EU’s reaction to introduction of mixed electoral system: pragmatism or weakness, OP-ED

 

 

The conditionality elements should be resuscitated urgently to strengthen the EU’s authority and not to allow feelings of contempt for the EU to be spread in Moldova and the region


 

Dionis Cenuşa
 

 

The party ruling in Moldova managed to change the party-list proportional representation system for the  mixed-member electoral system ignoring the criticism of the Venice Commission and the warnings of the European Union institutions. On July 20, 2017, in less than five minutes, the parliamentary groups of the Democrats and Socialists, together with 12 turncoats, adopted the bill to introduce the mixed electoral system by an absolute majority of 74 votes.

To minimize the risk of large-scale protests, the ruling party (Democratic Party) held the final vote on the bill one day before the end of the spring-summer session of Parliament. Two days before the vote, on July 18, the Democratic Party presented the results of a challenged public opinion poll commissioned by the Democrats to IMAS. This shows public support for the replacement of the party-list proportional representation system with the mixed one. The Democrats’ poll cumulates the percentages of people in favor of the two systems – mixed and uninominal, declaring that 54% of the population is for the mixed-member electoral system. In reality, the largest part of the population or 35% is in favor of the proportional representation system.

The survey includes manipulating questions that associate the EU with eventual punishment for Moldova for changing the electoral system. The penalties specified in the poll indirectly refer to the macro-financial assistance of €100 million, approved by the European Parliament on July 4, which, under the June 6 agreement between the European institutions, will be allocated only if the Moldovan authorities meet the political preconditions, in particular the provisions of the Venice Commission opinion of July 16 (IPN, June 2017). It results from the poll that the financial assistance for the EU is a European obligation towards Moldova and an inalienable right of the Moldovans, while the non-allocation of this assistance is reinterpreted as “inference” of the EU in Moldova’s internal political affairs and violation of the country’s sovereignty.

At the same time, the poll puts civil society and the antigovernment opposition, which opposed the introduction of the mixed system and called on the EU institutions to refuse to provide financial assistance if the mixed system is introduced, in a negative light. (See Table 1)

Table 1. Questions from the IMAS poll about mixed system commissioned by Democratic Party

Poll questions

Answers of respondents/%

Should the electoral system be changed or not?

  • Yes – 59
  • No – 31
  • Don’t know/No answer – 10

How should the MPs be chosen in the next parliamentary elections?

  • Current electoral system (proportional) – 35
  • Uninominal voting system – 30
  • Mixed-member electoral system – 24
  • Don’t know/No answer – 11

What should Parliament do?

  • Take into account Venice Commission’s recommendations – 38
  • Use the sovereign right to decide to change the electoral system if most of the people want this – 53
  • Don’t know/No answer – 9

European Union

What should current Parliament do if most of the people want the electoral system to be replaced at a time when the EU intends to penalize the Republic of Moldova if it changes the electoral system?

  • Parliament  should take into account the EU’s warnings and give up changing the electoral system – 33
  • Parliament should listen to the people’s will and change the electoral system – 60

If the EU penalizes Moldova for the introduction of the mixed voting system, how would you assess such a situation?

  • Correct, Moldova should respect the EU’s decision - 30
  • Incorrect, the EU’s decision will represent interference in Moldova’s internal political affairs – 17
  • Incorrect – it is the people’s right to decide to change the electoral system and this right should not be affected from outside – 19
  • Incorrect – Moldova is a sovereign state and has the right to decide what electoral system to choose – 25
  • Don’t know/No answer – 9

Civil society and opposition

A number of parties and NGOs chose to protest against the introduction of the mixed system. What opinion do you have about this?

  • Positive opinion – 26
  • Negative opinion – 24
  • Neutral, anyone has the right to protest – 42
  • Don’t know/No answer – 8

If the mixed system is adopted, will you take part in protests, demonstrations or marches?

  • Yes – 27
  • No – 70
  • Don’t know/No answer – 3

Source: IMAS

Several of shortcomings of new electoral system

Besides increasing the electoral perspectives of the Democrats in the 2018 parliamentary elections, the mixed electoral system can cause procedural and political problems in the organization of elections. The mixed system can destabilize the yet fragile electoral system and shatter the pillars of parliamentary democracy.

Under the new changes to the Election Code, 51 MPs of the 101 will be chosen in single-member constituencies, while the other 50 based on party lists in national constituencies. The single-member constituencies (five) will be created based on the territorial-administrative units of the second level – raions (districts). A raion with 55,000-60,000 people with the right to vote will choose an MP, while the number of MPs designated from a constituency will depend on the size of the raion’s population (Article 74). The single-member constituencies will be approved by the Government based on the decision of an independent commission whose composition will be set also by the Government. On the one hand, the profile of single-member constituencies will be powerfully influenced by the Democrats, who control the Government. On the other hand, the process of establishing constituencies can experience difficulties owing to the demographic inconsistencies of raions. A raion will be eligible to designate a candidate for the parliamentary elections if it has at least 55,000 inhabitants with the right to vote. However, the data of the Central Election Commission show that 12 districts do not match the limits set by the amended electoral legislation. Also, other difficulties can appear when forming constituencies for the diaspora voters given the existence of inaccurate records of Moldovan emigrants. (See Table 2)

 

Table 2. Estimated number of single-member constituencies in territorial-administrative units of the second level (raions), municipalities, ATU Gagauzia and diaspora
 

  Number of voters included in the main electoral rolls for November 2014 legislative elections Possible number of single-member constituencies (55,000 people with the right to vote per constituency)
CHISINAU 618,842 11
BALTI 105,533 1
ATU GAGAUZIA 130,986 2
Raions with 55,000 to 110,000 people eligible  to vote 1. Anenii Noi; 2. Briceni; 3. Cahul; 4.Calarasi; 5. Causeni; 6. Criuleni; 7. Drochia; 8. Edinet; 9. Falesti; 10. Floresti, 11. Hancesti; 12. Ialoveni; 13. Orhei; 14. Rascani; 15. Sangerei; 16. Soroca; 17. Straseni; 18. Stefan Voda; 19. Telenesti; 20. Ungheni Each gets one constituency
Raions with fewer than 55,000 people eligible  to vote 1. Basarabeasca; 2. Cantemir; 3. Cimislia; 4. Donduseni; 5. Dubasari; 6. Glodeni; 7. Leova; 8. Nisporeni; 9. Soldanesti; 10. Ocninta; 11. Rezina; 12. Taraclia No constituency
Transnistria region   Constituencies will be formed based on data from the State Register of Voters and the borders of territorial -administrative units on the left and right sides of the Nistru.
Single-member constituencies abroad (geographical areas)

1. EU Member States, Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, San Marino, non-EU Southeastern Europe states, Turkey and Israel

2. CIS Member States, Ukraine, Georgia, Asia, Middle East

3. North America, South  America, Africa, Australia, New Zealand

Number of constituencies depending on: 1) data of embassies and consulates; 2) data of central public authorities and official statistics; 3) preliminary registration of Moldovans abroad; 4) number of persons who took part in previous elections; 5) other data, including those requested from host countries.


Source: Author’s calculations based on CEC data about the parliamentary elections of November 2014 and the new changes to the Election Code concerning mixed electoral system.  

Besides the risks related to the influencing of the process of forming single-member constituencies, particular difficulties can appear because of the broad powers given to the Constitutional Court. According to the new amendments, if the Court does not validate the elections in 34 (2/3) of the 51 single-member constituencies, the Central Election Commission could refuse to issue permits to the elected MPs (Art. 94). Furthermore, there are no concrete limitations as to the Constitutional Court’s power to nullify the election results in a particular single-member constituency when violations are identified.

Ultimately, the new legislation relativizes the value of votes cast by the people and endangers the correctness of the final result. When the candidates in single-member constituencies get the same sore, the winner will be decided by “draw” by the district electoral council (Art. 91), without any transparency mechanism being ensured.

Pragmatism or weakness

In a day (July 21), the EU reacted to the vote for the introduction of the mixed-member electoral system and the reaction expressed the EU’s position at the highest level – High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini and Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn. A more consistent official statement on the intention to change the electoral system was published about a month ago, but by the spokesperson for the European External Action Service (June 19,2017).

The Mogherini-Hahn statement highlights several important aspects. First of all, the statement notes that the EU’s position is anchored in the recommendations of the Venice Commission, which are critical of the mixed system. It results from the statement that the government of Moldova replaced the system without following a genuine consultation of civil society and recommendations of the international partners. Furthermore, the document reiterates that the introduction of the mixed system will lead to risks to democracy. The statement says the European Union will continue to follow closely the developments around the electoral reform and its implementation, in particular in connection with the provision of macro-financial assistance and the obligation to respect the mechanisms of democratic institutions.

Evidently, the Mogherini-Hahn statement points to the adoption of a serious attitude, but the content of the statement shows no state of alert or major irritation among the EU institutions. Instead of dramatizing things, the EU decided to adopt a pragmatic position, especially because the macro-financial assistance for Moldova is strictly related to the political preconditions that the government of Moldova for now does not respect. Delivering a calm message, the EU avoids being involved in public manipulation campaigns used by the Democrats to shift the responsibility for the possible non-provision of assurance onto Brussels, trying thus to indirectly blackmail the EU.

Instead of conclusion ...

Anyway, the EU needs Moldova to do reforms. Currently, only the Democrats can do these even if many reforms are mimicked or are implemented badly. The given reality suits the Democrats and their leader Vladimir Plahotniuc, who, by adopting the mixed system, continue to test the red lines set by the European partners.

As long as this reciprocal necessity exists, the EU will be forced, in the absence of an alternative in Chisinau, to allow deviations from the commitments, while the Democratic Party will tend to use the privilege of the only ostensible pro-European political force to pursue the own political goals.

Finally, the adoption of the mixed-member electoral system despite the warnings of the EU about the macro-financial assistance reveal, on the one hand, a successful mixture of strategic planning and enormous resources as well as boldness and cold calculation of the risks inside the Democratic Party. On the other hand, this shows that the conditionality instrument used by the EU is no longer so scaring for the Moldovan government. The conditionality elements should be resuscitated urgently to strengthen the EU’s authority and not to allow feelings of contempt for the EU to be spread in Moldova and the region, in particular in Georgia and Ukraine.

 

 
Dionis Cenuşa

 


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