Alegerile parlamentare din 2021 în Republica Moldova -

Party institutionalisation and elections

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Igor Botan / February 15, 2008
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“Imitative democracy” syndrome

The Moldovan democracy is imitative like other East European democracies. This term is sanctioned and it indicates that the borrowed forms filled with domestic consistence are adequately manifested very seldom. In this respect, any borrowed constitutional model — parliamentary, semi-parliamentary or presidential — will manifest in a specific manner in countries such as the Republic of Moldova and others via a directed, sovereign or spaced out democracy where the dictatorship of law centred on the vertical of the power is dominating. It is worse when societies slip to chaos and confrontation, building vicious circles. Indeed, underdeveloped societies cannot avoid the imitative phase, but imitative models should cultivate reflexes as time goes on. Although these reflexes are conditioned by lures and supervised by foreign monitors, later they start functioning adequately, unconditionally.

Democracy in Moldova is being built for 17 years and democratic reflexes have been shaped somehow. They are particularly manifested before parliamentary or presidential elections, like everywhere in transition areas. Examples of Russia and Ukraine are eloquent in this regard. Forthcoming elections in Moldova have also given birth to initiatives seeking the modification of Constitution, electoral system, legislation on parties, etc. This happened before the 1994 early parliamentary elections, an absolutely normal thing at that stage. But this also happened before the 2000 presidential elections, when it was desired to adjust the Constitution to interests of political groups, generating a constitutional crisis and early parliamentary elections. Something like this is being developed after preparations for the 2009 parliamentary elections have started.

The parliamentary majority has recently adopted a new law on parties, prohibited holders of dual citizenship to participate in the electoral race, gave green light to the modification of electoral legislation in order to take advantages on account of opposition parties. In reply, the opposition, namely its “frail” side, has launched opposite initiatives. It made public plans to help the society get rid of the acting governance, modify the constitutional norm on election of the chief of state and the electoral system for the election of the Parliament, repeating indeed some older initiatives by the grinded opposition.

The previous experience was a proof that “moving on the opposite side” stressed the vulnerabilities of the participating parties rather than produced the expected results. It happened so when the Constitution was drafted in the early 1990s and when it was revised with the participation of former presidents Mircea Snegur and Petru Lucinschi. The early withdrawal from the domestic political circuit was the effect. Leaders of the current ruling party could also regret many things they have done when they had the absolute power in their hands. They chose to make privileges for themselves in the detriment of the opposition and strengthening of democratic institutions. Their actions are more than eloquent in this regard.

The best solution, which is probably impossible in the present political context, would be for the ruling party and opposition parties to make a joint effort in order to consolidate parties and electoral system. At this stage, it seems that neither the new law on parties, nor the ongoing amendments to the electoral legislation are sufficient to fortify democratic institutions.

Does the payer order the music?

Following the 2005 parliamentary elections, specialised international institutions have recommended Moldova to adopt a new law on parties which would help consolidating them and reduce the political corruption. Also, they recommended the modification of the electoral legislation in order to eliminate the norms which fuel non-confidence between parties.

The new draft law on parties roused controversial debates and the final version brought an unexpected change — the annual amount allocated from the state budget to support parties was increased ten-fold, from 0.02 stipulated by the draft law up 0.2 percent or approximately 30 million lei. A series of recommendations including those on regional parties have been ignored. The annual amount stipulated for the maintenance of parties is too high for Moldova and it shall be correlated with legitimate performance requirements. Anybody may wonder: for what special merits parties are allocated 0.2 percent of the annual public budget, if parties are the institutions with the lowest confidence rating, approximately 20 percent?

The only explanation is that in Moldova like in other developed societies which the country is imitating parties should play a crucial role in ensuring the relationship between society and bodies of the representative power. Indeed Moldovan citizens were imposed to credit parties in advance, without any guarantees that parties will become more responsible and credible.

Under these circumstances, the main problems of parties should be discussed. Latest surveys on evolution of parties in transition areas find that the institutionalisation of parties and electoral volatility are the most pressing problems in imitative democracies. It means that parties should normally become viable institutions “to remedy the subordination to pretentious leaders or groups which created them for instrumental goals.” If the institutionalisation problem is resolved, the electoral volatility would be remedied as well, and parties would be capable to fulfil their sanctioned tasks of: a) determining and articulating the interests of large groups of citizens; b) integrating and mobilising masses of electors; c) structuring votes of electors; d) contributing to development of political culture; e) identifying, recruiting and promoting new staff; f) elaborating and implementing social-economic and political programmes; g) organising the state administration, etc.

Moldovan tax-payers who will have to support annually from public funds approximately 2/3 out of more than 30 registered parties which hold mandates of parliamentarians and local councillors have the right to wonder:

Eventual answers to these questions should not be trivial. Financing parties on basis of electoral performances (number of mandates of parliamentarians and local councillors), accordingly to the new law on parties, is necessary but insufficient.

For practical reasons, financing criteria should be diversified without increasing the overall amount. It is seemingly useful to give a quantum of resources to parties associated with doctrinaire internationals represented in the European Parliament, in order to stimulate the communication with them. This approach could have multiple effects, contributing to their mounting in the European circuit. Parties would be motivated to join on basis of doctrinaire criteria in order to cope with the partnership with internationals concerned. Citizens could understand easier why doctrinaire parties are necessary, as they could use the secular experience of European socialists, liberals, Christian democrats, etc., via these internationals.

The party internationalisation task could be also fulfilled by imposing more transparency to parties. Two approaches could be available for this purpose. The first is to make public the criteria of identification and nomination of party candidates to elective offices. The second one, which has a bigger and wider impact, would envisage the distribution of parliamentary mandates in the current proportional electoral system that should undergo certain changes.

Impact of electoral system on parties

It is an axiom that the electoral system has a decisive impact on the party system. The Parliament will pass soon in the second reading some amendments to the Election Code, which do not affect the essence of the electoral system. At the same time, the Democratic Liberal Party of Moldova (DLPM) has plans to hold a referendum on modification of the electoral system. In these circumstances, discussing eventual solutions with a greater possibility to be implemented and an eventual impact on institutionalisation and strengthening of parties is important.

Given Moldova’s experience, the absolutely proportional electoral system (a country — an electoral constituency) introduced in 1993 was not the best choice:

As the DLPM initiative on modification of the electoral system will rouse debates anyway, the basic criteria for the choice of an adequate electoral system shall be mentioned: ensuring an adequate representation of political forces; ensuring a tighter relationship between lawmakers and electors for the responsibility of the first; maintaining a simple voting procedure, so that electors to be able to easily exercise their right to elect; contributing to institutionalisation of strong and responsible parties; promoting interests of minorities; preventing tensions by imposing compromises; promoting interests of the parliamentary opposition; ensuring a stable governing after elections.

Some of these sanctioned principles are competitive, but their conciliation capacity indicates the maturity of these democracies. A functional electoral system should not be touched without a serious estimation of possible implications on these principles. In this situation, the adjustment of the existing proportional electoral system to the requirements mentioned above would be welcome in Moldova. A similar proposal was made in October 2001, but it was turned down. Now there are better conditions to promote such proposals with a positive impact on institutionalisation of parties. It means that the voting in the first reading of amendments to the Election Code which ban electoral blocs and stipulate the numbering of ballot papers for administrative electoral districts would facilitate their eventual implementation.

In order to avoid the opposition of leaders of parties which are used to benefits of the current system, it would be better to persuade them that parties could be fortified without undermining the positions of leaders. But the following minimal changes in the existing system for the election of the Parliament shall be performed:

Effects of such changes seem to be evident:

These factors are significant enough to lay the basis of an adequate institutionalisation of political parties, encouraging an internal competition for leadership on merit-based principles.

The only clear fault of eventual changes would be that electors would discover in certain administrative electoral districts that not the candidate who garnered most of votes, but a candidate who won less votes and his/her party gained a higher percent nationwide represents them in the Parliament.

Old reflexes vs. new reflexes

The DLPM initiative on modification of Constitution shall be also explained in order to realise how useful and efficient this action could be. For this purpose, an answer to the following question is needed: what is primary — the direct election of the chief of state or the ensuring of the role of efficient mediator of state institutions regardless of the mode of election of the president? What role do parties play in balancing the activity of these institutions?

Regarded through the interest of fortifying the role of parties and institutionalising them, it would be logical to eliminate, on one hand, and to stipulate, on another hand, legal norms which would restrict ruling parties from building “verticals of the power”. The later politicise and pervert the bodies in charge with protecting legal norms, advantage governors and disadvantage the opponents, encouraging this way the degeneration of the party system. A first action in this regard would be to legally cease the party membership of the chief of state throughout the mandate. There are historical and moral premises to do so. The three constitutive acts of the independent state Republic of Moldova include the sovereignty and independence declarations and the Decree concerning the state power # 201-XII from 27.07.1990, which stipulates express that “the pluralism of leading offices in the state power bodies and state administration and any other post in state and cooperative organisations, political parties and socio-political organisations and movements is prohibited.”

Now the complete enforcement of this norm would be counterproductive and impossible, but it was necessary when the Communist Party was the only institutionalised political force. After the Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova (PCRM) regained the power in 2001 as a dominant party, the need of reintroducing such a norm the least concerning the head of state office was acutely experienced. The Christian Democratic People’s Party (CDPP) invoked this thing in April 2001, when PCRM chairman Vladimir Voronin was elected as chief of state, and the Democratic Party (DP) invoked the same fact when it conditioned the re-election of the PCRM leader as head of state in April 2005. It was motivated then that instead of mediating state institutions, Moldova’s president chose to build the vertical of the state power in order to control it. Although things should not be generalised, the dual quality of head of state and party ensured the functionality of the famous vertical in Moldova. This is the most eloquent example when old authoritarian reflexes defeated the imitative reflexes of the transition period.

From this viewpoint, the task of disassembling the vertical of the power seems to be easier tangible than the initiative seeking the modification of the Constitution with the view to introduce a direct election of the chief of state. The acting ruling party could also back this initiative, the least after the expiration of the mandate of the incumbent president. The direct election of the chief of state diminishes the role of parties, weakening them in front of populist but charismatic politicians. The chief of state shall be elected through a compromise of parliamentary factions, with a qualified vote in a society divided on multiple criteria like the one of Moldova. At the same time, in order to prevent the voting against the collar like the one on April 4, 2005, the Constitution shall be modified to eliminate the clause on dissolution of the Parliament in the event of impossibility to elect the chief of state. The CDPP launched such an initiative in April 2005, and its resumption could help fortifying the role and responsibility of parties to look for compromise solutions, if there are no artificial pressures.

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