Sunday, November 30, 2008

News Notes - Body Bags & Parliamentary Privilege

Seraphim Urecheanu stood up in parliament this week and produced a document that appeared to be an instruction from President Voronin to Prime Minister Grecianii. In a bid to defend Moldova's forests, the President had apparently instructed the government to issue an order requiring all citizens to be buried in plastic bags rather than the traditional wooden caskets.

Rather predictably the police have subsequently indicted Mr Urecheanu for falsification of a document. The effect of such an investigation will obviously be to deter Mr Urecheanu and other opposition politicians from holding the Government to account when other incriminating documents come into their possession.

In the Westminster democracies what goes on in Parliament is subject to a different set of rules from what goes on outside. Normal laws on slander, libel etc. are replaced with a system known as Parliamentary Privilege. The basic idea is that, within the walls of parliament, members should have the ability to make claims and declarations without fear, and without having to amass the normal body of proof required by a court of law. Matters raised in Parliament are viewed as being too urgent or too important to be subject to these requirements.

Moldova is a country transitioning to full democracy from the totalitarianism of the Soviet Union. Given the authoritarian backgrounds and instincts of many of her leading politicians, open debate, supported by parliamentary privilege, is even more important than it is in a mature democracy.

Mr Urecheanu must be free to make his declarations (truthful or not) without fear of legal action. What do you say, Messrs. Lupu & Rosca?

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