Moldova’s President Petru Lucinschi, whose four-year term of office expires on January 15, 2001, issued a decree on December 28, 2000 dissolving the parliament and calling pre-term parliamentary elections. The parliament’s powers were due to expire in March 2002. Under the presidential decree, the parliament’s dissolution takes effect on January 12, and the elections will be held on February 25. The decree does not impair the dissolved parliament’s prerogative under existing legislation to continue holding its sittings until the new parliament convenes and is validated. During this interval, the dissolved parliament may pass resolutions, but not laws or legislative amendments.
From a legal standpoint, the president’s actions are in accord with the constitution, the electoral code and the recent rulings of the Constitutional Court. Politically, Lucinschi’s decree ends the tragicomic spectacle of this legislature’s bungled attempts to elect a new president, the latest failure having occurred on December 21, 2000. The legislature had arrogated that prerogative under the July 2000 constitutional changes, which instituted a parliamentary system of government and made the president electable by the legislature rather than by popular vote. Those changes, passed almost unanimously, were designed to preclude Lucinschi’s reelection in November-December 2000 to a second term of four years.
As it turned out, the changes have brought Moldova perilously close to a Communist restoration. Vladimir Voronin, first secretary of the Central Committee of Moldova’s Party of Communists, became a distant frontrunner in the presidential race–a reflection of his party’s strength in the 101-seat parliament and of the noncommunists’ scramble for deals with the frontrunner. Voronin’s Communists hold forty parliamentary seats; Parliament Chairman Dumitru Diacov’s centrist Democratic Party (recently renamed from Movement for a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova), seventeen seats; former President Mircea Snegur’s center-right Party of Rebirth and Conciliation, fourteen seats; and two right-wing groups, the Popular Christian-Democrat Party (which is the renamed Popular Front) and the Party of Democratic Forces, seven to eight seats each. The balance of some fifteen seats is held by the “Independents,” about half of whom are diehard Luchinschi supporters.
Under the amended constitution, the head of state is elected with a majority of at least three-fifths of the votes in parliament–that is, a minimum of sixty-one. Should the parliament fail to elect a president after four rounds of balloting, the incumbent president is entitled to dissolve the parliament and call pre-term parliamentary elections. The new parliament will then immediately proceed to elect a head of state.
The centrist and rightist parties, mutually hostile and internally divided, did not manage to find a joint candidate to oppose Voronin until literally hours before the first round of the election. That anticommunist candidate was the Constitutional Court’s chairman, Pavel Barbalat, deemed pliable enough by the party leaders who picked him. In the first–and, as it turned out, abortive–round on December 1, Voronin received forty-eight votes and Barbalat, thirty-seven. The Constitutional Court–minus Barbalat who recused himself–invalidated that vote on the basis of procedural violations.
In the repeated first round on December 4, Voronin’s tally rose to fifty votes while Barbalat’s slipped to thirty-five. In the second round on December 6, Voronin’s rose further to fifty-nine votes–two short of victory–while Barbalat’s remained at thirty-five. Voronin was generating a bandwagon effect in his favor. In all the three exercises, some centrist and right-wing deputies voted for Voronin, declined to vote or spoiled their ballots, in spite of their public commitment to Barbalat.
The second-round score meant that nineteen centrist and rightist deputies had taken advantage of the secret balloting in order to vote for the Communist candidate. Those defections exacerbated the mutual mistrust between centrist and rightist parties. In fact, leaders and/or backbenchers from all those parties without exception were negotiating simultaneously for separate deals with Voronin and with Lucinschi. Fearing pre-term elections, those parties seemed desperate to prolong the life of the existing parliament through a power-sharing deal with Voronin or, alternatively, to ensure that they return to the new parliament on the coattails of Lucinschi. Both of those strategies failed because Voronin insisted on becoming president while Lucinschi maneuvered to dissolve the parliament.
The centrist and rightist parties boycotted the third round of balloting on December 21 in order to deny it a quorum. Three of those parties decided to attend another round of balloting on January 16–that is, one day after Lucinschi’s powers would have expired. That scheduling, however, violated the legal requirement that the third and fourth round be conducted within fifteen days of the second–that is, by December 21 at the latest. Lucinschi turned to the Constitutional Court for confirmation of his right to dissolve the parliament at that juncture. The court–with Barbalat again recusing himself–ruled on December 26 unanimously in the president’s favor. Meanwhile the Communists look set to retain their primacy in the new parliament to be elected next month and which will elect a head of state (Flux, Basapress, Infotag, December 22-31; see the Monitor, July 10, September 19, November 27, December 7, 2000).
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