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Boycotting presidential elections

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Igor Botan / September 12, 2016
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2016 presidential elections are the first direct elections to be held in the last 20 years. Returning to direct presidential election procedure was done in a novel way, without changing the Constitution by Parliament or by constitutional referendum, but by Constitutional Court (CC) decision, which decided to cancel part of the constitutional amendments of 2000. CC judgment was both welcomed and criticized. On the one hand, opinion polls consistently show that 80–90% of citizens want to elect a president by direct vote. So it acted in the interests of the overwhelming majority of citizens. On the other hand, the way they switched to direct election of the president sparked controversy between power and opposition parties.

Since the adoption of CC decision and till the start of the electoral campaign on August 31, were opinions circulated that direct elections would be canceled. After starting the procedure of nominating candidates, the main political forces entered the electoral competition. Meanwhile, in parallel with the nomination of candidates, a campaign to contest the constitutionality of these elections was launched. Party of Communists of Moldova (PCRM) decided at their 20th plenary of September 3 to boycott the presidential elections. PCRM believes that the Decision No. 7 of the Constitutional Court on the direct election of the president is unconstitutional. In these circumstances, the Party of Communists examined three possible strategies:

Communist Party plenum decided to boycott the elections. PCRM leader, Vladimir Voronin, argued this decision saying that in the upcoming elections it will be elected a new hostage-president, a president without powers, without any possibility to influence the situation in the society and incapable to get rid of the bandits in power. In support for this decision Vladimir Voronin cited the success his party had in boycotting the referendum of May 23, 1999 on transforming Moldova into a presidential republic, and the success of boycotting the September 5, 2010 referendum on returning to direct election of the president, when as result only 30.3% of voters voted, while the validation threshold was of 1/3.

CC decision was contested and by other big political parties — Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova (PSRM) and Our Party (PN). They formulated a series of relevant objections. In accordance with the Constitution, as amended on 05.07.2000 and the Law No. 1234 of 22.09.2000, ordinary presidential elections were to take place “with no more than 45 days before the expiry of the mandate of the President in office” (Article 2. (2)), ie between February 7 — March 22, 2016. But in this period the Parliament has not taken any action to initiate the procedure of presidential elections and has not even discussed the matter. Instead, on March 4, 2016, the Constitutional Court adopted the Decision No. 7 on reviewing the constitutionality of certain provisions of Law No. 1115-XIV of July 5, 2000 on amending the Constitution of the Republic of Moldova. CC declared unconstitutional part of the Article 78 of the Constitution, amended by Law No. 1115-XIV, namely the part on the President election mechanism. CC ruled that the amendment introduced in 2000 violated the procedure of adopting a constitutional bill that has been substantially and conceptually amended by MPs in the second reading without repeated endorsement by the Constitutional Court. This was the original way in which, after 20 years and three presidential mandates with Presidents elected by the Parliament following the amendment of Constitutional Law No. 1115-XIV of 5 July 2000, the Constitutional Court ordered the return to the status quo ante, ie the direct election of the president.

In this context, PSRM filed a complaint, asking the CC to guarantee that any election outcome will be validated. PSRM feared the fact that authorities violated the constitutional deadlines for appointing presidential elections date. Indeed, under Article 90 (4) of the Constitution: “Within two months from the vacancy of the office of President of the Republic, it will be organized elections for a new President in accordance with the law.” So Parliament should have set presidential elections to take place before May 23. But in fact, it has set election date on October 30. If CC overturned after 16 years the way the President is elected invoking procedure reasons, would they also possibly invalidate the elections results, as these elections obviously breach an article of the Constitution? That was the question PSRM asked and the CC did not want to answer.

On the other side, PN contested CC decision as it declared unconstitutional only the way the President is elected but did not call unconstitutional the change of age census for candidates also introduced in 2000. When the Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova (PLDM) addressed to the CC on November 12, 2015, they have contested the constitutionality of the entirely Article 78 of the Constitution, but the CC decision of March 4 deliberately ignored paragraph 2 of that Article — the amendment that increased the age censor for the candidates for president. Thus, the CC considered that the procedure for amending the Constitution have been violated in 2000, but the fact that the increase in census age for candidates from 35 to 40, conducted in exactly the same flawed manner is perfectly constitutional.

Despite the above mentioned appeals, both parties — PN and PSRM have decided to participate with their own candidates in the 2016 presidential race. This makes it unlikely for the PCRM to obtain success in boycotting presidential elections, even if the turnout to validate elections remained 1/3 of the registered voters. In this regard, it should be noted that back in 2010, when PCRM boycotted the referendum, the party had the support of around 40% voters. Currently, the communists are backed by no more than 10% of voters, while PSRM and PN, which drew on their side most of the PCRM electorate are this time interested to ensure the participation of voters once loyal to PCRM.

Pre electoral context The main trends in the presidential elections of 2016