Halt in EU funding versus uninominal voting system in Moldova

The Government of Moldova is determined to introduce the uninominal voting system fully or at least partially as soon as possible and at any cost. Thus, the bill to change the electoral legislation formulated by the Democratic Party was passed in the first reading, being introduced in the agenda, approved and adopted by 52 votes during only several hours. A similar swift path was covered by the bill on the mixed-member electoral system, which includes different components of the uninominal voting system. The latter, which was proposed by the parliamentary opposition (Party of Socialists) that is affiliated to President Dodon, was passed by the votes of 74 MPs. The uninominal voting system was the maximum goal of the Democratic Party and the mixed-member system could ultimately represent the minimum goal (combination of voting based on party lists and in uninominal constituencies). Only by modifying the electoral system can the ruling party ensure a place in the equation of power and sufficient immunity for the system built around Vladimir Plahotniuc.

The vote on both of the bills was organized several days before the planned arrival of Venice Commission experts in Chisinau (May 9), putting thus the Council of Europe before an accomplished fact. At the same time, the actions of the Plahtoniuc-Dodon duo took place only two days after the critical statement of the European People’s Party (EPP) and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) of May 3, 2017. The two pan-European parties warned the Moldovan authorities that any attempt to bring about such a change without the full backing of the opposition and of civil society will lead the EPP and ALDE to demand that all European funding be stopped. (EPP, May 2017).

However, helped indirectly by the opposition consisting of Socialists, the Democrats insistently move towards the replacement of the electoral system, openly ignoring the warnings of the pan-European parties.

Democrats’ “Blitzkrieg”

The extra-parliamentary opposition was generally found unprepared. The government’s moves were very well synchronized with the absence of Maia Sandu and Andrei Nastase from Moldova. These went to Brussels to discuss, including at the European Parliament, the manifestations of “state capture” in Moldova. While these deplored the fragility of Moldovan democracy, the government carried the proposals that could spread corruption and could further undermine the electoral process. Consequently, the two opposition leaders lost an opportune moment for easier mobilizing people to protests and exerting pressure on the government.

The government’s acts surprised a part of civil society (about 20 organizations), which also expressed its bewilderment at Democrats’ tactics. Anyway, this managed to react promptly with a harsh message, describing the passing of the two bills as a blow to the rule of law and deviation from the commitments undertaken by the country before the foreign partners (IPN, May 2017).

Apparently, another part of civil society (over 40 organizations) was prepared for such a political twist. This pleaded for the introduction of the uninominal voting system, addressing a message of support for the uninominal voting to the European institutions and the U.S. Embassy. The given message is far from being neutral from political viewpoint. Among the 41 signatories is the organization led by the Democratic leader Vladimir Plahotniuc (Moldova Business People Association), who is actually the main promoter of the uninominal voting system.

Disorienting the European partners by annulling or diminishing the pressure exerted from outside is the most difficult task of the government. That’s why the participation by the parliamentary opposition and alternative civil society became crucial for the Democrats in promoting the uninominal voting system, fully or partly. This way, the Democrats want to dilute the criticism leveled by the pan-European parties and others, which are persuaded that besides the Party “Action and Solidarity” and the Platform “Dignity and Truth”, there is also another opposition or civil society, which resolutely supports the uninominal voting system. This way, the Democrats want to make the replacement of the electoral system inevitable and to make the mixed-member system become the most acceptable solution. Proposing a consensus, generated artificially by political technics, the Democrats want to neutralize the criticism leveled by the European exponents, including the warnings about the stopping of funding.

Halt in European funding versus uninominal voting system

The discussions about the uninominal voting system absorbed the attention of the EU’s exponents in the recent past. The EPP and ALDE promised also to request the European institutions to stop providing assistance if the uninominal voting system is introduced without the full backing of the opposition and of civil society. Nevertheless, the Democrats do not want to abandon their plans. This shows that they estimated the possible risks and advantages or that they understand very well the processes inside the EU, or both of these taken together.

First of all, the Democrats consciously contributed to a kind of demonization of the uninominal voting system so that the mixed-member electoral system proposed by the Socialists, which was passed in the first reading, is ultimately tolerated. The warnings of the pan-European parties are also strictly conditioned by the uninominal voting and this facilitates the achievement by the Democrats of the goal of replacing the current electoral system with a mixed-member one, which also contains the uninominal element.

The second aspect taken by the Democrats into account in relation to the EU is the fact that the financial assistance can be stopped neither swiftly nor easily. The freezing of the direct budget support provided to Moldova in 2015 involved a number of European institutions and was caused by the banking frauds. Besides the negative conclusions of the Council of the EU (of February 2015), the European Commission increased the risk degree for Moldova, asked for more intense monitoring of the country and only in July 2015 officially informed about the suspension of assistance until the signing of an agreement with the IMF (IPN, September 2016). So, a possible attempt to halt the macro-financial assistance could last. This detail makes the ruling party relax. Besides, this also has access to IMF loans. Before insisting on the uninominal voting system, the Democrats created the perception that they implement the reforms requested by the EU (IPN, April 2017). The real results of reforms are non-uniform and not at all univocal, the EU invoking problems related to good governance, integrity of judges and corruption fighting (IPN, March 2017), while the IMF reported progress made in some of the structural reforms (IMF, May 2017). These circumstances create a protective background for the Democrats by which they hope to avoid the worsening of the dialogue with the EU and, respectively, the freezing of the assistance intended for Moldova.

However, Romanian MEP Siegfried Muresan insisted that a mechanism of strict, measurable and verifiable conditions should be incorporated in the memorandum of understanding prepared by the European Commission for the €100 million available to Moldova in 2017-2018 (European Parliament, April 2017). One of the preconditions specified in the future memorandum is to ensure a multi-party system to remove the electoral problems. But it’s not clear if the European Commission will be able to associate the Democrats’ attempt to change the electoral system with the non-fulfillment of the conditions for obtaining macro-financial assistance.

Last but not least, the internal (elections in France, Hungary, and Poland) and external (political crisis in Macedonia, Syria, and Ukraine) realities in the EU are very volatile and unpredictable. This leads to reduced attention for less intense files, such as the uninominal voting system promoted by Vladimir Plahotniuc’s party to survive in the next elections.

Instead of conclusion…

The European neighborhood is unstable, while the EU is yet insufficiently able to anticipate crisis situations and what can cause them. Particular corrections will take place if the EU appropriately implements the reviewed European Neighborhood Policy. Until then, the EU seems to be often acting as a “firefighter” in its neighborhood. A similar situation was witnessed in the case of the banking frauds of 2012-2014.

If the extra-parliamentary opposition manages to mobilize the people to massive protests, exerting concerted pressure on the power together with the representatives of civil society, the EU’s attention can be directed to Moldova. The state of emergency becomes a crucial element for turning the EU’s attention to Moldova, as the dedication of the people does. Or why should the EU be more powerfully interested in Moldova than the own people?

The opposition’s incapacity to ensure peaceful protests, to correctly communicate at home and with all the Western partners and the mobilization of a broader part of society will enable the government led by the Democrats and the parliamentary opposition consisting of Socialists to introduce the uninominal voting system in one form or another.

This article was initially published on IPN News Agency on May 8 2017

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