H.E. Pirkka TAPIOLA
Ambassador, Head of the European Union Delegation to Moldova,
H.E. Jose Luis HERRERO
Head of the Council of Europe Office in Moldova,
H.E. Michael SCANLAN
Head of the OSCE Mission to Moldova,
H.E. Alex KREMER
World Bank Country Manager for Moldova,
H.E. James PETTIT
Ambassador of the United States of America in Moldova,
H.E. Lucy Joyce OBE
Ambassador of the United Kingdom in Moldova,
H.E. Armine KHACHATRYAN
Resident Representative of the International Monetary Fund in Moldova,
H.E. Dimitri GVINDADZE
Head of the EBRD Office in Chisinau,
H.E. Karen HILLARD
Director of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID),
OPINION ON THE AMENDMENT OF THE MOLDOVAN ELECTORAL SYSTEM
17 February 2017
The amendment of the Moldovan Electoral System has become, in recent months, a recurring theme and one of the main reforms promoted by the decision makers in the Democratic Party of Moldova (DPM), by opinion makers affiliated with this party and the media outlets owned by companies controlled by Vladimir Plahotniuc, DPM chairman and the so-called Executive Coordinator of the Government Coalition Council.
In spite of the modest results achieved by the DPM in the parliamentary elections of 30 November 2014 (15.8% and 19 seats in the Moldovan Parliament), it currently controls both the Parliament and the Government of Moldova through the parliamentary majority formed by the factions of the DPM (19 + 1) and the Liberal Party (13) as well as the unaffiliated MPs who left the factions of the Liberal Democratic Party (8) and the Communist Party (14). According to a recent poll, in the case of early parliamentary elections, DPM would only be able to collect 2.7% of the votes, which proves the party’s lack of substantive support from the voters.
Available public information suggests that decision makers within the DPM are opting for the amendment of the electoral legislation and the adoption of a mixed electoral system which would envisage 50 single-member constituencies with 50 seats and 51 MPs elected by party lists. Another proposal, which is even more serious for Moldova’s democratic future, envisages the adoption of a system wholly based on single-mandate constituencies.
We believe that, by proposing to amend the electoral system, DPM seeks to obtain a simple majority in the future Parliament of Moldova, appoint a majority government without the need for a coalition and thus legitimize and perpetuate its political and financial-economic control of the country.
The purpose of this potential reform of the electoral system is to exploit the strategic advantages accumulated by Vladimir Plahotniuc and the DPM since 2009, while preparing for the 2018 parliamentary elections. The present analysis will show that the adoption of a mixed electoral system, that combines single-mandate constituencies and party lists, will mostly benefit one party in Moldova – the DPM. Furthermore, if the legislature opts for a system based on 101 single-mandate constituencies, the consequences of the move would be even more problematic, benefiting the parties that lack financial transparency and that are massively supported by the administrative apparatus and the media controlled by political actors (DPM foremost).
With this position paper, we would like to draw the attention of the development partners of the Republic of Moldova to the fact that the adoption of a mixed electoral system or of one based solely on single-mandate districts would strike a direct blow against democratic pluralism, human rights, freedom of speech and of the press, the reform of the justice system, the fight against corruption and the investigation of financial crimes. As long-term effects this reform will perpetuate the monopolization of the economy, economic stagnation and, as a result, will negatively affect the economic security of the state and will further aggravate the population loss due to migration.
1. THE POLITICAL PARTNERSHIP WITH IGOR DODON
DPM has claimed for itself the role of the sole political force able to defend the EU integration course of Moldova. This claim is false, as proven by the support provided by the Democratic Party and Vladimir Plahotniuc’s TV channels to Igor Dodon, when he ran for president. In spite of the DPM’s statement of support for the single candidate designated by the Action and Solidarity Party (PAS), Dignity and Truth Platform Party (DA) and the Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova (LDPM) – Maia Sandu – the media affiliated to the DPM made use of its dominant position on the media market of Moldova and a well developed arsenal of denigration technologies against this single candidate. Through Prime TV, Publika TV, Canal 2 and Canal 3, all owned by companies whose final beneficiary is Vladimir Plahotniuc, Maia Sandu was discredited and denigrated, to the benefit of the pro-Russian candidate Igor Dodon and his Socialist Party.
The TV propaganda was a tool to influence the outcome of the elections and contributed substantially to shifting the balance in favour of a controllable candidate. Given the difference of slightly more than 60 thousand votes between the two candidates in the second round, it is clear that media attacks played a crucial role in the outcome of the elections.
Another important service the DPM provided to Dodon was to promote his interests in the Broadcasting Coordinating Council (BCC). On 8 December 2015, BCC – a body suspected of being subordinated to Vladimir Plahotnniuc, as well as of bias and favouritism towards media outlets owned by his companies – awarded “Exclusiv Media” SRL, founded by the socialist MP Corneliu Furculita, the right to rebroadcast the Russian TV Channel НТВ, as NTV Moldova.
The presidential elections of 30 October 2016 have shown that, despite the support he received from the entire administrative and media arsenal held by Vladimir Plahotniuc, especially given DPM’s control of the Parliament and the Government, the law enforcement bodies and local public administrations in the majority of districts of Moldova, the candidate Igor Dodon was one step away from losing the presidential elections to a candidate lacking his financial resources or media support.
In the context of the presidential election results, the decision makers within the DPM realize that, in order to obtain a simple majority in the future Parliament, they need to take advantage of their current position – administrative resources at their disposal, control of the local public administrations in most of the districts and the support of law enforcement bodies, as well as the court system. The best way to make full use of these assets would be within a mixed electoral system or one based on single-mandate constituencies.
The Democratic Party has used the presidential elections of 2016 to prepare an antagonistic East-West system of political coordinates – a bipolar system that divides the society and strengthens the positions of the Democratic Party, since DPM needs an efficient mechanism for manipulating public opinion in Moldova as well as shaping the opinion of the development partners – the EU and the US in particular.
In this context, the DPM seeks to position itself as the only defender of European values in the Republic of Moldova and the only political party capable of facing the geopolitical and security threats emanating from the Russian Federation through Igor Dodon and the Socialist Party. Dodon certainly benefited from the support of Plahotniuc’s mass media during the electoral campaign, which helped him become the President of the Republic of Moldova.
In this way, the DPM purports to have added value to Western partners, hoping that the EU, the US and IMF shall neglect the endemic corruption, captured state institutions and the DPM’s initiative to reform the electoral legislation.
In addition to the aforesaid, recent opinion polls suggest that the association of corrupt politicians with European values and European integration is the main cause of the decline of pro-European sentiment among the Moldovan population.
2. LOCAL PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION AND THE CONTROL OF SECOND-LEVEL ADMINISTRATIVE-TERRITORIAL UNITS
Officially, the DPM was the party that registered the best electoral result in the local elections of 2015, winning 23.21% of the mandates in district and municipal councils, 26.60% in community and city/town councils and 31.96% of the mayors’ mandates. LDPM came in second with 23.21% of the mandates in district and municipal councils, 26.17% in community and city/town councils and 31.96% of the mayors’ seats.
In October 2015, Vlad Filat, the President of the LDPM, was arrested and the Liberal-Democrats declared they would go into opposition. As a result 7 MPs left the LDPM parliamentary faction. A “hybrid” parliamentary coalition was formed, led by DPM. Numerous LDPM local organizations, including mayors, community, city, district and municipal councillors joined the Democrat Party, mainly in 2016.
Today, the DPM controls most of the local councils in communities, cities, districts and municipalities as well as most of the mayors in towns and cities. Unfortunately, there are no official statistics showing the number of the elected officials drifting from LDPM and other political parties to DPM, but it is certain that the DPM controls most of the second-level administrative-territorial units.
The role of second-level territorial-administrative units, which include 32 raions (districts), the municipalities of Balti and Chisinau, the Autonomous Territorial Unit Gagauzia and the territorial-administrative units on the left bank of Nistru River in a mixed or single-mandate electoral system shall be a major one as at least 50 MPs will be elected in 50 electoral constituencies created within the second-level territorial-administrative units, controlled, as stated above, by the DPM.
In 2015-2016, the DPM has increased its number of locally elected officials as many LDPM and other political parties’ officials joined DPM, as a result of various pressures, some of which involved law enforcement agencies and the court system.
Thus, by controlling the largest number of local elected officials, the DPM shall be certainly favoured by the adoption of a mixed electoral system and shall considerably raise its chances to obtain an absolute majority of the 50 mandates distributed through single-mandate constituencies.
3. THE VENICE COMMISSION AND OSCE/ODIHR JOINT OPINION ON THE DRAFT LAW AMENDING THE ELECTORAL LEGISLATION OF THE REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA
The first attempt of Vladimir Plahotniuc to change the electoral system of the Republic of Moldova with DPM’s support can be dated back to 2012. As an MP, Plahotniuc registered a legislative initiative on amending the electoral system (Nr. 408 from 27.02.2012). The bill was initially adopted in the Parliament by the so-called Alliance for European Integration, but was abrogated shortly after that by a joint vote of LDPM and the Communist Party in the context of a conflict within the Coalition between Vlad Plahotniuc and Vladimir Filat.
Despite the fact that Plahotniuc failed to change the electoral system in 2013, he insisted on preparing the future legislative framework and shifting the public opinion in favour of this reform. In this context, in November 2013, the Speaker of the Parliament of Moldova, Mr Igor Corman, a DPM representative and Speaker of the Parliament at the time, requested the Venice Commission to comment on a text sent to him by a faction from the DPM, concerning a draft proposal to reform the electoral legislation of Moldova (CDL-REF(2014)001). In line with the standard practice, the Venice Commission and the OSCE/ODIHR have issued a joint opinion on the draft legislation.
In the request submitted to the Venice Commission, it was stated that the draft intended to replace the existing proportional electoral system with a mixed parallel electoral system, under which members of parliament would be elected through single-mandate constituencies and party lists in a nationwide proportional constituency.
In 2014, in response to this request, the Commission issued the joint opinion Nr. 749/2014 CDL-AD containing the following findings and conclusions:
The Commission found that the Code of Good Practice in Electoral Matters “stipulates that basic elements of the electoral system should not be changed within a year of an election, and that when changing fundamental aspects of an election law, care must be taken to avoid not only manipulation [of the election system] to the advantage of the party in power, but even the mere semblance of manipulation.”
The Commission further strongly recommended that the choice of the electoral system of Moldova be the result of an open and inclusive debate. ”The proposed mixed electoral system, in which 51 Members of Parliament (MPs) out of the 101 are to be elected by a proportional closed-list system in one single nationwide constituency and 50 MPs shall be elected in as many single-member constituencies is a fundamental reform.”
Also, the Commission indicated that, “in the present Moldovan context, the proposed reform could potentially have a negative effect at the local level, where independent majoritarian candidates may develop links with or be influenced by local businesspeople or other actors who follow their own separate interests.”
The Commission noted that, “although the creation of electoral districts could improve representation of minorities, it presents important challenges. A clearer methodology for the delimitation of constituencies, further assessment and provision for periodical review are highly recommended.”
Also, the Commission mentioned that the problem of the representation of Transnistria and of Moldovan citizens living abroad has not been addressed in a convincing and implementable solution in the draft.
The Commission did not accept the arguments of the DPM faction that made reference to similar mixed electoral systems in Germany, Ukraine and other states, stating that the practical consequences of similar electoral systems can vary, since party systems, institutional structures and social environments are always different.
The Commission explained that “in other countries, the choice of a mixed system may be the result of a consensual sovereign decision, and the way in which it is implemented in other cases is key to building trust in the democratic process and to adjust and solve possible concerns accordingly”. It further stressed that the recurrent example of Germany as a mixed system, which has been able to build trust, “is unlikely to be comparable with the Republic of Moldova”.
The Commission noted that an eventual influence of local businesspeople or other non-electoral stakeholders on their communities “could potentially serve to negatively develop the links with or have an influence on independent majoritarian candidates more than between the local MPs and the citizens”. It further cited the example of Ukraine, where, according to the first Interim Report No. 1 of the OSCE/ODIHR EOM on the 2012 parliamentary elections in Ukraine, “the new mixed electoral system has changed the dynamic of these elections in comparison with the 2007 parliamentary elections, as party-nominated and independent candidates are competing strongly at the local level. A number of independent candidates are linked to wealthy businesspeople, some of whom are also supporting political parties financially.”
The Commission also indicated that the choice of an electoral system is a sovereign decision of any state; however, ”in the present context of the Republic of Moldova, the proposed reform raises serious concerns and may pose important drawbacks.”
Given the above, despite the fact that the Venice Commission’s opinion dates back to 2014, its conclusions are as relevant and pertinent today as they were when first published. The situation in the Republic of Moldova has been constantly deteriorating, in the social, economic and political spheres, as well as from the point of view of the implementation of electoral legislation, the functioning of the justice system, state institutions and freedom of mass media.
CONCLUSIONS. We believe that the election reform in question, regardless of its concrete content, is not a credible effort and has only one objective – to favour the DPM in the next parliamentary elections. The change was proposed and serves the interests of the Democratic Party of Moldova, a party with a rating of 2.7% with leaders implicated in the country’s biggest corruption and cross-border money laundering scandals, being suspected of having coordinated the theft of a billion dollars from the National Bank Reserves, and also being the beneficiaries of this theft.
Although we do not exclude the benefits of a mixed electoral system or one based only on single-mandate constituencies for a functioning democracy, and namely the responsibility of elected representatives to the people, in the conditions of the Republic of Moldova, this system may have devastating effects, strengthening the power of the existing oligarchic system and the compromised political class.
The Republic of Moldova needs honest politicians, trusted by the population, who act in the public interest, not to someone’s private benefit. We consider that the governing political class acts against the public interest, is not representative and has no legitimacy.
Before initiating any debate regarding the change of the electoral system, the Republic of Moldova needs to complete some key actions such as:
– Ensure real transparency of political party financing and decrease substantially the maximum donation threshold;
– Dismantle the monopolies on the mass media and advertising market and limit political influence on the mass media;
– Ensure that the justice system is protected from oligarchic and political influence;
– Ensure the effective protection of opposition forces, condemning and neutralizing any attempts of attack on the opposition.
We consider that the DPM is promoting this reform with a single objective – to obtain a majority of seats in the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova in the next elections and to legitimize its political and financial-economic control over the country. This reform is contrary to the interest of the Republic of Moldova and its citizens and puts at risk any hope of an effective fight against corruption, eliminating the oligarchic influence from the state apparatus and building a robust democracy in the country.
With the present opinion, we appeal to Moldova’s development partners to discourage any initiative by the governing coalition or by the DPM of amending the electoral system and to further support the development of democracy and rule of law, political pluralism and the liberty and independence of mass media in the Republic of Moldova.
Dumitru Alaiba, CPR-Moldova
Ștefan Gligor, CPR-Moldova
Andrei Lutenco, CPR-Moldova
Sergiu Tofilat, Centrul ASPE
Dumitru Vicol, diaspora activist
http://www.cca.md/files/Raport%20alegeri%20prezidentiale%2006-13%20noiembrie%202016.pdf, see p. 5, p.7 ”Conotația reflectării”
Apelul Public al Societății Civile privind prioritățile strategice în domeniul anticorupției: http://ipre.md/new/index.php/2016/12/13/apelul-public-al-societatii-civile-privind-prioritatile-strategice-in-domeniul-anticoruptiei/