Tuesday, April 6, 2010

How to elect a President

The Constitution of Moldova has a procedure for constitutional change (via Parliamentary vote) which requires any wording to have the approval of the Constitutional Court.  Following that approval, the proposal is put on the back-burner, before being put to a parliamentary vote, at which it requires the support of 2/3 of deputies, which, using normal maths, means 68 votes out of 101.

The communists have put up a proposal under which there would be a three-stage election in which the final vote would only require a simple majority (52 out of 101 using communist maths).  The governing AIE have put up an alternative proposal under which the President will be elected by the people directly.

Both proposals are in a sense constitutional and should receive the approval of the Court.  If, however, the court is smart, it should send a strong message that the AIE's proposal conforms more to the spirit and possibly the letter of the Constitution than that of the Communists.  There are three reasons for this:

  1. Most importantly, Article 2(1) says that sovereignty is exercised by the people, both directly and through their representatives.  Notably the article does not say "through representatives of their representatives".
  2. The people are sovereign and repeated opinion polls have shown very high levels of support for direct election of the president (around 70%).  The court should take into account the will of the people in its rulings.
  3. As the majority in Parliament, it is the prerogative of the AIE first and foremost to propose constitutional change.
It could be argued based on (1) that the election of the President by Parliament is unconstitutional.  That, however, would require the court to overturn one of its own rulings from 2001, when it approved the current constitution.  I can't see that happening.

One more point.  Interim President Mihai Ghimpu has said that he won't dissolve parliament until the constitution is amended.  According to him there is no point holding new elections until the madness of requiring a supermajority is overcome.  I agree, but of course the Communists see this as an unjust attempt by the AIE to hold on to power.

The stakes are high; the Communists do not have a candidate capable of winning the presidency in a direct election and they know it.  On the other hand, if they do not support the AIE's initiative, they will lose public support.  Worse still, the AIE will have the excuse it needs to sidetrack parliament and take the constitutional amendment to a public referendum; the Venice Commission would have to go along with this given that the AIE had made a bona-fide attempt to modify the basic law in parliament.

Personally I think the best thing for the PCRM to do would be to support the AIE version, ditch Voronin and turn itself into more democratic, more electable party for the next round of (un)anticipated elections.  Anything else is just going to get them deeper into trouble.

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