Moldova’s parliament is scheduled to elect a head of state on March 16 – the eighth presidential election attempt since 2009. The state presidency has been technically vacant for almost three years. Since April 2009, Moldova has held three parliamentary elections, seven presidential election attempts (all falling short of the necessary majority in parliament), and a constitutional referendum (failed due to insufficient voter turnout).
Under Moldova’s constitution, the parliament is automatically dissolved and new elections are called if the sitting parliament fails to elect the head of state within one year. Thus, the constitutional legitimacy of the current parliament (elected in November 2010) looks dubious.
The governing, tripartite Alliance for European Integration (AEI) holds a total of 58 parliamentary seats, three short of the necessary majority of 61 (three-fifths majority) for electing the head of state in the 101-seat parliament. The Communist Party (largest by far in the country) holds 40 seats; and the Russia-leaning Party of Socialists (defectors from the Communists) three seats, now pivotal to electing a head of state. The AEI and the Socialists are negotiating on a common candidate in the person of Nicolae Timofti, a politically unaffiliated senior judge. A deal should result in the magic number of 61 votes in parliament (Moldpres, Infotag, March 5 – 14).
AEI’s three parties (nominally labeled as Liberal-Democrat Party, Democratic Party, and Liberal Party), governing as a coalition since September 2009, have been involved at the same time in perpetual conflicts against each other. They compete over intersecting segments of the political spectrum and over delimitation or redistribution of business interest spheres. This situation has been a contributing factor to the parliamentary stalemate and constitutional deadlock.
The Communist Party has pressed for dissolution of this parliament and new elections, hoping to win additional seats in that event. Given this parliament’s failure to elect the head of state or dissolve itself within one year, the Communists deem it “anti-constitutional” and “illegitimate;” and consequently, the AEI government (based on the incumbent parliamentary majority) as a “usurper.” The Communist Party has boycotted the parliament’s sessions since the autumn of 2011. The party has held weekly rallies in downtown Chisinau every Saturday from January to date, calling for the “usurpers’” resignation and new elections. Despite severe winter weather, these serial rallies grew to become the largest held in Moldova since 1991. This time, however, the participants seem to be predominantly aging and russophone, their numbers ranging from 5,000 to 25,000 on consecutive Saturdays in Chisinau. Concurrently, the Communists are holding protest rallies in most district-level towns; they have formed a country-wide, non-party organization, “Civic Congress,” to combine socio-economic demands with the call for new elections.
Under the AEI’s constitutive agreement (signed in August 2009, amended in December 2010), Democratic Party leader Marian Lupu was AEI’s common candidate for head of state. From December 2010 to date, Lupu has served as chairman of parliament, while still seeking the state presidency on AEI’s behalf. In recent weeks, however, street protests apparently affected the calculus in parliament and within the AEI. The coalition decided to seek another candidate in a final attempt to win over some Communist deputies, or at least the three Socialists, for a mutually acceptable solution. Electing a head of state now would allow the AEI to avoid pre-term parliamentary elections and retain the option to hold pre-term parliamentary elections at a more convenient time, depending on economic recovery and partisan interests.
Among AEI’s three parties, the Romanian-oriented Liberal Party of Mihai Ghimpu has desperately tried to maintain the status quo – i.e., a vacant state presidency and the parliament serving out its full term until late 2014. All three AEI parties fear pre-term elections at this time; but the Liberals, being the smallest and least resourced of the three, have more to fear from pre-term elections.
The Liberal Party had until recently supported Democratic leader Lupu (albeit conditionally) for state president. When Lupu and his influential partner Vlad Plahotniuc gave up that goal, the Liberal Party became the only net loser. In that case, Lupu does not move up and does not free the parliament’s chairmanship for Ghimpu, whose Liberals regard that chairmanship as rightfully theirs under the AEI coalition agreement. Instead, Lupu would retain his existing post as chairman of parliament (with Plahotniuc continuing as first-vice-chairman). The Liberal-Democrat Party under Prime Minister Vlad Filat would not be affected by the election of a non-partisan, non-ambitious head of state – the profile that Timofti fits.
The process of designating Timofti as AEI’s presidential candidate, starting from March 6, was rushed and chaotic. Some 15 names of potential candidates were cited as being considered by AEI leaders. Timofti’s candidacy was officially filed at close-of-business on the last admissible day, March 12; it was announced by the three parties to the public that evening. The election is scheduled for March 16, and Timofti is the single candidate. He and the AEI have yet to finalize a deal with the Socialists to ensure the minimally necessary number of votes (Moldpres, March 13, 14).