Overview of electoral law

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Igor Botan / February 16, 2003
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The Electoral Code has been the most disputed legal act lately. Since its adoption in 1997, 15 laws on its amendment have been passed. Out of the total 205 Articles, 90 have been amended, 250 modifications being operated. Certain articles have been amended 5 times, 10 of such modifications were outlawed by the Constitutional Court.

There are various grounds for such an increased attention to the modification of the electoral law. Firstly, flaws that should be eliminated surface after each elections. Central Electoral Commission (CEC) drafts appropriate amendments based on the recommendations of international organizations (OSCE, Council of Europe, IFES) and domestic NGOs and submits them for the examination of the Parliament.

Secondly, political parties represented in Parliament have their interests in amending the electoral law. As a rule such modifications are operated to serve the incumbent ruling party. This was the case in 1997 when during the final reading of the Electoral Code (Article 86) the phrase that the 4% threshold refers only to parties and not to independent candidates was excluded; in 1998 additional barriers were set (Article 13) for the MPs to run for Chisinau Mayoralty; in 2000 the threshold of representation was raised from 4 to 6%; in 2002 representatives of the incumbent ruling party introduced a progressive threshold of 6% for a single party, 9% for an electoral bloc formed out of two parties and 12% for three or more parties. In early 2002 the procedure of mayor election was changed, from direct elections to elections by the local councils. Another modification was aimed to prevent the mayors who served for two consecutive terms to run in elections for the third time. The latter amendment is believed to be targeted at the incumbent Chisinau Mayor, Serafim Urechean so as to prevent him from running for the third mandate.

Thirdly, opposition parties initiate the modifications of the electoral law in order to eliminate the flaws and consequences of the modifications operated by the ruling party. As a rule, majority faction rejects them even if they are to improve significantly the electoral process. In 2000, the initiative to establish a limited proportional system (one administrative unit — one multiple-mandate constituency). The initiative was aimed to make the deputies accountable to their voters and strengthen regional branches of the political parties.

Amending electoral law takes center stage again, as two factions boycott the Parliament plenary sessions. The letter of the Council of Europe Secretary General, Walter Schwimmer, on settling political conflicts within the framework of the Permanent Round Table (PRT) reads that the current electoral system should be changed in order to settle the conflict. The changes in the electoral system would provide equal chances to electoral contestants and eliminate the flaws of the incumbent system, which enabled the ruling party to get additional 40% of the mandates. Although committed to enforce Council of Europe recommendations, Communist authorities rejected several Social Democratic Alliance (ADA) initiatives to amend the Electoral Code in line with the said recommendations. The initiatives referred in particular to introducing a mixed electoral system, or changing the current proportional system so as to enable political parties running in elections to choose to whom their votes should go in case they fail to pass the electoral threshold (replacing the mechanical proportional redistribution of votes by a preferential one). In such a case voters would be able to cast their votes in favor of the party they choose, knowing at the same time where his/her vote would go upon the failure of the party to pass the threshold choice. Majority faction rejected both initiatives. The first one on the grounds that it prevents citizens residing in Transdnistria to vote, whereas the second on the grounds the system has not been used in the other countries. Both arguments are not exactly correct. Mixed system enables a single national constituency, as they as in the previous three electoral campaigns, so there are no grounds for concern regarding Transdnistrian voters. Secondly, Transdnistrian voters could cast their vote in the neighborhood uninominal constituencies, as was the case in a single national constituency. A very simple procedure was devised in this respect. As for the second argument that a system that wasn’t put in practice in other countries may not be used, it is not valid as well. An illustration of this is the recent amendments operated to the Law on Political Parties, obliging political parties to yearly confirm they have at least 5,000 members, practice not used anywhere else. Indeed, Moldovan legislators may come up with innovations, on condition they would have a positive impact and clear procedures would be outlined. If there is a preferential vote for candidates, then why shouldn’t preferential vote exist for the parties as well, especially as under Electoral Code all contestants, be it an independent candidate or a party are equal. The only thing that matters is to provide several options to the voter from which to choose.

If the ruling party had some excuses not to change the electoral system, than it had none as far as the security and transparency of the voting are concerned. It is difficult to explain why the ruling party rejected Social-Democratic Alliance initiative to change the ballot design, so that it would include a detachable control coupon. Firstly, such ballots are widely used in other countries. Secondly, the new design would allow a better control over possible frauds with the ballot papers. However, the arguments for rejecting the initiative brought by the Communist Party, were that the introduction of a new procedure would be time-consuming. The experience of the previous seven elections in Moldova indicated that on average it takes a voter 10 minutes to exercise his right to vote. It would take him around one minute to fill their name and ID in the coupon and detach it, so it wouldn’t be time consuming at all. Furthermore, the great part of the day polling stations are empty, whereas during the rush hours some additional measures for the normal and orderly functioning of the polling place might be taken.

Upon crisis like the one Republic of Moldova is undergoing, its is very important to gain the trust of political opponents. This is the more important as a referendum on endorsing the new Constitution is due soon, followed by general elections into the Federative Parliament. Unfortunately, though there are still many unresolved problems related to elections and referenda. Nevertheless, a positive sign is that the Parliament proceeded to the modification of the Electoral Code so as to reintroduce the old procedures of mayor elections and eliminate the barriers preventing mayors to run for more than two consecutive terms.

Mega-initiative of the President Voronin Regrouping of political forces