H.E. Gianni BUQUICCHIO, President of the Venice Commission
H.E. Mr K. TUORI, First Vice-President of the Venice Commission
Mr Ch. GRABENWARTER, Vice-President of the Venice Commission
Ms H. Kjerulf THORGEIRSDOTTIR, Vice-President of the Venice Commission;
Mr Aivars ENDZINS, Bureau member of the Venice Commission
Mr Gagik HARUTYUNIAN, Bureau member of the Venice Commission
Mr I-W. KANG, Bureau member of the Venice Commission
Ms Talia KHABRIEVA, Bureau member of the Venice Commission
H.E. Thorbjørn JAGLAND, Secretary General of the Council of Europe
H.E. Jose Luis HERRERO, Head of the Council of Europe Office in Moldova
H.E. Pirkka TAPIOLA, Ambassador, Head of the European Union Delegation 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 European Bank for Reconstruction and Development Office in Chisinau
H.E. Karen HILLARD, Director of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)
Dear Mr. President,
On the 1st of March 2017, during your visit in the Republic of Moldova you have mentioned that the Venice Commission’s 2014 opinion on the proposed change of the electoral system to a mixed form was quite critical at that time and taking into consideration the social framework of the country, the Commission felt that such a system could give rise to influences from businessmen and oligarchs over political forces. As well, during the press-conference you have also stated that since the above-mentioned opinion:
“[…]four years passed and it is a long time. The situation has changed not only in Moldova, but also in the region and in the world. There is a lack of trust against the traditional political life and this can justify the possible search for a better electoral system, which gives again the public trust towards the political parties.”
Undoubtedly, significant changes occurred in the last four years in the Republic of Moldova, but unfortunately not in the direction implied at the press-conference. By the present analysis, we would like to share with you our understanding of the reasons behind the initiative of the Democratic Party of Moldova (DPM) that lay under the cover of official statements regarding the necessity of the electoral system change in the Republic of Moldova.
Since List-PR was introduced in Moldova in 1993, the first attempt to change the proportional electoral system of the Republic of Moldova to the electoral single-mandate system is dated back to 2012. As an MP, Vladimir Plahotniuc, otherwise known to the public as a controversial Moldovan oligarch, registered in February 2012 a legislative initiative on amending the electoral system (Nr. 408 from 27.02.2012), which was later withdrawn due to the lack of political support from the then-ruling Coalition for European Integration. In April 2013 the Parliamentary Coalition adopted a bill changing the Moldovan electoral law to a mixed system. Nonetheless, it was abrogated shortly after by a joint vote of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDPM) and the Communists’ Party (CPRM) in the context of a conflict within the Coalition between Vlad Plahotniuc and Vladimir Filat.
Four years later, on the 6th of March 2017, Plahotniuc, the newly elected President of the Democratic Party of Moldova (DPM) re-launched the initiative to change the electoral system by promoting the so-called “uninominal system” and already on the 14th of March the draft Law on the modification of the electoral system was registered in the Moldovan Parliament (hereinafter Draft Law no. 60).
On the 15th of March, Mr. Andrian Candu, the Chairman of the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova, has requested the opinion of the Venice Commission on a draft revision of the electoral legislation replacing the proportional system for the election of Parliament by a plurality system in one-member constituencies.
On the 18th of April, after several weeks of mimicked opposition to and rejection of the proposal to replace the current electoral system with any of its alternatives – uninominal or mixed, Igor Dodon, the President of the Republic of Moldova, came with what he called his own alternative proposal to modify the electoral system by adopting a mixed model. On the 19th of April, the Congress of the Party of Socialists from the Republic of Moldova (PSRM) officially endorsed Dodon’s initiative, while on the same day the PSRM’s faction already registered in the Parliament a legislative initiative on the adoption of a mixed electoral system (hereinafter Draft Law no. 123).
On the 5th of May, after a brief hearing in the Parliament, with a joint vote of DP, PSRM and European People’s Party Group, the Parliament adopted a decision on merging the bills nos. 60 and 123 and replacing the current electoral system with a mixed one. Importantly, these decisions were made with numerous violations of the Parliament’s Regulations, in conditions of full opacity, no consultation with civil society or international partners, as well as in absence of the Government’s notices for both drafts – nr. 60 and 123, without introducing the draft bill in the Parliament’s agenda, without any prior announcement regarding the Parliamentary majority’s intention to examine the bills and before the opinion of the Venice Commission was issued.
On 15th of May, the so-called joint version of the bills nos. 60 and 123 on amending the electoral system was registered in the Parliament. Mostly based on the provisions of the bill proposed by the Party of Socialists, it mirrored almost word for word whole passages of the concept of the electoral system sent to the Venice Commission by the DPM’s faction in the Parliament in 2013.
As mentioned above, it is not the first attempt of Moldovan oligarchs to change the electoral system in the Republic of Moldova. With this position paper, we would like to draw the Council of Europe and the Venice Commission’s attention to what lies behind the official rhetoric of the hybrid Parliamentary majority by pointing out the following facts and circumstances.
2. POLITICAL CORRUPTION
In 2015 the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Mr. Thorbjorn Jagland stated in an op-ed for the New York Times that in the Republic of Moldova “corruption remains endemic and the state is still in the hands of oligarchs” as well as that “this captured state must be returned to its citizens”.
It is our view that since 2015, the situation in the Republic of Moldova has worsened significantly as the Democratic Party, led by Vladimir Plahotniuc has managed to annihilate, control or submerge the main political parties and, today, attempts to maintain this status quo by means of modification of the electoral system.
In spite of the relatively modest results achieved by the Democratic Party of Moldova (DPM) in the parliamentary elections of 30 November 2014 (15.8% and 19 seats in the Moldovan Parliament) and although according to the recent polls, in the case of early parliamentary elections, DPM would only be able to collect between 2.7% and 3.7% of the votes, it now controls both the Parliament and the Government of Moldova. At the time this paper was being written, DPM led a parliamentary majority formed by the factions of the DPM, the Liberal Party (11) as well as the unaffiliated MPs who left the factions of the Liberal Democratic Party (10) and 14 members of the Communists Party who joined officially the Democratic Party on 10th of March 2017. Moreover, in April another 7 MPs, former members of the LDPM Parliamentary faction officially joined DPM – increasing the DPM’s faction from 19 to 41 MPs. However, in late May, Dorin Chirtoaca, the vice-president of the Liberal Party and the capital’s mayor was arrested and the Liberals announced their withdrawal from the coalition.
As such, in the last two years, more than 30% of Moldovan MPs left their original parliamentary faction and/or changed their political party membership, many of them joining the parliamentary faction of the Democratic Party of Moldova, despite the campaign promises, programs and the mandate entrusted them by the electorate in the Parliamentary elections of 2014.
The Democratic Party was publicly accused by the opposition of forming the Parliamentary majority by means of corruption, penal prosecution and exercising other types of pressure and as shown further down, the Democratic Party of Moldova has been the main beneficiary of party switching in the Moldovan Parliament.
During the writing of this paper, another two members of the Parliament left the Liberal Party’s political faction, while another MP left LDPM and joined a newly formed Parliamentary group led by Iurie Leanca, the President of the European People’s Party of Moldova, former LDPM member. On 29th of July 2016, Leanca signed a Cooperation Agreement with Democratic Party and its Parliamentary Coalition. Already in April 2017 Leanca announced the formation of the European People’s Party’s (EPP) Parliament faction composed of 10 former LDPM’s faction members while on 28th of April his group of unaffiliated MPs and the Democratic Party voted the legislative amendment allowing unaffiliated members of the Parliament to register their own factions. This move raised suspicions that Iurie Leanca’s affiliates are in fact part of the DPM’s Parliamentary majority, this being confirmed later by the group’s vote in favour of the modification of the electoral system on the 5th of May 2017.
As shown above, the DPM proved to be the political party which managed to make full use of volatile and irresponsible politicians in forming a docile parliamentary majority and becoming the main agent and beneficiary of political careerism.
In view of the above, it is false, manipulatory and hypocritical on DPM’s behalf to justify the need of the electoral system change by complaining about corrupt politicians and their lack of respect towards their electorate as well as claiming that this change is requested and welcomed by the Moldovan society.
According to the most recent opinion polls, it is likely that the DPM would not pass the electoral threshold for political parties of 6% within the present proportional electoral system, despite its financial resources, media propaganda, control of the local public administrations, law enforcement agencies and judicial system.
Consequently, behind the official rhetoric, the main reasons for DPM to promote the change of the electoral system in any form – plurality system in one-member constituencies or a mixed electoral system – is to ensure a win in the upcoming Parliamentary elections by means of candidates’ blackmail and electorate’s disinformation and manipulation, as previously observed in local and regional elections and their aftermath.
3. CONTROL OF THE LOCAL PUBLIC ADMINISTRATION AND OF FUTURE SINGLE-MANDATE ELECTORAL CONSTITUENCIES BY THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY
Officially, the DPM was the party with 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, the President of the LPDM 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. These events triggered a devastating process for LDPM when numerous local organizations, including mayors, community, city, district and municipal councillors joined the Democrat Party due to various pressures, some of which involved law enforcement agencies, 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 communities (villages) 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.
By controlling the largest number of local elected officials, the DPM shall be certainly favoured by the adoption of a single-mandate electoral system or a mixed electoral system and shall considerably increase its chances to obtain an absolute majority of the mandates distributed through single-mandate constituencies. 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 single-mandate electoral system, shall be a major one as, 50 single-mandate constituencies are proposed to be created on the basis of districts (raions) and municipalities as stated in the bill on changing the election legislation.
The Democratic Party has already had the occasion to test the “benefits” of the electoral system with a one-member constituencies’ component in Gagauzia in 2012 and 2016. The case of the election to the Gagauzian People’s Assembly (GPA) is a relevant example of DPM’s methods and strategies and explains why this political party has invested so much financial and administrative resources into gaining influence and control in the districts and in promoting the modification of the national electoral system.
Before 2012 DPM lacked any significant representation in Gagauzia and not a single representative of the DPM was elected to the GPA in the 2012 elections. In November 2012, six weeks after the elections, the social-political movement “New Gagauzia” decided to join the Democratic Party at the “initiative” of Nicolai Dudoglo, the president of the movement, together with 18 independent candidates elected in the Gagauzian People’s Assembly. Despite the fact that not all representatives of the “New Gagauzia” movement in the People’s Assembly accepted to join DPM, 18 mandates allowed the Democratic Party to control the local legislative body.
A similar scenario was carried out in Gagauzian People’s Assembly election of 2016. This time, the Democratic Party had only one official candidate elected in 35 single-mandate constituencies. However, according to civil society experts, many of the independent candidates disguised their political affiliation to the Democratic Party due to the fact that DPM is not a popular political party in Gagauzia, this region being traditionally oriented towards pro-Russian parties and politicians.
On the 13th of May 2017, the New Gagauzia held a General political meeting of the movement. It was attended by several independent candidates elected to the GPA, as well as by members elected as representatives of other political parties, including PSRM. An interesting attendee was Mihail Manolov, an “independent candidate” who actively campaigned against the DPM and supported PSRM during the election. The participants agreed that the New Gagauzia must become the uniting force in the region. Thus, after losing the election in Gagauzia for the second time, the Democratic Party succeeded to create a comfortable majority in the Gagauzian People’s Assembly for the next four years, thanks to the DPM-affiliated New Gagauzia.
4. CONTROL OF JUDICIAL INSTITUTIONS AND LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES
Despite the Moldovan Government’s claims of significant progress in the implementation of the justice system reform exemplified by the adoption of the Law on court optimization in April 2016 and the adoption of the new Law on prosecution (in force since April 2016), the Global Competitiveness Report 2016-2017 ranked the Republic of Moldova only 133rd out of 138 countries with regard to the Judicial Independence. Overall Moldova lost 18 positions in the Report, in comparison with 2015-2016, being ranked 100th.
The Supreme Council of Magistrates is politically controlled and submissive to the interests of the parliamentary majority – 5 out of 12 members are appointed by the Parliament – the Ministry of Justice, the President of the Supreme Court of Justice and three law representatives of academia, while the General Prosecutor was appointed by the Supreme Council of Prosecutors, an institution in lack of credibility as it was elected according to the provisions of the previous Law on prosecution, and confirmed by Nicolae Timofti, the former President of the Republic. The other 6 are elected by the General Assembly of Judges. SCM’s political dependence and subordination, precludes any perspectives in reforming the justice sector, as well as in fighting systemic financial frauds, and oligarchy which represents one of the main sources of corruption in the Republic of Moldova.
The prosecution reform was supposed to transform the Prosecutor’s institution into an independent, efficient and professional body exempted from any vested interests or political influences. This reform is still claimed to be a success by the present governing coalition, while the observers note that it did little to take the institution outside political control.
Thus, despite the fact that the new law on prosecution was adopted by the Parliament and entered into force, the appointment of the new General Prosecutor was politically influenced and the Moldovan prosecution system still remains under the control of the Democratic Party. The process of overtaking the control over the law-enforcement agencies started in 2010 through the appointment of affiliated persons to the National Anticorruption Center and the General Prosecution Office, both institutions known as being affiliated to the DPM till present.
In the last years the Democratic Party used the prosecution system as an instrument of political influence, pressure and menace against political opposition. The DPM has gradually and systemically taken over the control of the local public administrations in rayons (districts) and cities by means of blackmail, encouraging political careerism, and the implication of the law-enforcement system in the harassment of the locally elected officials and politicians who refused the DPM’s “political bargains”. Instances of penal harassment of the mayors and local MPs include the case of Serghei Filipov, the Mayor of Taraclia city, prosecuted by means of penal investigation as he refused a DPM’s proposal, the case of Basarabeasca city’s Mayor arrested illegally in an abusive and unjustified manner, as well as, numerous cases of persecution and pressures on local electees reported by the opposition parties.
5. ENDEMIC CORRUPTION
The Republic of Moldova was ranked 126 out of 176 countries in the Corruption Perception Index 2016 (CPI 2016) by Transparency International, indicating a decrease of 20 positions compared to 2015. Moldova is placed in the ranking at the same level with Djibouti and Sierra-Leone in Sub-Saharan Africa, Mexico, Paraguay and Nicaragua in Latin America.
In the last years, we have heard numerous allegations of Vladimir Plahotniuc’s and his associates’ involvement in numerous financial crimes, including their alleged connection to the laundering of 22 billion US dollars through the Moldovan banking system and the theft of approximately 1 billion US dollars from the reserves of the National Bank of the Republic of Moldova. These crimes have presumably increased the financial power of the Moldovan oligarchy and organised crime syndicates by approximately 2 billion US Dollars and strengthened their capacity to finance electoral campaigns, including those of the so-called “independent candidates” in an eventual single-mandate or mixed electoral system. The Executive Director of Transparency International-Moldova and other representatives of the Moldovan civil society raised these pertinent concerns, trying to draw the public’s attention to these circumstances, during the Parliamentary hearings on Vladimir Plahotniuc’s initiative on modification of the electoral system.
6. CONTROL OF THE MASS-MEDIA AND PROPAGANDA
In November 2015, Vladimir Plahotniuc officially recognized his ownership of 4 national TV channels: Prime, Publika, Canal 2 and Canal 3 and of three radio stations: Publika FM, Muz FM and Maestro FM. Overall the abovementioned media-resources cover at least 70% of the TV market and audiences in the Republic of Moldova. In January 2016, Vlad Plahotniuc purchased other two TV channels: CTC Moldova and Super TV. In May 2017 Plahotniuc has ceded in what seems to be a rather formal move, two of his channels to one of his close advisors.
Despite the fact that Plahotniuc is claiming that DPM is the main pro-European political force in Moldova capable of counteracting and managing the security threats and geopolitical influence coming from the Russian Federation, his media-holding and in particular Prime TV represents one the most efficient instruments of Russian propaganda with a share of 55% of the TV market and audiences in the Republic of Moldova.
Year after year, Moldova is sliding down in the Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index. In 2017 the country ranked 80th, down 8 places in two years. According to the annual Report regarding the situation of the Moldovan press for 2015, the media institutions of Vladimir Plahotniuc committed numerous violations of the Rules and regulations of the Central Electoral Commission, being sanctioned 15 times, while 8 castigations were applied to Prime TV, Publika TV, Canal 2 and Canal 3. The media-monitoring of the Parliamentary elections campaign of 2014 revealed that these 4 television stations – Prime, Publika TV, Canal2 și Canal3 – mostly reflected the interests of the Democratic Party, disregarding the principles of objectiveness and media pluralism. Publika TV was also cited in the Report for mis-stating one of the messages of the US ambassador, threatening a journalist employed by Radio Free Europe, and favouring the Democratic Party by negatively portraying other political parties during the Parliamentary election.
In the wake of Plahotniuc’s announcement of his initiative on modification of the electoral system by promoting the so-called “uninominal system”- Prime TV, Publika TV, Canal 2 and Canal 3, Publika FM, Muz FM and Maestro FM started an aggressive propaganda campaign in favour of the new electoral system. Part of the propaganda campaign is also a web site and a national billboard-advertisement campaign.
Moreover, DPM involved administrative resources, state and even medical institutions in collecting signatures in “favour” of Plahotniuc’s initiative to change the electoral system, later claiming “massive support” with more than 800 000 signatures collected, despite the fact that no state institutions, civil society organisations or any international organisations were involved in the verification of the signatures or supervised the collection campaign.
In order to create the appearance of compliance with the Venice Commission’s conditions and provisions of the Code of good practice in electoral matters related to broad public consultations among the political parties, authorities and the civil society regarding any fundamental reform – the Democratic Party organised the so-called public debates in the Moldovan Parliament, moderated by Mr. Andrian Candu, the President of the Moldovan Parliament and a close associate of Vladimir Plahotniuc.
Unfortunately, the content and outcomes of these debates, including the statements and conclusions of the independent non-governmental organisations attending these debates, were significantly distorted by Plahotniuc’s mass-media. As a result, representatives of several independent non-governmental organisations refused to participate in the second round of Parliamentary public debates and requested the Parliament to withdraw the Bill nr. 60 on changing the electoral system and instead to improve the existing proportional electoral system by implementing the recommendations of the Constitutional Court and the recommendations of the local and international election monitoring missions from 2014, 2015, 2016. They also requested that mass-media organizations respect the journalistic deontology and do their reporting in a fair and unbiased manner.
7. POLITICAL CARTEL BETWEEN THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY AND THE SOCIALISTS’ PARTY
Since the last Parliamentary election in 2014, the ratings of the Democratic Party and its leaders have suffered a serious drop, as the party and its rulers became increasingly associated with the systemic corruption, the laundering of billions dollars and the one-billion dollars fraud from the National Bank reserves. Faced with this situation, the DPM focused its strategy on mimicking an added geopolitical value. Its goal is to force Moldova’s foreign partners to accept and rely on the Democratic Party as the main pro-European political force in Moldova capable of counteracting and managing the security threats and geopolitical influence coming from the Russian Federation.
The Democratic Party 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 within the country as well as shaping the opinion of the EU and the US as main foreign development partners.
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.
However the facts show that PDM and PSRM’s leaders coordinate their actions in order to promote the reforms favouring their own and their political parties’ interests.
The support provided by the Democratic Party and Vladimir Plahotniuc’s TV channels to Igor Dodon, the former President of the Socialists Party of the Republic of Moldova, during the 2016 Presidential elections, was immense. In spite of the DPM’s statement of support for the common 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 with the PDM made full use of its dominant position on the media market of Moldova to deploy its well-developed arsenal of denigration technologies against Maia Sandu. Through Prime TV, Publika TV, Canal 2 and Canal 3, Maia Sandu was discredited and denigrated, to the benefit of the pro-Russian candidate Igor Dodon and his Socialists Party.
The TV propaganda played a decisive role in influencing the outcome of the Presidential election and contributed substantially to shifting the balance in favour of a submissive candidate. Given the small difference of slightly more than 60 thousand votes between the two candidates in the second round, it is clear that massive media attacks significantly influenced the final outcome of the elections.
Moreover, the DPM promoted Dodon’s interests in the Broadcasting Coordinating Council (BCC), a body suspected by independent media and civil society organizations of being subordinated to Vladimir Plahotniuc, as well as of bias and favouritism towards media outlets owned by his companies. On 8 December 2015, BCC awarded “Exclusiv Media” SRL, founded by the socialist MP Corneliu Furculita, the right to rebroadcast a popular Russian TV Channel НТВ, as NTV Moldova.
Furthermore, on the 9th of February 2017 Vasile Botnari, a businessman associated with Vladimir Plahotniuc, was appointed as the General Director of Moldovagaz, a company fully controlled the Russian Federation state company Gazprom. Moldovagaz is a strategic element of the Moldovan energetic security, due to the fact that it provides natural gas to the entire population of the country. Numerous allegations of Igor Dodon’s involvement in securing Vasile Bontari’s appointment to this position appeared in the mass-media, forcing the former to make a public statement denying his involvement.
On the 7th of March 2017, the next day after Vladimir Plahotniuc launched his initiative on changing the electoral system by adopting a single-mandate model, the PSRM came with a statement rejecting this proposal reasoning that the modification of the electoral system shall lead to the total control of the country by the governing party. On the 18th of April, after several weeks of mimicked opposition to PDM-proposed amendments, Dodon came up with his own initiative to adopt a mixed electoral system as described above. On the 19th of April the PSRM’s faction registered in the Parliament a legislative initiative on adoption of a mixed electoral system. This latter bill was adopted on 5th of May as a “compromise” solution by DPM, PSRM and EPP.
Before Moldova’s Western partners, DPM purports to be a pro-European bastion standing against the pro-Russian menace of Dodon and his party, hoping that the EU, the US and IMF will accept as true this “added value” and overlook the endemic corruption, captured state institutions and shall support the DPM’s initiative to modify the electoral legislation. With this, DPM expects to perpetuate its political and economic control of the Republic of Moldova. However, as shown above, despite the apparent opposition between the DPM and PSRM, on geopolitical issues in particular, it is indisputable that DPM supported Dodon in the presidential campaign and that there is a political partnership in disguise which leads to the distribution of economic influence and adoption of a comfortable version of the electoral system favouring both political parties in future Parliamentary election, but mostly DPM.
8. THE VENICE COMMISSION AND OSCE/ODIHR JOINT OPINION ON THE DRAFT LAW AMENDING THE ELECTORAL LEGISLATION OF THE REPUBLIC OF MOLDOVA (CDL-REF(2014)001)
In November 2013, the Speaker of the Parliament of Moldova, Mr Igor Corman, a DPM representative, submitted a request to the Venice Commission to comment on a text sent to him by the DPM faction, concerning a draft proposal to reform the electoral legislation of Moldova (CDL-REF(2014)001). In 2014, in line with the standard practice, the Venice Commission and the OSCE/ODIHR issued a joint opinion on the draft legislation.
The request submitted to the Venice Commission, 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 both 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, which we consider relevant for the present analysis giving that the Bill nr. 60 on uninominal model included some unconstitutional provisions related to the introduction of an imperative mandate for MPs, indicate that the Democratic Party in fact aimed from the very beginning the adoption of a mixed electoral system:
1. The Commission pointed out 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.”
2. 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.
3. 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.”
4. 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.”
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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”.
8. 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.”
9. 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.
The bills nos. 60 and 123 which were fused in the Parliament, addressed none of the abovementioned concerns and risks. Given the above, despite the fact that in 2014 the Venice Commission already issued an opinion on an eventual mixed electoral system, the conclusions it comprises are as relevant and pertinent for the bill adopted in the Moldovan Parliament on 5th of May 2017 – as they were when first published.
10. SIMULATION OF AN OPEN AND INCLUSIVE DEBATE
The Democratic Party simulated an open and inclusive debate in a faked attempt to comply with the Venice Commission and Council of Europe criteria and standards on the adoption of fundamental reforms. In fact, the Democrat Party’s campaign to promote the initiative of Vladimir Plahotniuc to change the electoral system was organised in a manipulatory and misleading manner. After the 6th of March the DPM’s officials and the media affiliated to Vladimir Plahotniuc embarked on the aggressive and misleading advertising of the idea that the modification of the electoral system represents the will and the best interest of the people, rather than the narrow party interests of the DPM and its leaders. The arguments made by the independent non-governmental organisations during the debates organised in the Parliament were distorted by politically controlled mass-media and presented to the public in a manipulatory manner. As a result, the representatives of several independent non-governmental organisations refused to participate in the second Parliamentary public debate and requested the Parliament to withdraw the Bill Nr. 60 on modification of the electoral system.
The so-called public hearings in the parliament were organised with violations of the provisions of the Concept on cooperation between the Parliament and the civil society adopted by the Parliament’s Decision no. 373 from 29 December 2005. According to the provisions of this concept, civil society organizations shall be notified about the date of unplanned consultation meetings at least 10 days in advance. Also, article 11, of the Law on transparency in the decision making process, no. 239 from 13 November 2008, requires that “the announcement about the organisation of public consultations and the related documents are made public at least 15 working days before the final draft of the decision is prepared”. As none of the abovementioned provisions were taken into consideration the debates in the Parliament were organised in a biased and illegal manner.
11. SIMULATION OF A BROAD POLITICAL CONSENSUS
The main opposition political parties refused to participate in the Parliamentary debate of the new electoral system, on the grounds that the Democratic Party is not seeking genuine consultations and the adoption of an appropriate electoral system, but is instead only interested to impose the “uninominal vote”, while the debates will be used to tick another box in the conditions stipulated by the Venice Commission. On the 16th of March 2017 the Action and Solidarity Party, the Dignity and Truth Platform Party and the Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova have issued a joint statement on the electoral system reform in Moldova and condemned the DPM’s initiative. On 12th of April 2017, five political parties – the Action and Solidarity Party, the Dignity and Truth Platform Party and the Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova, the Communists Party of the Republic of Moldova and Our Party issued a joint statement regarding a national consensus on maintaining the proportional electoral system. Disregarding these statements, the Parliament merged and adopted the bills no. 60 and no. 123 with violation of the legislation and the Parliament’s Rules and regulations.
1. THE ELECTORAL REFORM IS A MANIPULATION TO THE ADVANTAGE OF THE PARTY IN POWER
Plahotniuc has promoted the uninominal electoral system since 2012. The change of the electoral system is a well-planned systemic setup, executed by the head of DPM and his affiliates.
The civil society and the independent mass-media have overlooked the fact that – despite his failure in 2012 – 2013 when the bill changing the Moldovan electoral law to a mixed system was abrogated, shortly after adoption by a joint vote of the LDPM and Communists’ Party – Plahotniuc and his affiliates worked in a deliberate manner on preparing the DPM for the Parliamentary election in a mixed parallel electoral system. This strategy created a far-reaching advantage for the Democratic Party and could guarantee a firm Parliamentary majority for DPM in the next Parliamentary election.
The processes began by gaining control over the law-enforcement agencies in 2010 with the appointment of party-affiliated persons to the National Anticorruption Center and the General Prosecution Office. The two institutions are still known as being affiliated to the DPM.
These appointments allowed DPM to transform the prosecution system into an instrument of political influence, pressure and threat against both its political partners and the political opposition. In the end, this process allowed Plahotniuc to annihilate, control or subvert his main political competitors by means of selective justice. It also led to the disintegration of the territorial structures of the biggest political parties such as LDPM and CPRM and massive party switching, both in districts (rayons) and in the Parliament. It is in this way that DPM succeeded to form a new submissive Parliamentary majority and gained enough votes for changing the electoral system.
Also as part of their strategy, the DPM aimed to control of as many local elected officials as possible in order to shape the future single mandate constituencies and gain control over the most capable and popular candidates among the electorate in rayons, municipalities and Gagauzia.
All of these make DPM the only political party definitely favoured by the adoption of a mixed electoral system. Due to the abovementioned strategies, this party considerably increased its chances to obtain an absolute majority of the mandates distributed through single-mandate constituencies.
The recent poll ordered by the DPM with over 12 thousands interviewed, besides the manipulatory approach for the change of the electoral system, had a more important and far-reaching goal. It allowed DPM to assess the political preferences of the electorate in order to shape the future single-mandate constituencies in the interest of the Democratic Party, which explains a seemingly exaggerated, from the sociological point of view, representative sample of over 12 thousand participants. Given the leverage that the party has in the Central Electoral Commission, there is little doubt that the results of this poll will be put to use when designing electoral districts in the new system.
Plahotniuc’s unlimited administrative, financial and media resources, especially if compared to his main political competitors, will afford DPM one of the most expensive, manipulatory and therefore in effect campaigns to support its affiliated candidates in each of those 50 single-mandate constituencies.
Despite the fact that the bill on the mixed electoral system passed only the first reading in the Parliament, the Democratic Party is already prepared to for the Parliamentary elections in a mixed parallel electoral system as it started preparing for this system since 2012.
On the one hand, the establishment of the political cartel with PSRM while staging an opposition between the two allowed DPM to pretend an added pro-European value in front of its western parties. On the other, the joint bill arrived at together with PSRM, permitted DPM to simulate a “broad” political consensus and “open and inclusive” debates and thus tick a box in the list of criteria of the Code of Good Practice in Electoral Matters of the CoE in a hope that the EU, the US and IMF shall neglect the endemic corruption, captured state institutions and support the DPM’s initiative to modify the electoral legislation.
2. MIXED PARALLEL ELECTORAL SYSTEM – A DIRECT BLOW AGAINST DEMOCRATIC PLURALISM
Since 2012, and in particular starting 2014 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, of state institutions and freedom of mass media.
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 embarrassing ratings of under 4% and leaders involved in the country’s biggest corruption and cross-border money laundering scandals, being suspected of having coordinated the theft of the billion from the National Bank Reserves and also accused of being the beneficiaries of this theft.
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, Igor Dodon was one step away from losing the presidential seat to a candidate lacking his financial resources or media support. In this context, the decision makers within the DPM realized that, despite the arrangements undertaken since 2012, they need to take advantage of their current position – administrative resources at their disposal, control of the Parliament, local public administrations in most of the districts and the control of law enforcement bodies in order to obtain a simple majority in the future Parliament by changing the electoral system into a mixed or one fully based on single-mandate constituencies.
While we do not exclude that a mixed electoral system or one based only on single-mandate constituencies may have its benefits in 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, when promoting this reform, the governing political class acts against the public interest, is not representative and has no legitimacy.
Before initiating any 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;
– Encourage political pluralism, by lowering minimum membership requirements for the registration of political parties and by reducing the minimum electoral barrier;
– Dismantle the monopolies on the mass media and advertising market and limit political influence on the mass media as well as media ownership by politicians;
– Ensure that the justice system is protected from oligarchic and political influence;
– Ensure equal conditions and equal treatment of all political actors, and an effective protection of opposition forces, condemning and neutralizing any attempts of attack on the opposition.
We consider that the DPM, in a strategic partnership with PSRM, adopted the change of the electoral system with only one objective in mind – to obtain a majority of seats in the Parliament 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.
We would like to draw the Council of Europe and the Venice Commission’s attention to the fact that the modification of the electoral system 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.
The fused bill on changing the procedure of election of the Parliament from proportional to the mixed electoral system published on 16th of May 2017 – addresses none of the concerns stipulated by the 2014 Venice Commission’s opinion, so that the risks and drawbacks signaled by the Commission are valid and will occur if the bill is passed in final reading.
With the present opinion, we call on the Venice Commission to provide an unbiased and objective legal opinion regarding the modification of the electoral system, taking into account the complex political and social situation in the country, as described above. We also call on the Council of Europe to not fall into the trap of manipulation and disinformation by the governing coalition on this issue. The support of the Venice Commission and Council of Europe for the Republic of Moldova is absolutely critical for the development of democracy, rule of law and political pluralism in our country.