MOLDOVA HOLDS A STRANGE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION.
Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 220
Alone among the CIS countries, Moldova does not have a presidential system of government. The parliament is dominant, as well as being itself dominated by the Communist Party–the only viable and mass-based political party in a country which has yet to develop a real multiparty system.
Moldova had a semi-parliamentary, semi-presidential system until July 5 of this year, when the legislature voted overwhelmingly, across party lines, to change the constitution and establish a full-fledged parliamentary system of government. The event marked the parliament’s triumph over President Petru Lucinschi in a two-year power struggle and constitutional conflict. The move enabled the parliamentary parties to go on dividing the economic interest spheres among themselves, to avoid pre-term parliamentary elections and to preclude Lucinschi’s reelection to a second term of office. Under the amended constitution, the president is elected no longer by popular vote, but by the parliament. With Lucinschi’s four-year term about to expire, the parliament is scheduled, on December 1, to begin the procedure to elect the new president.
As late as November 24, however, not a single candidate had officially entered the presidential race. This seemingly absurd situation did not reflect a lack of interest in the presidency, but rather an acerbic struggle for it behind the scenes and a frantic bargaining down to the wire among parliamentary factions. Under the amended constitution, the president is elected with the votes of at least three-fifths of the parliament members–that is, at least sixty-one out of 101 votes. Currently, Vladimir Voronin’s Party of Communists holds forty seats; Parliamentary Chairman Dumitru Diacov’s centrist Democratic Party (the recently renamed Movement for a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova), seventeen seats; former President Mircea Snegur’s center-right Party of Rebirth and Conciliation, fourteen seats; and the two right-wing groups, Popular Christian-Democrat Party (the renamed Popular Front) and the Party of Democratic Forces, seven to eight seats each. The balance of some fifteen seats are held by the “Independents,” about half of whom are diehard supporters of Lucinschi.
Between July and late November, Communist leader Voronin and Speaker Diacov acted as political allies, and their parties as an emergent parliamentary majority which would decide the outcome of the presidential election and the composition of the new government. It was generally assumed that one of them would take the presidency, the other the parliamentary chairmanship. They travelled together to seek acceptance in Washington and in Western Europe and support in Moscow for the looming change of power in Chisinau. Diacov seemed to stake his political career on coopting–in effect, “domesticating”–Voronin and the Communists.
By mid-November, the Diacov-Voronin negotiations stalled due to conflicting interests, and amid Western unofficial expressions of concern over the coming of Communists to power in Moldova. At that point, ex-President (1990-96) Snegur publicly made himself available to run for another term of office which would “complete his historic role”–a completion he had long been known to covet. At the same time, Snegur and some of his lieutenants tentatively offered to support Voronin’s presidential candidacy in return for a substantial share of government posts, including the prime ministership. Last week, Snegur publicly withdrew his unofficial presidential candidacy on the grounds that his historic role would after all be complete even without a return to the presidency. This move need not be final. It only suggests that the former president hopes to arbitrate the election of the new one, using his fourteen parliamentary seats as a swing vote, and perhaps entering the race himself in the runoff balloting.
With the interfactional negotiations stalled, party leaders began suggesting nonparty figures as potential nominees of the parties for the presidential post. Up to ten names of diplomats and senior judges were bruited about. Meanwhile, on November 23, the Voronin-Diacov negotiations collapsed because the Communists demanded a coalition agreement among their party and Diacov’s Democratic Party until the 2002 parliamentary elections. For his part, Diacov would combine with the Communists at this stage to elect a new president and avoid pre-term parliamentary elections. But the unofficial Western reactions seem to have dissuaded Diacov from entering into a long- or even medium-term coalition with the Communists.
With one week to go until the presidential balloting, and amid public indifference and lack of information, not a single candidate had registered for the race. It was not until November 24–a day before the final deadline for registration–that Voronin registered his candidacy. That day, three parliamentary parties–Diacov’s Democrats, Party, the Christian-Democrats and the Party of Democratic Forces–drafted Constitutional Court Chairman Pavel Barbalat as their common candidate, who managed to register on November 25. Snegur’s Party of Rebirth and Conciliation seems divided: Some of its deputies have rallied to Barbalat, while Snegur continues evidencing interest in a deal with Voronin. At the moment Snegur and the pro-Lucinschi “Independents”–two mutually hostile groups–hold the balance of power between them.
Under the amended constitution, up to four rounds of balloting will be held in parliament in order to elect the new president. If no candidate garners at least sixty-one votes, the incumbent president has the right to dissolve the legislature, call pre-term parliamentary elections, and prolong his own tenure of office until the new parliamentary elects a new president.
That scenario represents Lucinschi’s last hope to stay in office–or at least on the political scene as an influential leader. Even as a lameduck president, Lucinschi and his team would be able to ensure the election of a substantial number of presidential suppporters and tip the balance of forces in the new parliament. That new parliament might thwart the election of Voronin, Diacov or some other anti-Lucinschi candidate as president. But even if such a candidate is ultimately elected, Lucinschi would command a sizeable group of deputies in the new parliament and bargain his way to a share of power alongside the other major parties.
The Communists are the only party to consider the possibility of pre-term elections with confidence. Capitalizing on social discontent and on their opposition role, the Communists expect to at least hold their own or even gain additional seats. All the other parties fear losing seats or even failing to clear the 6 percent threshhold of parliamentary representation in any pre-term elections. This situation strengthens the Communists’ bargaining position and leaves some cards in Lucinschi’s hands to play.
With the parties fixated on the contest for power, Moldova’s real problems–including the most pressing one of the unlawful Russian military presence–have gone unattended for many months and seem likely to get even less attention in the weeks ahead from the political leaders (Flux, Basapress, Infotag, November 13-25; see the Monitor, July 10, September 19).
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