Moldova on Automatic Pilot After the Presidential Election Fails Again

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 225

On December 7 Moldova failed in its fifth attempt this year to elect a head of state in parliament. The Communist Party, which governed from 2001 to September 2009 and retains 48 seats in this parliament, blocked the election of Marian Lupu, presidential candidate of the now-governing Alliance for European Integration (AEI) of four parties. Lupu, who leads the Democratic Party within the AEI, received all of the AEI’s 53 votes. Under Moldova’s constitution, however, the president is elected with at least 61 votes in favor in the 101-seat parliament (Moldpres, December 7).

With this failure the parliament also lost its final chance to preserve its constitutional legitimacy. This parliament itself is the product of repeat elections, which were held on July 29, after the parliament that had been elected on April 5 failed to elect a head of state and was consequently dissolved.

Under Moldova’s constitution, the December 7 failure triggers once again the parliament’s dissolution by the head of state and the holding of new parliamentary elections. Moldova, however, lacks a fully legitimate head of state now. Parliamentary Chairman Mihai Ghimpu is serving ex officio as a temporary head of state. He stands to lose both sets of powers if the parliament is dissolved as the constitution requires. Furthermore, under the constitution the parliament may not be dissolved twice within a 12 month period. Thus, the existing parliament can only be dissolved in June or July 2010, with new parliamentary elections to be held by August or September that year, to be followed immediately by a presidential election in the new parliament under the constitution.

Thus, Moldova finds itself deep in the throes of a permanent electoral campaign that started de facto in fall 2008, and which will be two years old by the time the new parliamentary and presidential elections are held. The country will have to keep navigating on automatic pilot until the constitutional and political crises are resolved somehow.

Ghimpu and Prime Minister Vlad Filat –the trend-setters within AEI– propose mutually conflicting ways of changing the constitution and holding new elections. Ghimpu whose nominal Liberal Party is weak and may suffer a setback in new elections, suggests retaining the existing parliament for the entire four-year legislative cycle. Although the constitution does require the parliament’s automatic dissolution after the December 7 failure, the document does not specify a time period by which the head of state must issue the decree for dissolution and new elections. As temporary head of state, Ghimpu proposes holding a referendum by mid-2010 to amend the constitution, so as to elect the head of state with a simple parliamentary majority of 51 out of 101 votes. The parliament could even now decide with that simple majority to call a referendum (Moldpres, Basapres, News-In, December 1-7).

The Liberal Party also favors changing the constitutional name of the language, from Moldovan to Romanian, in line with this party’s irredentist views. Attending Romanian National Day celebrations in Chisinau on December 1, Ghimpu and other Liberal Party leaders made resounding statements defining Moldova as a “country for the Romanians.” Proposals to change the name of the language would be heavily defeated in a referendum, but the Liberal Party and some in the Liberal-Democrat Party would favor changing the name of the language by parliamentary vote.

Filat, whose nominal Liberal-Democrat Party has some potential to become a Moldovan “party of power,” is interested in new parliamentary elections and suggests holding them by fall 2010. Filat is a talented and energetic technician of power as well as transition businessman. Filat’s party is rapidly accumulating “administrative resources,” appointing supporters in the administrative apparatus, and building up relationships with business interest groups. This party would enter elections next year from a position of strength. The smallest among AEI’s four parties, Moldova Noastra, fears falling below the 5 percent threshold in any new elections and is therefore supporting the Ghimpu Liberals’ position to preserve the existing parliament for another four years (Moldpres, Basapres, News-In, December 1-7).

The defeated presidential candidate Lupu leads the AEI’s third-largest party, but his Democratic Party seems set to catch up with Filat’s Liberal-Democrats and overtake them, provided that the playing field remains level. Relatively bereft of administrative resources, the leader’s personal appeal is the Democratic Party’s strongest asset, in a society that follows party leaders rather than parties as such. According to the twice-a-year Public Opinion Barometer survey, released on December 8, Lupu’s Democratic Party would become the AEI’s largest, with 24 parliamentary seats, if new elections were held now. A separate survey also puts the Democratic Party ahead of the other three AEI parties, if elections were held now (News-In, December 3, 8).