Initiator is key problem of initiative on uninominal system. IPN analysis

Without this consensus, the eventual implementation of the new electoral system will represent only the political victory by one (several) political player against another (other) political player, without having something in common with the declared goals of reforming the political class that would want and would be able to contribute to achieving the society’s aspirations for the better...

On March 13, 2017, MPs of the Democratic Party (PDM) registered in Parliament a legislative initiative that introduces the majority voting system based on uninominal constituencies. Under the bill, there will be established 101 electoral constituencies that will elect by one Member of Parliament. When the initiative was launched and registered, this caused serious non-univocal reactions that reveal the appearance of a fissure in Moldovan society that is already strongly divided or of a criterion for antagonizing spirits from now on. Why does it happen so and what should be done if something can be done?

One trouble: initiator of initiative

The perception of concern caused by the initiative generally derives not from the advantages or disadvantages of the proposed system, but from the way in which this is proposed for adoption and which, for its part, can cause even greater problems to the social cohesion in the Republic of Moldova that depends not only on the success of the new electoral system, but also on the fate of many important bills of national level, the process of reforming the social life and the country’s European integration being only several of the examples. Maybe this is why the Venice Commission formulated already the recommendation to obtain broad consensus in the process of discussing and adopting the PDM’s initiative before the submission of this bill for appraisal.

In fact, there seems to be only one trouble among the complex of elements that constitute the method of replacing the electoral system for a large part of the political players and social categories as well as private individuals: the initiator – the Democratic Party of Moldova. It is alleged that the reaction to a similar initiative that would have been launched by another political or an apolitical entity would have been different as many politicians earlier supported the introduction of the uninominal voting system. Also, a large part of society seems to approve of this method of electing MPs, according to polls.

Suspected of insincerity

In general, the PDM is suspected of big insincerity in relation to the declared goals pursued by this initiative. The given suspicions seem to be sufficiently reasonable if we remember the previous behavior of the party in particular key areas. This substitution of announced and real goals causes concern, frustration or even fear among particular political groups and social categories.

Which are the suspicions? The PDM said the new electoral system is designed to reform, clean and renew the political class because this didn’t prove its maturity during the history of the young Moldovan state and was unable to contribute to the materialization of the society’s aspirations for a more prosperous life that would be more protected by laws and the state institutions. In particular, these goals are to be promoted by the new mechanisms defined in the bill, which are designed to ensure less corruption and more integrity among the elected officials, less political cruising, less political-party, group or personal interests and more devotion to the national interests and the interests of ordinary people.

But namely the PDM is now suspected of encouraging political cruising at all the levels and of not having sufficient capacities and/or political will to fight corruption and strengthen justice even if it is the main ruling party. It is a suspicion with which any ruling party should cope, at any time and in all conditions, especially when this obtains the given status mainly by cruising, for example, not as a result of elections.

Results contrary to expectations?

In this regard, despite the declared goals, the main suspicions about the initiator of the majority uninominal system seem to be the following:

1. Starting from the practice that is said to be spread in Moldovan election campaigns, the voters to a greater extent will be “bought” directly by candidates fielded from among the “local barons” on whom these depend a lot or indirectly by several parties interested in the victory of a particular candidate in a particular constituency.

2. There will be “bought” MPs who were already elected in uninominal constituencies with the same results with which they say the ”elected officials” are bought within the current electoral system, strengthening the interests of particular political parties with proportional distancing from the interests of the people or voters. At least partially, this fear was proven in the case of the two legislatures of the People’s Assembly of ATU Gagauzia, many of whose deputies joined the ranks of the PDM after being elected as independents in uninominal constituencies. Thus, the PDM overnight obtained a parliamentary majority and the main administrative posts in the regional legislature.

Doctor who treats diseases he causes

An electoral process compromised this way, eventually more than now, does not result in more democracy and increased functionality of the state authorities, in particular Parliament and the institution of MP. Respectively, it should be determined if the system deserves to be replaced and what the real goals of this change are.

The PDM is suspected by its opponents that it will use (or will continue to use?) the mechanisms of the new electoral system in its interests and therefore promotes it insistently and with many resources. In particular, the PDM is accused of promoting the replacement of the system in order to strengthen its presence in the government during the next few years. According to the opponents, the PDM chose this way to achieve its goals because it cannot attain these within the current, proportional system owing to the party’s low rating in polls and the anti-rating of the party’s leader Vlad Plahotniuc, who is the primary initiator of the bill to replace the electoral system.

Criticism of critics

The critics of the PDM can be right here, but only partially. One cannot accuse a political opponent of wanting to remain in power and of doing what it is able to for the purpose as long as the goal of all the parties and politicians, during all times, is to come to power and to hold it as long as possible by legal ways. It seems that the opponents commit the same substitution of notions of which they accuse the PDM, which is to their detriment against the support that they seek from society for rejecting the Democrats’ initiative.

Even the opponents should recognize the ingeniousness with which the PDM, with a low rating and an anti-rating, chose to promote the goals of which it is accused, using and already fuelling powerfully for the purpose the people’s wish to choose the “own” MPs in uninominal districts expressed by polls.

Many of the ordinary voters may not see so clearly as the politicians from the opposition the direct connection between the goals of the PDM, the uninominal system as a way of achieving these and the danger to the country’s democratic foundations invoked by these politicians. A nonstandard situation requires nonstandard solutions of the opposition politicians, which would be not less ingenious and not less popular than those applied by the PDM. But these are late for now. At least the tactic of refusing to take part in the debate on the PDM’s initiative seems to be insufficient for banking on real results in combating this.

Vital consensus: real or unreal?

This way or another, the PDM is now associated by its political opponents with the doctor who treats the diseases caused by him. To combat this perception, the Democrats should prove the sincerity of their declared goals as regards the reforming of the political class, increasing its capacities and integrity, including by ending political cruising, fighting corruption, strengthening justice, etc. It is hard to say how this can be done convincingly and credibly given the aforementioned reproaches made to it. But it is clear that this should be done now, in parallel with the process of debating and adopting the new initiative as a mandatory condition for having it legalized.

Without such a proof provided now, it is almost impossible to achieve broad consensus for adopting and implementing the uninominal system. Without this consensus, the eventual implementation of the new electoral system will represent only the political victory by one (several) political player(s) against another (other) political player(s), without having something in common with the declared goals of reforming the political class that would want and would be able to contribute to achieving the society’s aspirations for the better.

Valeriu Vasilica, IPN

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