Category Archives: Moldova

Moldova – Cohabitation as an inter-executive struggle with dashes of judicialization

By the end of September, the President of the Republic of Moldova was again the center of a political standoff that has been the bane of the country for quite some time. For the fourth time since October 2017, the constitutional court suspended the President (Igor Dodon from the PSRM, Party of Socialist of the Republic of Moldova) temporarily. Three of these four times were due to the refusal by the President to appoint ministers elected by parliament. This newly found instrument of temporarily getting rid of the president as a veto player has profound institutional and legal ramifications and questions the power of this directly-elected president. To address these issues, this post presents the constitutional court’s involvement as a case of “judicialization” (see e.g., Hirschl 2008) of core political questions. This form of judicialization is not necessarily comparable to judicialization under democracy, as it only emphasizes the involvement of the court in “key political issues” (Mazmanyan 2015, 200) and not a transfer of power from parliament to the court. The refusal of the President to appoint a cabinet member is, at its core, a decision of checks and balances and should not be influenced by the judiciary. In the following, I will describe the constitutional background and process of suspending the president with its most recent recurrence in September 2018 as well as the short and long-term implications arising from this power struggle.

The 1994 Moldovan constitution established a semi-presidential system, more specifically a premier-presidential system. The presidency enjoys an array of de jure power tools and also ceremonial responsibilities. Among the important instruments to discipline the fragmented parliamentary parties is the president’s right to dissolve parliament after two failed investiture attempts. Furthermore, and this is of importance here, the president appoints the cabinet after a parliamentary vote of confidence and also after a cabinet reshuffle upon the proposal of the prime minister (Art. 98) (see Fruhstorfer 2016). This provision is particularly important, as it was initially introduced as part of the 2000 constitutional amendment that formed a parliamentary system. Parts of this amendment (in particular the election of the president) were declared unconstitutional in 2016. The original 1994 constitution allowed the president much less involvement in the process by only being able to accept the oath of newly elected cabinet members. Thus, the 2000 amendment clarified and increased the power of the president, a provision that was not changed in the process of declaring parts of the 2000 amendment unconstitutional. There was no specific constitutional provision that stipulated how many times the president can refuse the appointment. Yet the January 2018 ruling of the Constitutional Court de facto amended the constitution. In their ruling on the second temporary suspension, the court specified that the president can only decline a proposal for a cabinet appointment once and must appoint a possible second candidate. Failing to do so is a violation of presidential duties (Constitutional Court 2018). Failing to fulfill these duties is then the justification for a temporary suspension. And indeed, the constitution envisions this occurrence, but the procedure of including the constitutional court is highly unusual, as it is the sole prerogative of parliament (Art. 89).

The way temporal suspension was and is used in Moldova comes close to the observation Mazmanyan (2015, 208) offers for the post-soviet area in general: “The record of judicial involvement in post-Soviet politics shows that higher courts get meaningfully activated only in situations witnessing a true political competition and uncertainty about the winner in the competition.” This form of judicialization is however a new trend in Moldova, the constitutional court was until recently the example of a non-politicized court among the countries in the post-soviet region. With the now fourth decision of temporally suspending the president – in case he does not follow suit – the court embraces a trend of incidental decision making (Mazmanyan 2015, 208) in competitive political situations. This intervention exposes the court to the danger of being exploited and manipulated by political forces and facing the challenging time when “judicial involvement in politics is more often than not a byproduct of political pressure or manipulation of constitutional law and of the constitutional judiciary” (Mazmanyan 2015, 200). It is unclear whether the often claimed “direct political instruction” of political forces (read Vlad Plahotniuc, chairman of the PDM, Democratic Party of Moldova) applies in Moldova. In any case, the decisions made by the constitutional court since March 2016 indicate a problematic politicization of the judiciary that decides on political issues and uses its rulings to overcome political competition. This was seriously criticized in the most recent report of the Bertelsmann Transformation Index (BTI 2018).

What seems like an “inter-institutional deadlock” (Popșoi 2017) in a period of cohabitation was long rumored to be only a sham to disguise how Vlad Plahotniuc and President Igor Dodon have consolidated their power with the help of each other. Yet, the political standoff between the government and the constitutional court on one side and the president – at least superficially – on the other side, seems to be a mundane power struggle. Yet, mundane does not make it any less dangerous. The court’s involvement in this power struggle and the following judicialization of key issues of the competition inherent to a premier-presidential system are seriously damaging the political institutions and does not bode well for the future democratic development.

Literature

BTI (2018): Country Report Moldova, in: https://www.bti-project.org/fileadmin/files/BTI/Downloads/Reports/2018/pdf/BTI_2018_Moldova.pdf [last accessed October 8, 2018]

Constitutional Court (2018): Press Release. The President of Moldova may only once decline PM’s proposal of Cabinet reshuffle, in: 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/ [last accessed October 8, 2018]

Fruhstorfer, Anna. (2016). Moldova. In Constitutional Politics in Central and Eastern Europe (pp. 359-387). Springer VS, Wiesbaden.

Hirschl, Ran. (2008). The judicialization of mega-politics and the rise of political courts. Annu. Rev. Polit. Sci., 11, 93-118.

Mazmanyan, Armen. (2015). Judicialization of politics: The post-Soviet way. International Journal of Constitutional Law, 13(1), 200-218.

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]

Moldova – The president, necessary judicial reforms, and the European Union

In late February 2018, Radio Free Europe (Jozwiak 2018) reported on a draft recommendation by the European Union Foreign Affairs Council. In this draft, the Moldovan Government was urged to increase its fight against corruption and, in particular, to restore the public trust in the judicial system. It was not the first time the European Union has tried to influence the government in Chișinău in this regard. As far back as 2002 the Council of Europe (Council of Europe: Parliamentary Assembly 2006) raised the issue of judicial autonomy and suggested modifications of the nomination procedure for judges – a process that is equally important for the functioning of the rule of law as well as the influence of the president on the judiciary. In the following, two issues with judicial autonomy in Moldova will be discussed – the process of seating the judge (appointment) and the presidential involvement and the ability of the president to unseat or remove the judge (tenure): both processes are vulnerable to presidential meddling. This meddling is also one of the main points of criticism, but as will be discussed, this criticism is probably only an easy way out of a more complex situation.

In any democracy, the judiciary plays a major part in the development of democracy and its resilience against autocratic backsliding. Yet, judicial institutions are also political institutions that undergo the same pressures of self-interested political actors as other political institutions (Magalhaes 1999). At the same time, research shows that judicial independence is of utmost importance to democracy (Helmke 1998). Constitutional and statutory regulations are a first step, but “(i)ndividuals whose judicial careers are not secure are more susceptible to outside influences” (Herron and Randazzo 2003: 425). Hence, the intertwined relationship between the president and the judiciary is not a new problem the European Union has just discovered.

Several scholars pointed to the role of tenure for impartial decisions (Helmke 2002; Herron and Randazzo 2003). Moreover, various international actors emphasize the importance of the tenure of judges for a functioning rule of law in the Republic of Moldova. In theory, the appointment or reappointment of a judge should limit as much as possible the political pressure placed on them. Legal reforms have taken up this challenge in recent years. But like other countries, the provisions in the Moldovan Constitution regarding the president’s role in the nomination procedure of judges is insufficient and does not clearly state any provisions in case a conflict arises.

All ordinary judges in Moldova are directly appointed by the president on the basis of the recommendation of the Superior Council of Magistrates (Consiliul Superior al Magistraturii), the president has 30 days to decide and request information on the candidates. The president can refuse the appointment, but after Superior Council of Magistrates put the candidate forward for a second time with a 2/3 majority, the president must agree to the appointment. Furthermore, the 1994 Moldovan Constitution stipulated a 15-year period between the appointment of a judge and the tenured position; this was shortened to 5 years (Art. 116) in 1996. It was widely considered that this amendment (initiated by then-President Snegur) was an important step towards the strengthening of the independent and autonomous position of judges and therefore the rule of law.

Yet, it is also clear that the general idea of allowing the president to appoint judges or to grant tenure threatens the basic judicial autonomy and freedom of partisan influences of those judges. After President Voronin came into power in 2001, the threats against the political autonomy of judges increased. Reports on the political pressure on the judiciary became more serious (Freedom House 2003), the president increasingly used his power and refused to prolong the mandate of judges (Freedom House 2003). In 2012, the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova decided on a judicial reform concerning in particular the appointment and tenure of judges (for a detailed overview of the individual reform laws see Hriptievschi et al. 2015). Since then – theoretically – clear criteria for the appointment and career of judges as well as “mandatory performance evaluations [] (and) the establishment of the Judges’ Selection and Career Board” (Hriptievschi 2017, 3) should guarantee an independent judiciary. Yet, several judges appointed since then face severe accusations against their integrity. They were appointed nevertheless, in some cases with the support of the president, but also after he (in this case Timofti) rejected the proposed judges (Hriptievschi 2017). Furthermore, the Superior Council of Magistrates is itself controversial, in particular because of a missing transparency in its decisions and ignoring the recommendations of the Judges’ Selection and Career Board (see e.g. Hriptievschi 2017).This is by no means a problem only observable in Moldova, similar conflicts can be found in Slovakia and Poland (see the blog post on Poland and on Slovakia).

In 2016, the Moldovan Parliament discussed a constitutional amendment draft regarding the reform of the judiciary. Also, the Venice Commission proposed an amendment that would allow the president to reject a nomination by the Superior Council of Magistrates only once and specifies that the appointment and tenure decision has to be based on objective criteria, merit and a transparent procedure (Council of Europe 2018). These institutional criteria were already stipulated in the 2012 reform but putting them into the constitution could be an important step for a more serious judicial reform in the Republic of Moldova.

To sum, the experience since the reform in 2012 shows that not only the involvement of the president but also the questionable decision making by the very instances endowed with guaranteeing judicial independence are a major problem. In addition, judicial behavior depends on more than institutional features: for a high degree of independence of the judiciary and its judges, a constitutional amendment only focusing on the presidential role will not suffice.

References

Council of Europe (2018) Republic of Moldova Draft Law on the Modification and Completion of the Constitution.

Council of Europe: Parliamentary Assembly (2006) Functioning of Democratic Institutions in Moldova: 10931, available at http://www.refworld.org/docid/44c4d7e74.html, accessed 10 April 2015.

Freedom House (2003) Moldova Country Report, available at http://www.freedomhouse.org/report/nations-transit/2003/moldova#.U-CY-aMd0X8, accessed 5 August 2014.

Helmke, G. (1998) Toward a Formal Theory of an Informal Institution: Insecure Tenure and Judicial Independence in Argentina, 1976-1995.

Helmke, G. (2002) ‘The logic of strategic defection: Court–executive relations in Argentina under dictatorship and democracy’, American Political Science Review 96(2): 291–303.

Herron, E.S. and Randazzo, K.A. (2003) ‘The relationship between independence and judicial review in post-communist courts’, The Journal of Politics 65(2): 422–438.

Hriptievschi, N., Gribincea, V., Chirtoaca, I., and Guzon, I. (2015) Selection and Career of Judges, available at http://crjm.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/2015-01_DP-Selection-of-Judges_CRJM-EN1.pdf, accessed 10 March, 2018.

Hriptievschi, N.(2017) Independence and Accountability of Moldova’s Judiciary under Threat, available at http://crjm.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/2017-04-Hriptievschi-judiciary.pdf, accessed 18 March 2018.

Joswiak, Rikard (2018) EU presses Moldova on judicial reform, fighting corruption, available at https://www.rferl.org/a/eu-presses-moldova-judicial-reform/29057286.html, accessed 18 March 2018.

Magalhaes, P.C. (1999) ‘The politics of judicial reform in Eastern Europe’, Comparative Politics: 43–62.

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]

Giorgio Comai – The presidential election in Transnistria

This is a guest post by Giorgio Comai, Marie Curie ITN “Post-Soviet Tensions” fellow at Dublin City University

The presidential election that took place on 11 December 2016 in Transnistria, a de facto independent state within the internationally recognised borders of Moldova, ended with the resounding victory of the speaker of parliament, Vadim Krasnoselski (62,3%), over the incumbent president, Yevgeny Shevchuk (27,38%), the candidate of the Communist party, Oleg Khorzhan (3,17%), and others (including 3,4% who voted “against all”, which is formally one of the options given on the ballot). According to official data published by the local electoral commission, voter turnout reached 60,1% (corresponding to 252,659 voters), which is higher than both at the 2015 parliamentary election (47%) and at the previous presidential election in 2011 (58,88%).[1] There was, thus, no need for a second round, and Krasnoselski officially took office after an inauguration ceremony on 16 December.

The outcome was largely in line with the results of parliamentary elections in 2015 and with expectations on the eve of the vote. Krasnoselski was seen as the favourite thanks to his good connections in Moscow, strong support from Transnistria’s main economic actor (the Sheriff holding), and the economic uncertainty that has characterised Shevchuk’s rule.[2] Yet, the incumbent Shevchuk did fight to win the vote until the end, in an increasingly polarised context that at least in part explains the high turnout. Formally, the transition has been smooth so far, with a candidate winning a clear mandate, the electoral commission declaring him the president, and both the incumbent Shevchuk and the first Transnistria president, Igor Smirnov, being present at the inauguration ceremony.

Ensuring a smooth transition

An article published by the Russian newspaper “Kommersant” highlights the key role of Russian observers in defusing possible tensions, including remaining in contact with both of the main candidates on election day. Two days after the vote, Shevchuk flew to Moscow “invited by the Russian side” – as a concise press release put it – to hold a number of working meetings, where presumably he received instructions about how to ensure a smooth transition and was given reassurances about his own future.[3] On the same day, he signed a decree anticipating the inauguration ceremony to 16 December (a decree issued just a few hours earlier scheduled the inauguration on 27 December).

In his first meeting with journalists as president elect, Krasnoselski stated he would not take revenge on those working in the state media and security services who took sides with Shevchuk before the vote.  His words of reassurance should be seen in light of his commitment to keep stability in Transnistria during this period of transition. The fallout from the elections in the state media, the security services and other state institutions remains however to be seen, and in all likelihood there will be significant changes, in particular in senior positions. Immediate dismissals include the director of Transnistria’s public broadcaster, the head of the investigative committee, the republican prosecutor, as well as the head of Transnistria’s national bank.[4] The new configuration of power also implies that Transnistrian residents will have very little chance to hear any criticism of state institutions in the coming years, since both the Sheriff-owned TSV channel and the public broadcaster are due to support Kransoselski and the new government.

Developments

Krasnoselski’s victory puts an end to the institutional deadlock between president and parliament that stalled much needed reforms, in particular in relation to the ongoing currency crisis. After ensuring a strong majority in parliament at the 2015 vote,[5] the interest group around the Sheriff holding can now celebrate the victory of its candidate at the presidential election. In the short term, the renewed harmony between parliament, president, Sheriff, and Moscow is due to open the way for pragmatic solutions to long-standing problems that were hostage of the pre-electoral season. The newly installed government led by Aleksandr Martynov comes with a number of initiatives aimed at improving the economic situation in the territory.[6] But ultimately, Krasnoselski is not coming to power with fundamentally new recipes for enhancing Transnistria’s economy, or with a new foreign policy course.

When Shevchuk was elected five years ago, he was hailed as a reformist and there were even some hopes of an enhanced dialogue with Chişinău. No such hopes come with Krasnoselski. In line with his predecessor, Krasnoselski supports Transnistria’s integration (and eventual unification) with Russia. In spite of the monolithically pro-Russian rhetoric that characterised his campaign, however, he will also have to take a pragmatic stance and take all efforts needed to keep Transnistria’s export routes towards the West open. Limited room for manoeuvre is ultimately a defining characteristic of politics in de facto states, and in the next five years newly elected Krasnoselski will inevitably have to adapt to circumstances and external developments to keep Transnistria afloat.

Notes

[1]    An evaluation of voter turnout should take in consideration the fact that a significant share of Transnistria’s population effectively lives and works abroad (local scholars estimate that migrant workers make up about 20-33% percent of Transnistria’s population), and that it was not possible to vote from outside the territory.

[2]    See the previous post, The upcoming presidential election in Transnistria, for more background information.

[3]    In spite of accusations of corruption, also the first president of Transnistria Igor Smirnov has never been prosecuted after he has been voted out of office in 2011. He has been able to live in Tiraspol since then and has mostly remained out of public life (until the latest electoral campaign, during which he supported Krasnoselski), living – as he put it – the life of a pensioner. It seems likely that at least in the short term the younger Shevchuk will have the chance to spend more time with his wife Nina Shtanski (former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Transnistria) and their daughter.

[4]    The new head of the Transnistrian Republican Bank was until his nomination a senior manager in Sheriff-owned AgropromBank.

[5]    The well known connections between Sheriff and current members of parliament have also been recently highlighted by a report by a group of investigative journalists; in fact, 15 out of 43 members of the Transnistrian parliament are currently employed by Sheriff in managerial positions.

[6]    For a closer analysis of the economic issues the new government has to face, see Andrey Devyatkov’s analysis on Lact (18 December 2016).

Giorgio Comai – The upcoming presidential election in Transnistria

This is a guest post by Giorgio Comai, Marie Curie ITN “Post-Soviet Tensions” fellow at Dublin City University

Presidential elections in Transnistria, a de facto independent state within the internationally recognised borders of Moldova, are scheduled for 11 December 2016. Out of a total of seven registered candidates, the two main contenders for the position are the incumbent president, Yevgeny Shevchuk, and Vadim Krasnoselski, who currently serves as the speaker of the Transnistrian parliament (locally still known as “Supreme Soviet”).

Freedom House ranks Transnistria as “not free”, yet elections take place regularly, are competitive and – as the 2011 vote showed – a serving president can lose at the polls. While media pluralism is limited, the work of civil society organizations is severely restricted (for example, interactions with external actors is to be agreed with the local ministry of foreign affairs), and those in power make extensive use of administrative resources to strengthen their positions, recent elections have been preceded by lively campaigns and outcomes were far from predetermined.

Previous elections

Since its inception with the demise of the Soviet Union, Transnistria had been ruled by Igor Smirnov, known for its authoritarian style of government that prevented any substantial form of contestation. Yet, with time both Moscow (a key provider of support for the region) and Sheriff (the holding company owning key sectors of Transnistria’s economy), grew dissatisfied with his leadership. When presidential elections took place in 2011, Smirnov ended only in third place. Yevgeny Shevchuk, previously speaker of the parliament and then leader of the Sheriff-supported party “Renewal”, won the run-off against Moscow-backed and then parliament speaker, Anatoly Kaminski.

During his presidency, Shevchuk has distanced himself from Sheriff and tried to establish an independent power block around his administration. However, Shevchuk-backers performed poorly at the latest elections to the Supreme Soviet in November 2015; formally independent candidates close to “Renewal” and Sheriff (and now in strong opposition to Shevchuk) won a strong majority in the 43-seat parliament, and elected Vadim Krasnoselski as parliament speaker.

According to key terms of reference of Transnistrian politics, the forthcoming presidential elections can thus be briefly characterised as a contest between an incumbent president with declining popularity (Yevgeny Shevchuk) and a speaker of the parliament backed by Sheriff (Vadim Krasnoselski).

Policies

The two key candidates do not stray from the main tenets of Transnistria’s mainstream politics, and ever closer integration with Russia is not a point of debate. They may have different views in terms of fiscal policy and a few other issues, but overall their programmes largely overlap, to the extent that in a recent talk show Krasnoselski’s supporters accused Shevchuk of lifting policy proposals directly from the pre-electoral programme of his opponent.

During the campaign, both candidates insisted on their pro-Russian credentials, declared their support for pensioners (and claimed their opponent would cut pensions), accused each other of close ties with Moldova, and substantially dismissed the issue of relations with the European Union. However, keeping preferential treatment for Transnistrian exports towards the EU and ensuring that agreements on the export of electricity to right-bank Moldova remain in place will be a key challenge for Transnistria’s next president.

While much of the ongoing struggle is effectively among two power blocks fighting against each other for access to political power and economic resources in the territory, there is one main question at the heart of the electorate: who among the candidates is best suited to keep Russian aid flowing, keep the economy afloat, and thus ensure that pensions and salaries of state-employees are not cut?

Transnistria through graphs

cashincomepmrpie

According to official statistics released by Transnistrian authorities, of the total number of people with a registered cash income, about half are pensioners, one quarter are state-employees and one quarter are employed in the private sector.

A one-to-one workers-to-pensioners ratio is hardly sustainable, in particular considering the fact that pensions are high by regional standards (pensions in Transnistria are more than 50 per cent higher than in neighbouring Moldova and Ukraine).

pensionstransnistriacomparison

Transnistria’s authorities can afford this relatively high level of pensions and salaries of state employees, as well as a degree of public services comparable with that found in neighbouring countries thanks to support from Russia. Transnistria’s president himself admitted that Transnistria would be able to cover for only about 20-25 per cent of its budget without external support. Russia officially covers some of the expenditure for pensions, and sponsors constructions (in particular in the health and education sector) through a “humanitarian aid” programme, but the bulk of its help actually comes in the form of free gas. In brief, Gazprom delivers gas to the region, but does not demand to be paid for it. The total amount of debt accumulated by Gazprom currently stands at about 5 billion USD, or about six times Transnistria’s yearly GDP. In recent years, Transnistria received every year about 300-500 million USD worth of gas (about as much as the total size of budget expenditures), without paying a penny for it.

transnistriabudgetgasaid

Individuals and companies based in Transnistria mostly do pay for the gas they use, but those payments are kept as a subsidy to the budget. Accordingly, in order to transform free gas into cash for the budget, Transnistria’s economy must function: hard currency does not come from Russia, but rather from the export of goods (such as metals and textiles) mostly to EU countries and Moldova. Electricity produced in Transnistrian powerplants and sold across the de facto border with Moldova is also important.

In brief, the local economy would not be able to function without Russian support, but it also needs open trade routes towards Moldova and the EU to keep itself afloat (only about 8 per cent of Transnistrian exports go towards Russia). It is ultimately those exports that provide the cash needed to pay for the pensions and salaries that are a core legitimizing element for Transnistria’s leadership.

exportpmrsharearea

What does this mean for the elections?

dinner-with-putin

In order to demonstrate they can be trusted with ensuring uninterrupted Russians support, each of the main candidates boasts that they have better relations with Moscow, and have direct contacts with the Kremlin. The fact that Transnistria’s parliament speaker Krasnoselski was sitting “at the next table to Putin” at a recent reception, while president Shevchuk was not even invited, was hailed by the Sheriff-owned TV channel TSV as a clear sign that Moscow supports Krasnoselski.

In the context of limited pluralism that characterises Transnistria, the current balance of power allows for an unusually high level of contrast among candidates. Since last year’s parliamentary elections, the Supreme Soviet has served as a platform for criticising the president’s performance. The deadlock between the presidency and parliament stalled much needed reforms, for example, in order to deal with the ongoing currency crisis.[1]

The year 2016 has been characterised by a constant blame-game between president and parliament that has been most noticeable on the two main local TV channels; the state-owned “Pervy Pridnestrovski” remained on Shevchuk’s side, while Sheriff-owned TSV openly campaigned for Krasnoselski.

youtubementionstransnistria

The two TV channels offered remarkably different perspectives on current events in Transnistria. TSV focused on Krasnoselski’s close ties to Moscow, on blaming president Shevchuk for the ongoing economic crisis and on highlighting the perils of a looming economic breakdown if Transnistria’s leadership does not change.[2] Shevchuk has also been accused of siphoning off large sums of money through an intermediary company involved in the export of electricity, and of conceding too much in negotiations with Moldova.[3]

“Pervy Pridnestrovski” broadcast multiple presidential addresses, and its news reports frequently blamed the parliament for inaction, reassured the public that pensions and salaries of state-employees will be paid in full in 2017, and tried to cast Shevchuk as the man of the people against the interests of big business (i.e. suggesting that Krasnoselski would govern in the interests of Sheriff, rather than of the common citizen).

What to expect?

Opinion polls published in September gave Krasnoselski a clear lead over Shevchuk and other candidates. The results of the November 2015 parliamentary elections also suggest that Shevchuk’s popularity has declined. Shevchuk has on his side the power of a substantial part of the state apparatus, but Krasnoselski has influence over some key institutions through parliament, is supported by the powerful Sheriff holding and at this stage seems to have better support from Moscow. Overall public dissatisfaction with the economic situation is also likely to play in Krasnoselski’s favour. Given that other candidates are also expected to gather a few percentage points of the vote (Oleg Khorzan, supported by the Communist party, got about 5 per cent at the 2011 elections), a run-off on 25 December cannot be excluded. With or without a run-off, we may be about to witness in Transnistria a new case of an incumbent president who loses at the ballot box and leaves office peacefully: a scenario that is still uncommon in the post-Soviet space, but not unseen in  Transnistria.

References

  1. While the Russian rouble as well as most other currencies in the post-Soviet space have lost half of their value against the dollar in the last couple of years, the Transnistrian rouble has kept its exchange rate unsustainably stable, with a number of consequences on the local economy, including shortages of currency.
  2. TSV also aired a sweet biopic on Krasnoselski, portraying him as a trustworthy family man.
  3. An analyst on Sheriff-owned TSV described it as a “purely Gorbachev-style policy of unilateral and unmotivated concessions”; in a context where the demise of the Soviet Union is largely perceived as a great tragedy, this is clearly meant as an offensive and disquieting characterisation.

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]

Back to the future: The abolition of the parliamentary system in Moldova

In this post, I examine the game of constitutional ping-pong [1] in Moldova. After a surprising ruling of the Moldovan Constitutional Court, the president will be now once again directly elected. In the following, I will describe the constitutional amendments, amendment attempts concerning the presidential elections and the recent ruling to justify the Ping-Pong label.

With the acceptance of a new democratic constitution in 1994 the process of democratization of the Republic of Moldova experienced a first success. However, the process of transformation has since shown severe difficulties. Most importantly, the 1994 constitution failed to establish a clear separation of competences, especially favoring presidential dominance. As stipulated in Art. 78, Sec. 1 of the 1994 constitution, the president was directly elected with a term of four years (Art. 80, Sec. 1) and could only be reelected once (Art. 78, Sec. 5). Constitutionally, the president had a dominant position compared to the prime minister, in particular for the dissolution of parliament. In addition to the purely formal nomination of the prime minister (Art. 98), the president’s right to dissolve parliament after two failed investiture attempts featured as both a presidential threat of force and a measure to discipline the fragmented parliamentary parties. The president had the option of nominating two constitutional court judges (Art. 136, Sec. 2) and the right of legislative initiative, including constitutional amendments (Art. 73). He had – and still has – a suspensory legislative veto (Art. 73 and 93).

The first attempt to change the basic configuration of the political systems was the 2000 constitutional amendment. The events leading to this constitutional amendment were accompanied by changing party constellations and the instability of the parliamentary party groups. In a first step to solve the increasing confrontational relation between the main political actors, then-President Petru Lucinschi tried to force a further concentration of presidential competences with a national referendum. However, this referendum, which would have resulted in the sharp increase of presidential power, did not receive the required quorum of 60% (Elections Code of the Republic of Moldova 1997). But this confrontational approach by Lucinschi triggered a parliamentary response – namely a constitutional amendment changing the fundamental structure of the political system to a purely parliamentary system. According to this amendment, the president was no longer directly elected, but had to be elected by a 3/5 majority by parliament (Art. 78). This 2000 constitutional amendment also included other principles, e.g. the presidential right to nominate constitutional court judges (Art. 136, Sec. 2), the president’s right to initiate constitutional amendments (Art. 141c), and it limited the functions of the president during the nomination of the prime minister (Art. 98, Sec. 4). In turn, the position of the government was explicitly strengthened to the detriment of the president. Most importantly, Art. 73 was amended with Sec. 3 providing precedence to governmental and deputy legislative initiatives in the parliamentary legislative process.

However, this constitutional amendment did not have the intended effect. This became especially apparent in 2009. The provision that the president had to be elected by a three-fifths majority (meaning 61 votes) was particularly problematic. After the end of the term of President Voronin from the Communist Party and the parliamentary elections in April 2009 the Communist Party had 60 mandates, but did not succeed at gaining one additional vote from the opposition. After the July 2009 elections, the Alliance for European Integration (Alianța pentru Integrare Europeană) gained a majority of 53 mandates and was thus able to form the new government – but not to elect a new president (BBC News Online). Deadlocked for 900 days, this was a self-inflicted constitutional crisis based on the specific majority construction: The electoral procedure for the president required that after a failed first round of presidential elections in parliament, a second election has to be held within 15 days. Otherwise, the acting president has to dissolve parliament and call for early elections. With the higher majority necessary to elect the president than to elect the prime minister, a constitutional crisis was always on the brink.[2] During this political crisis even a constitutional amendment to return to a semi-presidential system was seriously discussed and put to a national referendum by the government coalition. This referendum was highly disputed in its procedural legality (see for more details Fruhstorfer 2016) and also failed because of a low voter turnout of 30.07% (Adept 2010). Not being able to solve this crisis, it took until March 2012 to elect a new president (Nicolae Timoftis).

Considering this brief history of constitutional politics on executive-legislative relations in Moldova, it comes at no surprise that this topic is now on the agenda again. With a thunderbolt, on March 4, 2016 the constitutional court ruled the 2000 constitutional amendment unconstitutional (Constitutional Court 2016). With this it showed an unprecedented level of judicial activism and some might be reminded of a similar process in Ukraine in 2012 (see Gallina 2016). Based on the complaint from 18 deputies from the ruling[3] PLDM (Partidul Liberal Democrat din Moldova), the court’s decision is based on procedural problems of the 2000 process. 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”. It was now argued by the authors of the complaint that in particular for Art. 78 (election of the president) and Art. 85 Sec. 4, the procedure was not followed correctly as the text of the amendment initiative changed between the first and second reading in parliament. What is reported is that both the requirement of minimum age of a presidential candidate and the majority necessary to elect a president were changed between the two readings. The initial draft allegedly listed the minimum age at 35 years, and the necessary majority as 51 votes, as well as a different version of Art. 85; the implemented amendment however had a 40-year age limit and required 61 votes for a presidential election (Digi 24 2016). Based on these changes, the court now decided to actually amend the constitution by declaring parts of the 2000 amendment concerning Art. 78 invalid. This is practically a return to the 1994 constitutional provisions, at least as far as the report of the court indicates – the ruling is yet to be published in the Official Gazette.

This is an unprecedented case of judicial activism for Moldova and thus very controversial, independent of the general benefit of changing Art. 78 and abolishing the 3/5-majority provision for presidential elections. Furthermore, two controversies arise now: 1) age and 2) term limit. In the 1994 version of Art. 78, the age limit for presidential candidates was 35; up to now, the decision of the court does not indicate a return to this provision. Additionally Art. 78 Sec. 5 on the term limit was also not reinstated. It will be interesting to read the official ruling to find out if these two provisions were left unchanged, which would be – according to some news outlets – very convenient for further political intrigues (e.g. banning certain political actors because of their age to run for president).

References

Adept. 2010. “Results of the Republican Constitutional Referendum of September 5, 2010.” Last modified December 21, 2010. http://www.e-democracy.md/en/elections/referendum/2010/results/. (accessed March 11, 2014)
BBC News Online. 2009. “Moldovan parties form government.” August 8. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8191443.stm. (accessed March 12, 2014)
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)
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)
Elections Code of the Republic of Moldova. 1997. Chișinău, December 18. http://www.legislationline.org/documents/action/popup/id/4706. (accessed June 23, 2015)
European Commission. 2005. “Country Strategy Paper 2004–2006 Moldova.” Last modified August 05, 2014. eeas.europa.eu/moldova/csp/csp04_06_nip05_06_en.pdf. (accessed July 8, 2015)
Fruhstorfer Anna and Michael, Hein. 2016 (forthcoming). 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 (2016).
Fruhstorfer, Anna. 2016. “Constitutional Politics in Moldova.” In Constitutional Politics in Central and Eastern Europe. Edited by Anna Fruhstorfer and Michael Hein, forthcoming. Springer VS.
Quinlan, Paul D. 2002. “Moldova under Lucinschi.” Demokratizatsiya 10(1): 83–103.

Notes

[1] With thanks to Nicole Gallina, who described a similar process in Ukraine also as Ping-Pong game (see Fruhstorfer/Hein 2016).

[2] This becomes even more interesting, when we believe the statement that some deputies did not even know the detailed provisions as can be seen in a comment of a non-communist member of parliament: “None of us had carefully read the law concerning the procedure of election of the president” (cited according to Quinlan 2002, 100).

[3] Ruling as part of the Alliance of European Integration III;

Moldova – Another Misadventure

Moldovan politics, which have been a recurrent scene of crisis and scandal over the course of many years has once again entered into a period of upheaval. On October 29th a no confidence vote brought down the government of Valeriu Streleț (Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova). Streleț had only been in office since late July at the head of a three party pro-European coalition the Alliance for European Integration III made up of his party along with the Liberal Party and the Democratic Party. His was the second government formed since elections in November, 2014. The first, formed by Chiril Gaburici after three months of difficult negotiations, fell in June of this year over allegations that he had falsified his educational credentials.

This time the immediate source of the problem is an ongoing and monumental banking scandal that led to the arrest of one of the most important political figures in the country, Vlad Filat, PLDM party leader and a former Prime Minister. Following months of unrest and street protests focused on pervasive corruption and monopolization of Moldova’s political life by a small number oligarchs, Filat was stripped of his legislative immunity in a vote which passed with the support of 79 out of 101 member parliament. He was then detained and led out of the Parliament in handcuffs on Thursday, October 15th.

Former Prime Minister Filat has been charged by anti-corruption officials with complicity in the theft of over $1 Billion from the Moldovan banking system earlier this year. The banking fraud, which amounted to around 12% of the country’s total GDP, is thought to have been coordinated through a group of companies controlled by another of the country’s well entrenched oligarchs, Ilan Shor, who was elected Mayor of the city of Orhei in June 2015 elections, despite allegations of his involvement in the banking fraud.

Filat’s arrest came after months of protests in central Chisinau. The protest movement was led by two distinct groups. The first of these is a pro-European umbrella civil society organization, the Platform for Dignity and Justice. It is associated with a number of liberal civil society leaders and their supporters. At the opposite political pole, growing pro-Russian sentiment coalesced around the Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova, and Our Party “Partidul Nostru” (PN) the political vehicle of firebrand pro-Russian politician Renato Usatii. Following Filat’s arrest, pressure against the government continued, both within the parliament and among the population. Calls continued for more thoroughgoing reform and a more general investigation and house cleaning within the justice system. Ultimately it was Prime Minister Streleț’s resistance to this pressure that led to his government’s fall.

The no confidence vote in the Streleț government and Filat’s arrest reflects another clash in the ongoing battle for political dominance between Filat and one of his two coalition partners, Vlad Plahotniuc and the Democratic Party (PD). Dismissing the Strelet government only possible when the PD broke with its coalition partners and supported the PSRM and the Communist Party of Moldova on the measure in a 65 out of 101 member vote. While formally led by party president Marin Lupu the PD is widely understood to be under the control of Plahotniuc, a long time and bitter rival of Filat. Plahotniuc, who also came under suspicion in the banking affair, gave up his seat in parliament and voluntarily stepped down as the PDs first vice-president on October 15th, the day of Filat’s arrest, stating that he did not wish to be associated with the party until the banking fraud investigation is completed.

The fall of Streleț’s government and rupturing the AEI III alliance leave Moldova in a highly tenuous situation. President Nicolae Timofte is currently holding talks with party leaders, but these cannot be expected to go smoothly. Re-establishing a pro-European coalition would require the support of the same three AEI III parties PD-PLDM-PL. Together these parties account for 51 out of 101 parliamentary seats. Former Prime Minister Iurie Leancă controls 5 independent pro-European MPs, and might join a new pro-European coalition, but these votes are not sufficient to form a majority with any two of the three major AEI parties. The PCRM (21 MPs) could form a left alliance with the PD (19 MPs), but the pro-Moscow PSRM (24 MPs) will not enter into a coalition with any of the pro-European forces, hence a left wing-alternative does not seem viable. If a new government cannot be formed within three months the constitution call for new elections to be held. However, the constitution also provides that legislative elections cannot be held within six months of presidential elections, which should occur in mid-March 2016. Thus Moldova could be facing several months under a care taker government. Furthermore, the Moldovan election system, which requires the support of 3/5s of Moldova’s 101 MPs to elect the president, has produced recurrent deadlocks, and can be expected to do so again under current circumstances
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The likely outcome of early elections would be a substantial gain for pro-Russian parties and serious problems for pro-EU politicians, who are now thoroughly compromised in the eyes of the public. Recent polling by the International Republican Institute (Public Opinion Survey Moldova: September 29 – October 1 2015) shows the pro-Russian Parties, Igor Dodon’s PSRM and Renato Usatii’s Our Party (currently not in parliament), to have widespread support, leading each of the three AEI partners that have governed the country since 2009 by two to one.

Asked for whom they would vote should elections be held respondents supported:

Our Party (Renat Usatii) 20%,
PSRM (Igor Dodon) 15%,
European Peoples’ Party (Iurie Leancă) 12%,
PCRM (Vladimir Voronin) 7%
PL (Mihai Ghimpu) 5%,
PD (Marian Lupu) 5%,
PLDM (Vlad Filat) 3%

Finally, to place all this in the regional political context, Our Party and the PSRM both clearly have the support of the Russian Federation, and both have supported Moldova’s adherence to the Eurasian Customs Union over association with the European Union. The rapid rise of the PSRM in the past three years is largely the consequence of defections of more pro-Moscow members from the PCRM. Its leader, Igor Dodon, has frequently met publically with high level representative of the Russian government. Our Party is completely a personalist vehicle of Renato Usatii. Usatii, who has been implicated in Moldovan financial misdeeds over the years, pursued a business career in Russia for several years before returning to Moldova and entering politics in 2014. His party during the 2014 legislative elections “The Party of Renato Usatii,” (PaRUs) was excluded from participation in because of violating election laws by receiving financing from foreign sources. He was elected mayor of Bălți, Moldova’s second largest city, which has a large Russophone population in June’s local elections. Since assuming leadership of Our Party, Usatti’s attacks on the AEI III coalition have been unremitting. His populist appeal clearly resonates with disillusioned voters and undermining support for the pro-European parties.

William Crowther

Moldova – Electoral Dysfunction Approaching its End?

Moldovans are once again considering changes to the rules governing election of their president. The current election system has been the cause of recurrent crises, and if not changed promises to be so once again in the upcoming 2016 presidential election.

Until recently, presidents have played a central role in Moldovan political life, and competition among top leaders to achieve the post has been intense. During the first decade of the postcommunist period Presidents Mircea Snegur (1990-1997) and the Petru Lucinschi (1997-2001) made use of the post as a counterbalance, sometimes more and sometimes less effectively, to the fragmented legislature. In the following decade Communist Party of the Republic of Moldova (PCRM) leader, Vladimir Voronin (2001-2009) was able to effectively exercise both executive and legislative authority from the Office of the Presidency.
It is only since the most recent presidential election, held in March 2012, that the role of the Pesident has declined in significance. President Nicolae Timofti, the current incumbent, was selected for the position in order to end a deadlock between the dominant political party leaders, none of whom was willing to see one of the others assume the office. Previous to becoming President Timofti served as Chairman of the Supreme Council of Magistrates and was a political independent. Without control over major party resources, he was counted on not to emerge as a major competitor for power. He was apparently expected to remain neutral in the internecine disputes among ruling coalition members and to support the broad direction of established foreign policy orientation. During his tenure in office President Timofti has occasionally engaged in controversial partisan activity, but has in general lived up to these expectations.

Since Independence, Moldova has employed two presidential electoral systems. Like many post-Soviet republics it implemented direct election of the president at the time of the USSR’s break-up. Initially named President by the country’s last Supreme Soviet, Mircea Snegur implemented direct election to the office and was made President by popular vote in December 1991. Direct election of the president was retained in Moldova’s first constitution in 1994 and was employed for a second time in 1996 and resulted in the election of Petru Lucinschi. The following four years, however, were characterized by a nearly constant struggle between the legislative and executive branches. By the end of his term Lucinschi was actively lobbying for transition to a presidential system of government. In order to block Lucinschi’s election to a second term and avoid that outcome legislative leaders banded together in December 2000 to modify the constitutional regarding presidential election. According to the new formula the president was to be elected by parliament. Election requires the support of 3/5s, or 61 of Moldova’s 101 MPs. If no one wins, a second round it held between the top two candidates. If no one achieves success in the second round a new contest must be organized. If that ballot fails to produce a winner, new parliamentary elections must be called.

The new system, which remains in effect at present, immediately proved itself unsound under Moldovan political condition. On its first use in 2000 repeat elections failed to produce a winning candidate, leading to dissolution and early legislative elections in 2001. Those elections brought a Communist majority to power in Parliament. The following two presidential contests proceeded smoothly as a consequence of the PCRM’s legislative dominance, giving Vladimir Voronin first round wins on each occasion.

By the time of April 2009 legislative elections the Communist dominance had waned significantly. As a consequence the weaknesses of the 2000 presidential electoral rules resurfaced, producing a cycle of ongoing crisis. This began with the failure to elect a president after repeat attempts in May and June 2009. The repeat parliamentary elections held in July as called for by the constitution increased support for a new anti-communist coalition, the Alliance for European Integration (AEI), but left the Communists with sufficient seatsin parliament to block election of a President. According to the Constitution repeat elections could not be held again within a year, so AEI leaders employed the device of appointing one of their number, Liberal Party leader Mihia Ghimpu, Acting President until new parliamentary elections could be held. They then called a referendum designed to return the country to direct presidential elections. This measure, held in September 2010 gained nearly 90% support from those who participated, but did not achieve the 33% turnout required to alter the Constitution. On the failure of the referendum Moldova’s Constitutional Court called for Parliament to be dissolved. New legislative elections were held in November 2010, again without producing a majority sufficient to either elect a President or alter the Constitution from within the legislature. Once again, resort was made to the expedient of naming an acting-president, in this case Democratic Party (PD) leader Marian Lupu, while efforts were made to resolve the impasse before another round of early legislative elections would be required. Finally, after an abortive effort in Parliament to elect Lupu President on December 16, 2011, and under the pressure of a looming third set of early parliamentary elections, AEI party leaders with the support of defectors from the communists managed to elect President Timofti with 62 votes in March 2012.

Regularly scheduled parliamentary elections in November of last year left parliament once again in a state of disarray, with the former governing AEI coalition parties (Liberal Democrats (PLDM), Liberal Party and the Democratic Party) deeply divided and without sufficient votes to elect a President. When coalition negotiations between the former partners broke down a short-lived minority government which depended on parliamentary support from Voronin’s Communists was formed by the PLDM and the Democratic Party. That government, headed by Prime Minister Chiril Gaburici, collapsed this June amidst charges of massive corruption by political leaders and the failure of the Moldovan Banking System.

On July 23nd the previous pro-European AEI parties signed an agreement to resume their coalition based on a common program and a new division of ministerial and government posts. At the same time they agreed to reform the presidential electoral system in order to avoid the recurrent crises that have plagued the country’s politics as presidential elections approach in 2016. According to the new system, which will be submitted as a referendum, the President will continue to be elected by the Parliament, but in a new three round procedure. In the first round 61 votes would be required as at present. If no candidate succeeds a second vote will be held in which 57 votes will be required. If that vote fails, a simple majority of 51 will be needed to elect the President. Since the pro-European parties currently control 55 seats, they should in principle be able to successfully elect a common candidate.

The largest parliamentary party, Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova (PSRM), immediately rejected the measure, calling for direct popular election to the post. This position was formerly held by the Reform Liberal Party (splinter faction of the PL) and Liberal Democratic Party leaders, who attempted last year o introduce a referendum for direct presidential election that would have been held in tandem with parliamentary elections, They were denied the right to do so by the Constitutional Court on the grounds that insufficient time was provided between introduction of the measure and the vote.

Will the measure pass? While indications are that the majority of the population would prefer direct presidential election, it is clear that the dominant party leaders are unwilling to allow control of the presidency to slip from their hands at this point. Neither, though, do they wish to continue on in the current state of perpetual crisis. The majority legislative vote proposal at least holds out for them the possibility for resolving the problem. It will in all likelihood be supported by Moldovan voters, if they are given no other choice.

William E. Crowther