Shortage of communication and of consensus on “mixed-uninominal” voting system. IPN analysis

The supporters of the modification of the electoral system say a “broad consensus” was already reached and provide arguments in favor of their assertions. The opponents, on the contrary, say a consensus is out of the question and also provide arguments. Thus, it is evident that before discussing a consensus, the two sides didn’t find capacity and political will to elementarily communicate between them or use different languages when they are put in the situation to communicate. The communication of the supporters and opponents with society and with the foreign partners is also insufficient, if not defective.

Even if the European Union imposed other serious conditions for resuming discussions on the provision of €100 million in financial assistance on the Moldovan authorities, the time set for this resumption is related to the Venice Commission’s appraisal of the bill to change the electoral system. Thus, the problem of the electoral system seems to be the most important one for the Moldova-EU relations now and in the future, even if nobody in Brussels formulated things so trenchantly. Consequently, the Commission’s appraisal worth at least €100 million is what counts now the most. For the EU, this is a kind of “memorandum with the IMF”, but this time it is about the assessment of the legal and political relations in the Republic of Moldova, not in the economic and financial-banking sectors.

Data of the problem

What data of the problem do we know at this stage about how the final variant of an eventual appraisal of the Venice Commission can look like? Not many and not very clear data. The Commission’s experts who came to Chisinau to collect facts said nothing relevant in this regard and could not say something in the absence of the institution’s final decision. What the dialogue partners in Chisinau say after each meeting with experts is also not very relevant because there were different, even diametrically opposed appraisals, depending on their position on the modification of the electoral system. However, there is an important criterion according to which we can anticipate one of the key elements of the appraisal that both Venice and then Brussels will take into consideration. This is the “broad consensus” that is to be reached as a result of discussions inside the political class and in society in general on the necessity and method of changing the electoral system.

The supporters of the change said the “broad consensus” was already reached and provide arguments in favor of their assertions. The opponents, on the contrary, say a consensus is out of the question and also provide arguments. Thus, it is evident that before discussing a consensus, the two sides didn’t find capacity and political will to elementarily communicate between them or use different languages when they are put in the situation to communicate. The communication of the supporters and opponents with society and with the foreign partners is also insufficient, if not defective.

So, the consensus is damaged because the communication at a number of levels is damaged and, if things do not change, a “broad consensus” is highly improbable and the fate of the change in the electoral system remains uncertain. By extrapolation, the same conclusion can be drawn about the relations with the foreign partners and the level of stability of society, which can ensure the country’s modernization and improvement of the living standards of the people here.  

Supporters of change: internal communication, with society and opponents

The Democratic Party (PDM) and the Party of Socialists (PSRM) appear now as promoters of the change in the electoral system, with different roles and involvement levels. Moreover, the PSRM, as the main parliamentary opposition force, recently turned from an opponent into a supporter, after the legislative body passed its bill to replace the current party-list proportional representation system with the mixed-member system by a majority of votes. The main promoter – the PDM – as the main ruling party treats namely this fact as “broad consensus”.

From political viewpoint, everything is correct and legal, even if the opponents are right when they say that the PDM and PSRM acted based on an older political agreement, about which it has been spoken long, to reach the point that they reached now, for example, because namely this change would ensure their perpetuation in power, to the detriment of other parties, especially smaller ones. But this “broad parliamentary consensus” was reached outside any official and transparent communication between the promoters of the change and with the opponents and Moldovan society. And the consensus then is much narrower at the level of the whole political class and society.

This is because the mixed-member system was voted practically unexpectedly, without preliminary announcements and debates. What was discussed or promoted until then was something else. But the key elements of the discussed and reported uninominal voting system – possibility of dismissing MPs elected in single-member districts as a mechanism for making the MPs more responsible – remained outside the adopted bill. And thus we can admit that the previous campaign was just a smoke screen behind which they could pursue their real goals. Anyway, communication inside the political calls and with society concerning the uninominal voting system cannot replace the yet necessary communication about the mixed-member system. The assertion also applies to the 800,000 signatures that the PDM said it collected at the local level in favor of the uninominal voting system. Otherwise, we will have to admit that a particular kind of consensus was achieved based on data from another problem, obtaining as a result a kind of “mixed-uninominal” voting system as basis for the consensus. Or this declared consensus has a particular level of legitimacy, but the legitimacy has to be yet soundly proven.

The promoters of the modification of the electoral system didn’t manage to attract the political forces and representatives of that part of civil society that does not accept the change to discussions, eventually for obtaining a consensus. The series of debates on parliamentary platform that were intended to be large and representative, but weren’t because they were held on another topic and because they were practically boycotted by the opponents with particular weight, didn’t solve this problem either. We will refer below to the responsibility of the opposition. Here we have to ascertain the shortage of capacity and political will in authentic communication with all the sides interested in a matter that the promoters themselves consider of great importance and urgency. Without authentic communication, it is hard, if not impossible to achieve veritable and broad consensus.

IPN News Agency two time offered its discussion platform for correct and balanced debates on the change in the electoral system, with the broad participation of three representatives of the promoters and three representatives of the opponents, but every time met with the refusal of the key element of one of the sides – the PDM. Every time IPN had to withdraw the invitations accepted by the other participants, with indispensable risks to its image. I wonder if we could treat the refusal as a failed test of the political will and sincerity concerning the broad consensus. Is this an accident in the relationship with the mass media or a law, when the political forces with the “bread and knife” prefer to communicate with the opponents and society only through its own media and so-called media platforms? Should we think that the main political forces prefer to communicate with civil society by the same model?

Opponents of change: internal communication, with society and promoters

The opponents of the change in the electoral system say the proposed bill diminishes the representative democratic potential of civil society, which is much more diverse than the one-party or two-party system at which the supporters of the change aim. But they refused from the start to take part in the discussion of the theme alongside its initiators. Afterward, it turned out that this tactic advantaged more the camp of the promoters, which was left to influence, practically by oneself, and even to manipulate the minds of the Moldovan citizens. It’s true that the opponents by far cannot compete with the administrative, financial and organizational potential of the promoters of the idea, which would have possibly caused the same results regards the “information” and manipulation, but it is one thing to lose the struggle and another one to avoid the direct struggle.

In practical terms, the main parties that oppose the change formed a coalition by signing a joint statement, but actually didn’t go on. In the created conditions, a group of civil society organizations took to the front line of the activities. These have a rich analysis and expertise potential that is usually used by the foreign development partners, but do not and cannot have an administrative, financial, media and organizational potential comparable with that of the promoters of the change. Principally, the given NGOs address a narrow circle of sympathizers and are unable to reach much the inside of society. Such a situation makes the struggle unequal, on the one hand, and maintains a long-lasting state of non-consensus inside society, on the other hand.

The forces grow more unequal when the promoters of the change in the electoral system, instead of accepting or even provoking sincere communication with that part of civil society, resort to all kinds of stratagems, usually, media ones, with the aim of discrediting it by insinuations about affiliation to the interests of political parties. The given insinuations may be believed and there are at least two reasons why. One: the opposition parties have weaker capacities to confront those that possess larger administrative and other kinds of resources and thus cannot be of great aid to civil society. Two: the idea of powerful civil society was diminished after the Platform “Dignity and Truth”, which gathered hundreds of thousands of people to protests as a civic platform, was transformed into a political party. As a result, one more political party appeared in Moldova, maybe a necessary one and with weight, but a large civic platform disappeared and this cannot be easily restored, if it can be restored in general. Only time will show what Moldovan society gained and lost, especially as regards broad platforms for communication and achievement of broad consensus.   

Promoters and opponents: communication with foreign partners

The promoters of the change in the electoral system gained more ground in terms of communication inside Moldova society, but the opponents turned out to be more credible in the communication with the foreign partners and this means that the shortage of consensus expanded outside Moldova’s borders. It seems that one of our analysts, who recently said that Moldova, being a small and poor country, managed to cause dissention in the heart of the European Parliament, seems to be right. But the notion of “dissention” is the antonym of “consensus”.

It is expected that the promoters will want to take revenge also in the communication outside, each their way. For example, President Igor Dodon said that in the absence of financial support from the European Union, subject to “broad consensus” conditionality, he could secure support from another source, without specifying which one, to the value of up to US$1 billion a year. Respectively, it can be deduced that in the absence of broad consensus, this wouldn’t be a serious problem for Moldova.

On the other hand, it is expected that the leader of the PDM Vlad Plahotniuc would try and influence the decisions of the Europeans over the ocean or why did he need to plan a visit to the U.S., with which we for now have now visible problems, when it is sufficiently hot “on the European front”? Or he will at least want to use this opportunity to incline the balance of confrontations with the European opponents/partners in favor of his party? He maybe thinks that this way it will be cheaper and safer than to obtain a “broad consensus” here, at home, by sufficient communication?

Valeriu Vasilică, IPN

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