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A new electoral system for Moldova!

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Igor Botan / October 26, 2001
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Introduction

There are ten main variations of the electoral systems employed in elections all over the world. There is no good or bad electoral system, but rather system appropriate or inappropriate for the election of representative bodies in a certain country.

As for the Republic of Moldova, the experience of the last 3 parliamentary elections shows that the absolute proportional system (one country one constituency) introduced in 1993, wasn’t a good choice. Firstly, with some minor exceptions all political parties who succeeded to power and governing have eventually degraded, mainly due to procedure of selecting and promoting candidates. Closed party lists, developed by the party leaders, following some unclear criteria continue to be the main cause of scandals amidst electoral campaigns and ultimately the cause of party scissions. Secondly, a common the gap between the elected ones and those who elected them has become a common practice. Under these circumstances political parties are identified with their leaders, whereas the rest party members even if they make it into Parliament remain anonymous politicians. Another drawback of the current electoral system is that near 70% of the MPs are from Chisinau. Thirdly, in the last 10 years of multiparty system there has been not a single case of change in the political party leadership as is required by the bylaws. Obviously political parties might definitely benefit of such a change. There some exceptions — political parties that have made a considerable progress and have had a steady rating, such as the Communist Party which increased its rating from 10% in 1996 to 50% in 2001 and the Christian Democratic Peoples’ Party which enjoyed a steady rating of about 8%. As for the rest of political parties, they had a declining rating. This is another proof to the effect that the current electoral system fosters the so called “founders’ syndrome”.

Another drawback of the absolute proportional system with closed candidate lists is the fact that during February 25 early parliamentary elections the multiparty system in Moldova collapsed.

The need to change the electoral system

There have been a series of initiatives to change the electoral system in the last couple of years. Former president Petru Lucinschi opposed the adoption of the Universal Electoral Code in 1997 on the grounds that a majority or mixed electoral system would be more appropriate for the Republic of Moldova. During 1998 parliamentary elections campaign For a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova Electoral Bloc promised to change the electoral system. In the fall of 2000 the latter and Democratic Convention requested ADEPT (back then Centre for the Development of Participatory Democracy — CDDP) to develop a draft law on changing the electoral system to a limited proportional one (party lists in county electoral constituencies). The draft took into account a possible resolution of the Transnistrian conflict, and also a possible failure to solve it, in which case allowing Transnistrian citizens to participate in the governing of the country. Unfortunately for various reasons the Parliament opposed the initiative. And finally in 2001 during the IV-th Congress of the Communist Party a new governing program was adopted envisaging “the adoption of a new democratic electoral law”.

Given the recently adopted Law on the National Minorities Rights and Juridical Status of Organisations representing them provides for minority groups rights to take part in state governing by means of election, the current electoral system should be changed. It is worth mentioning that in the past there was a pressure from Gagauz authorities to change the electoral system on the grounds that absolute proportional system works to their disadvantage with regard to their representation in the Parliament of the country.

So far it is not clear which electoral system may better meet the needs of the political elite and that of the electorate. That is why the first step in changing the electoral system would be to estimate the advantages and disadvantages of a new system substituting the former one as well as the costs of its introduction.

Criteria for the new electoral system

The basic criteria a new electoral system should meet are as follows:

  1. ensuring stronger ties between the deputies and voters which would make the former more accountable;
  2. maintaining a simple voting procedure for the voters to exercise their voting rights;
  3. fostering stronger political parties by encouraging party members to keep liaison with the voters.

The Central Electoral Commission has striven to improve the electoral law. An illustration of this is the draft law developed by the CEC and passed by the Parliament in the first reading on October 25, 2001. The said draft is aimed to exclude the inconsistencies existing in the current legislation, for instance, the 3% threshold of representation for independent candidates, otherwise the electoral system remained unchanged.

Would-be changes to the electoral law were the focus of public debates on the pages of national newspapers. Interestingly enough, observers and political analysts heavily criticise the Moldovan electoral system, whereas political leaders regardless of the political orientation support it, though with some more or less minor objections. For instance, Christian Democratic Peoples Party proposes a progressive electoral threshold for electoral blocs, 9% in the case of an electoral bloc including 2 parties and 12% for 3 or more. So far this proposal as well as the one made by ADEPT experts with regard to the mixed, limited proportional (multiple mandate constituencies) or majority electoral system are not considered seriously. The same is true with regard to the preferential proportional electoral system in the multiple mandate constituencies, where voters are the ones to decide the order of the candidates on the list. All these initiatives are rejected on the grounds that Moldovan voters wouldn’t handle too sophisticated ballots.

How could the advantages of different electoral systems be cumulated so as to meet the above criteria?

In this respect ADEPT comes with a new solution, which would in our opinion satisfy both Moldovan political leaders willing to preserve the proportional system, and also eliminate the drawbacks mentioned above, as well as many others. We would call this system — post-electoral preferential proportional. What does it imply?

The electoral system remains practically the same — absolute proportional. Political parties’ governing bodies would still designate the list of 101 candidates, as is the case now. The only difference is that the order of candidates on the list wouldn’t matter in awarding the mandates. Electoral law would provide for the division of the national electoral constituency in 101 administrative constituencies and each of the 101 candidates would be designated to one of them. The latter will be responsible for the elections outcomes in that particular constituency and accordingly represent it in Parliament, provided they win.

Mandates will be distributed according to the current procedure based on the decreasing series of D’Hondt method, only the order of the candidates in each list will be established immediately the election results are tabulated both per country and administrative constituency. Immediately after elections one would know the parties which passed the threshold and got into Parliament. The only thing left would be to determine which candidates would be awarded MP mandates. The order of the candidates in the party list will be established by the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) based on the votes cast for the relevant party in each administrative constituency. For each electoral contestant running in elections the districts with the greatest number of votes cast would be established in the decreasing order. The candidate order in the list will be established according to their distribution in the relevant constituencies. Only after that will the CEC be able to submit the documentation to the Constitutional Court for them to validate the deputy mandates. As for the rest, everything will remain the same, including substituting the candidates who for any reason leave the Parliament.

What are the advantages of the system?

Firstly, this system combines the advantages of the two main systems — proportional and majority. Thus, every vote would count. At the same time, candidates able to attract more votes for the party will be promoted. Secondly, nothing would change as far as voters are concerned, technically speaking they would vote as before and use the same type of ballot paper. The only difference would be that they would know that by voting for a party they elect a candidate designated for that particular constituency. That is why the leaders of the parties will have to designate a candidate for each administrative constituency, which would ultimately ensure that much desired rapport between the voters and those whom they elect. Thirdly, party leaders would no longer be able to arbitrarily establish or change (for a fee, which is a common practice under the current system) the order of the candidates on the list: the voters would do this. That is why the system could be called preferential proportional. It is true that party leaders might designate their friends or close allies to the constituency where the party holds strong positions. But then, fellow party colleagues will be unhappy with this practice. So those who currently pay for a place on the top of the list would no longer be able to do so, as nobody would guarantee them the support of the voters from the relevant constituency. On the contrary, voters may chose not to vote such candidates. Fourthly, this system would boost the activity of the party branches in the territories, as well as that of the party members. Under these circumstances, party leaders will have to designate in the administrative constituencies those candidates who enjoy the support of the voters from that particular constituency. And this will only strengthen political parties’ branches in the territories. It is OK for political leaders from the capital to become the leaders of the branches in the territory provided party members in the territory choose to elect them based on their competence. This on the contrary will make party leaders to spend more time and effort to strengthen their branches.

Another important thing aimed to strengthen the political parties is the fact that under the new system party fellows running in different constituencies will not only compete with their political rivals but also with each other. Those who bring more votes for the party will be in the top positions on the list. As the party fellows run in different constituencies there would be no internal conflicts. On the contrary each of them will be interested to get as many votes so as to contributed to the general party victory.

Another fact to be mentioned is that there are no political parties in the Republic of Moldova with a considerable number of well-trained personalities so as to represent the party in the Parliament of Government. The new system allows ambitious politicians to join an existent party so as to be launched in the political life, rather than form their own party. They wouldn’t have to queue for a place on the candidate lists, rather they would be promoted based on their results in a particular constituency.

Some problems might arise in connection with the latter aspect; it may well happen that a political party leader will receive fewer votes than his/her party fellow running in another constituency. Undermined political authority is not to be neglected in Moldova. As in other countries, the party is mainly identified with its leader, consequently the image of the leader is to be cherished. Its hard to imagine what would Braghis (Former Prime Minister) Alliance represent if not for Dumitru Braghis himself, or Christian Democratic Peoples’ Party without Iurie Rosca, or the recently registered Independence Party without Serafim Urecheanu, etc. This is another reason why party leaders shouldn’t be ascribed to a certain constituency from the very beginning knowing that they would hold top position on the list. This way in each constituency would run the party leader with whom the entire party is identified and the candidate ascribed to that particular constituency. During the electoral campaigns party leaders will favour the candidates whose constituencies they would personally visit. Anyway, political party leaders would have a role to play at the national level and note merely regional as in the case of party candidates.

And finally, this system would encourage coalition building especially among the parties which are supported in some particular regions, thus larger areas of interest will be covered.

What would be the disadvantages of the system?

Firstly, at the beginning the system will be regarded with suspicion, until tested in elections. Secondly, it would complicate the work of the CEC. Thirdly, this system might discourage parties representing the same political orientation and enjoying the similar support in the region to form coalitions. And last but not least, there might be cases when the same administrative constituencies will be represented by several candidates whereas others wouldn’t be represented at all.

Conclusions

It seems that the ADEPT proposal meets all the above criteria. Furthermore, the advantages of the new electoral system outreach the disadvantages. Consequently ADEPT will continue to promote this system with political parties, the Central Elections Commission, the Parliament and others interested in the continued development of democracy in Moldova.

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