.” Demokratizatsiya 10(1): 83–103.
Rusnac, Cornelia. 2016. “Moldovan Presidential Election Goes to Runoff“, ABC News, In. http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/moldovan-presidential-election-runoff-43185557 [accessed October 31, 2016]

Sources:
Constitution of the Republic of Moldova. Available at https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Moldova_2006?lang=en. (accessed July 13, 2015)
Constitutional Amendment. 2000. Law No. 1115-XIV of July 5, 2000. Monitorul Oficial al R. Moldova, No. 88–90 July 28, 2000. Chișinău, July 28.
Constitutional Court of Moldova. 2016. Curtea Constituţională a restabilit dreptul cetăţenilor de a-şi alege Preşedintele. March 4. http://www.constcourt.md/libview.php?l=ro&idc=7&id=759&t=/Prezentare-generala/Serviciul-de-presa/Noutati/Curtea-Constitutionala-a-restabilit-dreptul-cetatenilor-de-a-si-alege-Presedintele. (Accessed March 6, 2016)
Manifest.2016. In, https://unpaspentru.md/manifest/#. [accessed October 30, 2016]
Program. 2016. The program of the political party „Action and Solidarity Party“, In. https://unpaspentru.md/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/PROGRAM_PAS_EN.pdf. [accessed October 30, 2016]

Are you with Milo or not? Parliamentary elections in Montenegro

Parliamentary elections are readily perceived as a new beginning. Not so in Montenegro. In the last years the dominant figure in Montenegrin politics was one person: Milo Đukanović. Unlike any other politician in this region, he remained on the forefront of political decision-making for now 25 years and switched between being prime minister and president. His political career and his ideological adaptation mirror the development of the country since the end of communist rule.

Once again this parliamentary election was not about new ideas or a vision for Montenegro. It was a medley of a struggle for survival by the ruling elite, accusations of election fraud by the opposition, and pressure by external actors (namely EU, NATO and Russia). The overarching question was rather simple, carry on as before or choose a new path? Based on these introductory remarks, I will in the following post, briefly describe how Milo Đukanović shaped the course of his country in the last 25 years, the specifics of the 2016 campaign and election and its consequences for the country.

To give you the executive summary of the election: Đukanović’s party won the election but without securing the absolute majority in parliament.

Milo Đukanović has and had formative influence on the democratic practice, the political process and the development of the society in Montenegro. His political career started after the end of communist rule and in the beginning he was a close ally of Slobodan Milosevic. He served as Prime Minister from 1991-1998, from 2003-2006, from 2008-2010 and since 2012. In between he was President of the Republic from 1998-2003 (Prime Minister Montenegro 2016). His personal dominance was not clearly evident right from the beginning. Contrary to Croatia or Serbia, Montenegro was dominated by a so-called ruling oligarchy (Vukicević and Vujovic 2012, 56). Members of this oligarchy were e.g. Momir Bulatovic, Svetozar Marovic and most certainly also Milo Đukanović(see Banovic 2016). Đukanovićremained the dominant force since then and has changed his political allies and orientation that “(t)oday, he’s a leading voice for EU and NATO integration” (Rujevic 2016).

The campaign for the 2016 parliamentary elections was consequently described as choice between two directions: 1) EU membership with NATO Integration and thus a clear orientation towards the West or 2) to become once again a “Russian Colony”, as Đukanovićdramatically put it in one of his pre-election rallies (see for reports e.g. Deutsche Welle 2016). This harsh contrast provides a clear choice that does not necessarily exist beyond the electoral campaign and the blurry lines of everyday politics. And even more importantly, it diverts the attention of the citizens.

The way towards the West and the possible accession of NATO is a difficult topic for Montenegro: (U)p until 1997, Montenegro shared Serbia’s fate under the authoritarian Miloševićregime“( Banovic 2016, 290, see also Vujadinović 2002, 14).
 This fate included also the shared experience of the NATO bombings on the then Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Hence, neither the economic development in Montenegro nor the level of corruption were an important topic in the campaign as one would expect. One further reason for this obvious neglect of a serious evaluation of the political development of Montenegro is the division among oppositional forces. A 3% threshold is necessary to gain parliamentary representation and 34 parties (RFE/RL 2016) were competing in this parliamentary election.

Within this context, on October 17, Montenegro elected a new parliament. The arrest of allegedly Serbian paramilitaries on election day was only one of various events that arguably influenced the election. Some of these event, like the arrest, looked from the outside sometimes as propaganda moves by the government to gain support for its course toward the West. On an important side note: Serbian influence on Montenegrin politics is a very sensible topic and as author I would like to make it clear that any assessment of the substance of these motivations behind the arrests is not possible. It is also not clear if this event influenced the election substantially. Several polls – although I could not confirm their reliability – were already showing a significant lead for Đukanović’s Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS, Demokratska Partija Socijalista Crne Gore) over the last few months. This expectation was confirmed on Sunday with a 41% majority, which will result in 36 seats in parliament (RFE/RL 2016) for DPS. This result forces the DPS to form a coalition government and include one of the opposition forces to gain the absolute majority in the 81-seat parliament.

But the opposition is reluctant to accept the results of the election and questions its fairness. They accuse government that the arrests in the morning of the Election Day were made merely for propaganda. Another serious issue – that goes right to the core of democratic elections and free speech – was the blocking of Viber and What’sApp on Election Day. This was also part of the concerns described by the OECD observation team. This team declared that the 2016 parliamentary election was “held in a competitive environment and fundamental freedoms were generally respected” (Stojanovic 2016). But members of the observation team – foremost Marietje Schaake (member of EU parliament) criticized the limitation of freedom of speech by blocking main tools to communicate (Stojanovic 2016). As the official report of the OECD will only be published in a few weeks, it remains unclear how substantiated the claims of electoral manipulation are. But, one thing is for sure; these claims will not make the coalition building for Đukanovićand the DPS easier.

References

Banović, Damir (2016): Montenegro, in: Fruhstorfer, Anna, and Michael Hein (eds): Constitutional Politics in Central and Eastern Europe, 289-306.

Deutsche Welle (2016): Montenegro’s longtime ruler faces ballot test (October 16), in: http://www.dw.com/en/montenegros-longtime-ruler-faces-ballot-test/a-36052927 [last accessed October 18, 2016]

RFE/RL (2016): Montenegro’s Opposition Refuses To Recognize Pro-West Party’s Election Win (October 16), in: http://www.rferl.org/a/montenegro-russia-west/28056584.html [last accessed October 18, 2016]

Rujevic, Nemanja (2016): Election in Montenegro: For Milo, against Milo (October 14), in: Deutsche Welle, http://www.dw.com/en/election-in-montenegro-for-milo-against-milo/a-36045962 [last accessed October 18, 2016]

Prime Minister Montenegro (2016): Prime Minister of Montenegro Milo Djukanovic – Biography, in: http://www.predsjednik.gov.me/en/primeminister/Prime_Minister_s_biography [last accessed October 16, 2016.]

Stojanovic, Dusan (2016): WhatsApp, Viber blocked during Montenegro election day (October 17), in: http://www.sfchronicle.com/news/world/article/Opposition-claims-major-irregularities-in-9975486.php [last accessed October 19, 2016]

Vujadinović, Dragica. 2002. “Predgovor.” In Između autoritarizma i demokratije. Edited by Edited by Dragica Vujadinović, Veljak Lino, Vladimir Goati and Vladimir Pavićević, 9–17. Beograd: Cedet.

Vukičević, Boris, and Vujović, Zlatko (2012): Ustavni i političkopravni okvir parlamenta u Crnoj Gori 1989–2012, in: Demokratske performance parlamenata Srbije, Bosne i Hercegovine i Crne Gore. Edited by Slaviša Orlović, 55–76. Podgorica/Beograd/Sarajevo: Faculty for Political Sciencies in Belgrade, Sarajevo Open Centre and Faculty for Political Sciencies in Podgorica.

Croatia – Snap elections that made the moderate leader of the not-so-moderate HDZ the most likely candidate for Prime Minister

 

Dissolution of the Hrvatski sabor

In June 2016 a majority of deputies voted for the dissolution of the Croatian Parliament, which became effective July 15, 2016. This early dissolution came only a few months after the last parliamentary elections in November 2015. Unfortunately this election did not result in a clear majority for any of the two main parties (the nationalist, center-right HDZ and the center-left SDP). It was however expected that the then-ruling SDP and its Prime Minister Zoran Milanović would form the new government with the support of the newly established, and widely seen as independent, platform MOST. Yet, in a very surprising move, MOST formed a coalition government with the conservative HDZ. This coalition forced the SDP into opposition and was led by a widely unknown new Prime Minister Tihomir Orešković (Vlahovic 2016). The brief period of government until the dissolution of parliament in June was strongly influenced by the growing tensions between the main political representatives of MOST and HDZ, in particular between the MOST leadership and Tomislav Karamarko (then deputy prime minister and party leader of HDZ). MOST accused Karamarko of conflicts of interest by engaging into a public discussion of the national oil company (see for more detailed information Matijaca 2016).[1] Although it is widely reported that the calls of MOST for the resignation of Karamarko and thus the enduring conflict between MOST and HDZ were the trigger for the vote of no-confidence by HDZ deputies, the 5-months coalition government was also characterized by a growing gap between the policy interests of these two parties. What followed was an astounding act of self-destruction, the vote of no confidence initiated by the deputies of HDZ against their own prime minister. After the vote of no confidence was initiated and confirmed by a parliamentary majority President Grabar-Kitarović followed the provisions of Art. 104 of the constitution and dissolved the national assembly.[2]

Campaign between Andrej Plenković and Zoran Milanović

After the devastating experience of the 5 months government and the inability to form a new governmental majority the chair of the HDZ, Karamarko, resigned. Karamarko pursued a highly nationalist agenda and was partly responsible for increasing nationalist sentiments in the public discourse. He was succeeded by Andrej Plenković. Plenković pursues a very different agenda and started with the promise to push the HDZ closer to the middle. He was elected by the HDZ party members in July 2016 “in a sign it [HDZ] was distancing itself from ultra-conservative elements” (Byrne 2016). With the new party head of the HDZ, the duel between the two leading politicians – Plenković for the HDZ and Zoran Milanović for the SDP – started. And the campaign was right from the start personalized and at times left decency far behind. It became obvious that Milanović was prepared to fight against Karamarko but failed to find a proper way to campaign against Plenković. Personal insults were in particular made by Milanović against Plenković, one perceived offense against Plenković’s parents was widely reported. However, these personal attacks did not help Milanović, it rather helped HDZ in two ways: First, Plenković behaved differently in public and was thus inspiring more confidence and second, MOST aligned with HDZ in their pursuit to change the political culture in the country (Milekic 2016).

Election and election results

The election was held on September 11, and a total of 151 members of parliament were elected. According to the information provided by the Sabor (the Croatian Parliament) 140 members of parliament are elected in 10 territorial constituencies in Croatia. 3 are elected by Croatian citizens living abroad. 8 seats are reserved for ethnic minorities (Parliament of Croatia 2016). The deputies are elected in a proportional representation system and similar to other countries a 5 % electoral threshold is necessary.

The earlier mentioned rival parties, HDZ and SDP, each formed a party list. HDZ with Andrej Plenković run on the list called “Patriotic Coalition” and Zoran Milanović and the SDP on the list called “Croatia is Growing” (in cooperation with HNS, HSS and HSU).[3] In addition MOST and a number of other parties and coalitions stood for election.

Within this short campaign period between July and September, opinion polls frequently showed a tie between the two main competing parties. Yet, the official election results were different and presented a surprisingly clear winner, Andrej Plenkovic and the HDZ. Upon the report of the State Election Commission HDZ won 61 seats and the People’s Coalition only 54 seats (Milekic 2016a). The most likely option for a coalition will be once again HDZ with MOST – similar to the unsuccessful attempt earlier this year. Petrov, the leader of MOST, which won 13 seats in the National Assembly, obviously has this experience in mind when he announced after the election results were made public: “This time, we don’t expect only promises from them [potential coalition partners], but doing it as well. Parliament must be constituted, realise the conditions, and then only will the government be formed” (Milekic 2016a). The most likely coalition will however also need the support from the minority party representatives as they lack the absolute majority, necessary for example to investiture the government (Art. 111 constitution).

Literature
Byrne, Andrew (2016): Conservative HDZ wins Croatia vote. September 12, in: Financial Times, https://www.ft.com/content/278002c2-7874-11e6-97ae-647294649b28 (accessed September 12, 2016).
Croatian News Agency (2016): SDP to run in coalition with HNS, HSS and HSU. July 9, in: https://aboutcroatia.net/news/croatia/sdp-run-coalition-hns-hss-and-hsu-28485 (accessed September 10, 2016)
Matijaca, Danni (2016): It’s Official: Tomislav Karamarko Was in a Conflict of Interest. June 15, in: total croatia news, http://www.total-croatia-news.com/item/12461-it-s-official-tomislav-karamarko-was-in-a-conflict-of-interest (accessed September 10, 2016)
Milekic, Sven (2016): SDP Leader’s Tirades Leave Croats Bemused. August 30, in: Balkan Insights, http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/leftist-leader-tries-antagonizing-croatia-s-elections-campaign-08-29-2016 (accessed September 12, 2016).
Milekic, Sven (2016a): HDZ Looks to Form Croatia Govt After Surprise Win. September 12, in: Balkan Insights, http://www.balkaninsight.com/en/article/hdz-wins-on-croatia-elections-promises-government-09-12-2016 (accessed September 13, 2016).
Vlahovic, Natko (2016): Opinion. Business-minded PM could transform Croatia. January 25, in: EUobserver, https://euobserver.com/opinion/131967 (accessed September 10, 2016).

Parliament of Croatia (2016): http://www.sabor.hr/English

[1] Karamarko has over the years faced a broad range of accusations but has politically survived everything thus far.

[2] Grabar-Kitarović’s own term as president is characterized by partisanship towards the HDZ.

[3] Initially Plenković announced that HDZ will not run on the coalition platform. The abbreviations stand for Croatian People’s Party (HNS), the Croatian Peasant Party (HSS) and the Croatian Pensioners’ Party (HSU), see Croatian News Agency (2016).