Wednesday, December 2, 2009

O'Neill, the AIE and a dead president

On Saturday morning interim presdient Mihai Ghimpu announced the establishment of a constitutional commission, charged with drafting a document to replace the existing (and dysfunctional) basic law.

On Radio Free Europe this morning, Louis O'Neill, a former OSCE Chisinau mission head, has made some important comments.

The main thrust of his commentary is that
  1. A new constitution shouldn't be written in haste (I agree)
  2. It shouldn't be directed against political adversaries (I agree, but with conditions - see below)
  3. The new constitution shouldn't be seen as a solution to the current political crisis (I partially agree)
  4. Care should be taken to avoid unforeseen side-effects (I agree)
  5. A constitution is best written in a calm political atmosphere in which it can enjoy broad support (I agree)
Mr O'Neills comments also contain some brickbats for the governing AIE, accusing them of changing the rules in their own interests, just as the communists used to do:
  1. Changing the rules for the election of the president so that it will be valid with only a single candidate
  2. Changing the rules for the election of members of the Audiovisual Council and the Council of observers such that members can be elected by a simple majority of deputies
  3. Allowing ministers to also be deputies for a period of up to 6 months
  4. Switching off microphones when communist deputies are attempting to speak.
  5. Persecution of communist deputies (e.g. the allegations of monopolisation of the meat market by Muntean)
I have to say that, if Moldova were a normal country with a strong democratic tradition, I would stand strongly behind some of Mr O'Neill's criticisms.  But it's not.  The country is emerging from a period of authoritarian quasi-dictatorship and the first priority is that that legacy be dealt with so that Moldova can emerge stronger in the future.  Let's take a closer look at 1-5 above:
  1. I don't have a problem with this.  Anybody who wishes to can register for election as president.  If only a single candidate registers, it's still a democratic process.  Besides, the constitution allows it (on my reading, anyway).
  2. Given the sorry state of the Moldovan media, something had to be done to allow the two councils to function properly (both were blocked without a quorum).  In any case, the AIE have recognised that this is a temporary solution, and that more comprehensive reform of media laws is required.
  3. This is the move I found most troubling, as it attacks separation of powers.  Here, however, there is a problem with the constitution (which requires an absolute majority and doesn't allow laws to be passed by a majority of deputies present in parliament as is the case in other democracies) and with the communist party (which won't establish a "gentleman's agreement" with the AIE to allow the passage of legislation even when 52 AIE deputies aren't present).
  4. This is nonsense.  I have been diligent in observing parliamentary sessions and am yet to observe an instance in which microphones have been switched off without due cause under parliamentary regulations.  The communists purposefully push the regulations to the limit in each session.  Admittedly it would be good if Ghimpu and Urechean could refrain from commenting beyond the necessary when they do flick the switch...
  5. The 'meat monopoly' case certainly has a political character and it was unfortunate how some sections of the media portrayed the anti-corruption centre's presentation of the case to government.  It must be said that the government is fully within its rights to understand what is going on in the marketplace and take measures to promote competition and derestrict access to the market.  The proviso of course is that criminal liability be dealt with independently by the prosecutor and the court system.
The AIE is using every legal means available to ensure that the communist party never again poses a threat to Moldova's democracy and the livelihood of the people.  Some of these measures may seem antidemocratic and should be modified in the medium term.  They are necessary in the short term, however.

I would counsel Mr O'Neill to take a look at his own country's history.  In the nineteenth century an American president imposed martial law and suspended Habeas Corpus (the need to have a justifiable reason for imprisoning someone).  It would be expected that such a president would have gone down in history as a tyrant and a dictator.

Actually no.  The president in question was Abraham Lincoln, arguably the greatest leader the country has ever had.  The context - the outbreak of the civil war against a foe (the South) and an ideology (Slavery / Racisim / Separatism) so dangerous that it warranted the temporary suspension of democratic rights.

What the AIE is doing is very mild in comparison to the measures taken by Lincoln, yet the foe and the ideology they face are every bit as menacing as that presented by the Confederacy.

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