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Constitutional confusion after Moldova referendum

Constitutional confusion after Moldova referendum

Constitutional confusion has followed the Moldovan referendum on direct presidential elections on 5 September. Low participation, stemming in part from a Communist boycott, led to a voter turnout of just 29.05 percent, four points below the minimum threshold of one-third of the electorate.

The outcome is a serious defeat for Moldova's pro-Western government coalition, the four-party Alliance for European Integration (AIE). It wanted the reintroduction of a popular vote for president to replace the current system, by which the head of state is selected through a vote in parliament. The defeat was made even more bitter by the fact that more than 87 percent of those participating did back direct elections.

According to Moldovan law, another referendum on the question of direct presidential elections cannot be held for at least two years. The parliament should now be dissolved, but the constitution offers only a rule of thumb, demanding a "reasonable delay" for the dissolution of the legislative body, an expression which leaves rooms for interpretation. Knowing this, the country's interim president, the Liberal Speaker of Parliament Mihai Ghimpu, is now trying to gain time by seeking a decision by the Constitutional Court as to the legality of new anticipated parliamentary elections.

On the other side, the Communists are trying to precipitate the elections. Speaking in Chisinau, the capital city, the Communists' leader and former president, Vladimir Voronin, expressed his satisfaction: "I am very pleased with the high level of responsibility for the country shown yesterday by our citizens," Voronin said. "That level is much higher than that of the so-called leaders of the country, as they like to call themselves."

The reasons for the demobilisation of the electorate, apart for the Communist boycott, were multiple. "The AIE coalition is mainly to blame for the failure," said Vasile Butnaru, a political journalist andhead of the Chisinau bureau of the American-funded Radio Free Europe. "They were too sure that they would win, and they didn't bother presenting a unitary message. Each one of the four parties presented its own message and program, leaving the electorate puzzled as to whom they should be voting for."

Among the things surprising the Alliance and commentators who predicted a positive outcome was the extremely poor participation of Moldovans living abroad. Out of an estimated 500,000 Moldovans living and working (mostly illegally) in EU countries, only an estimated 19,000 came to the voting centres.

"Moldovan society is politically inert even at home," said Arcadie Barbarosie, executive director of the Institute for Public Policy, an NGO specialising in Moldovan studies. "When it comes to Moldovans living and working abroad, one has to take into account all the hassles and hurdles, like having to pay for transport in order to go to vote, identifying the political message, etc. The Alliance, back at home, didn't undertake enough efforts to motivate this shifting, fragile electorate."

Prime Minister Vlad Filat, leader of the Democrat-Liberal Party, one of the four parties in the AIE, acknowledged low turnout was due to a lack of coherence in the message of the pro-Western Alliance.

Given that the parliament will have to pick the next president, the Alliance has now to present a single candidate, who has not been found yet. The main rivals inside the Alliance are premier Filat and Marian Lupu, leader of the Democratic Party, a politician known for his shifting positions and ambiguous attitude toward Moscow and Moldova's relations with Russia.

Eager to have a pro-Russian president in Chisinau, the Kremlin is silently encouraging a coalition between Lupu's Democratic Party, which would then leave the AEI, and Voronin's Communists. After Ukraine's return into Russia's sphere of influence, the result of Moldova's presidential referendum is seen as another victory for Moscow's steady efforts to regain its lost influence over the former Soviet republics, or what in Russian domestic diplomacy is called the "near abroad." Moldovans themselves would not deny this. (EUobserver)





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