Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 57

Moldovan President Petru Lucinschi yesterday called a national referendum on the question of turning the country into a presidential republic. Constitutional changes would enlarge presidential powers by making the head of state “responsible for the formation of the government and for the results of governance.” The referendum will be “consultative”–that is, its result will not be legally binding, but should provide the political mandate needed for parliamentary approval of the presidential initiative. The referendum will be held on May 23, which is also the scheduled date of local elections; the double billing is expected to maximize the voter turnout. Lucinschi called the consultative referendum by presidential decree; calling a legally-binding referendum would have required parliamentary approval.

In an explanatory address on television, Lucinschi observed that the existing division of power between the executive and the legislative branches–as applied in Moldovan conditions–has paralyzed policy, enabled either branch to evade political responsibility for its actions, blocked reforms and damaged Moldova’s international reputation (Infotag, Chisinau Television, March 22).

Under the present constitution, enacted in 1994, the presidency and the parliament share power in an uneasy arrangement, fraught with conflict and in constant need of arbitration by the Constitutional Court. Moldova’s system and its dysfunctionalities resemble neighboring Ukraine’s. Since 1997 Moldova has been traversing a continuous political crisis against the background of economic collapse. The main stumbling block to reforms is parliament, where the Party of Communists holds forty seats out of 101, while the two consistently reformist parties hold a total of thirty-five. The current government, lacking a majority, is being assailed from the left by the communists and from the “right” by the Popular Front, which has gone into overt opposition, and whose nine seats enable it to frustrate every initiative of the government. As long as Lucinschi is in office, a presidential system of government would guarantee the resumption of reforms. His mandate expires in 2001, however (see the Monitor, February 1, 19, March 1, 4, 15).