Thursday, August 19, 2010

The People's Republic of Moldova

We're just over two weeks out from the referendum on reintroducing direct voting for the president of the Republic.  Large parts of the rusophile left have announced that they will boycott the poll.  The official reasons are that (a) they believe the AIE will use the result to avoid calling new parliamentary elections, and (b) a 'parliamentary' system is more democratic than a 'presidential' one.  The unofficial reason for the boycott is that, with Voronin out of play, they don't have a candidate capable of winning the vote.

The communist's first claim has some merit.  There are parts of the AIE (e.g. Urecheanu's Moldova Noastra) which would like to hold fresh elections so as to have a chance to rebuild their slumping political fortunes first.  Other parts, notably the Liberal Democrats, want to have an election as soon as possible to capitalise on a surge in their popularity.  In general terms, it would make sense for a pro-western government to wait until spring before holding fresh elections - better to go the people on a sunny April day than to hold an election in the depths of winter a week or so after the Russians have cut off the gas....

The second claim is scandal-mongering.  Certainly we do not want a polictical system in which all power is focussed in the hands of the President, but changing the way he/she is elected will not change the his/her constitutional powers and so will have no direct bearing on whether Moldova is a parliamentary or presidential republic.  At best it will increase the moral standing of the president who will now enjoy a direct mandate from the people rather than the confidence of just sixty-one deputies.

The Communists claim that, if Moldova directly elects its President, it will be an oddity in a Europe where Presidents are genearally elected by Parliament.  There is some truth there, however there are some significant  exceptions (e.g. France and (nominally) Russia) where the president is directly elected.  What the communists fail to point out, however, is that Presidents elected by Parliaments are usually figureheads and have very little executive power given to them by their constitutions.

Where the president has some substantive executive power (as is the case in Moldova), it stands to reason that he/she requires a direct and substantial mandate direct from the people.  It is unreasonable for the commander in chief and defender of the constitution to be appointed by as few as sixty-one people.  It is unreasonable for someone who is responsible for national security to enjoy the support of only a small group of politicians rather than the people as a whole.

In reality, what we need to construct in Moldova is neither a presidential republic nor a parliamentary one.  What we need, in fact is a 'people's republic' (in the true sense of that phrase rather than the one abused over the years by the Chinese and North Koreans).

The basic idea behind a people's republic is that all institutions of state would in some way be truly accountable to the people of Moldova.  A directly elected president.  A constiutional court whose judges could be voted down by a super-majority in a referendum.  A parliament elected in constituencies as well as in party lists.  A constitution which mandates referendums as the means for taking certain important decisions.

There is a view floating around (and very popular among self-perpetuating elites) that ordinary people are too stupid or too ill-informed to be trusted with decision-making.  That job should be left to (far wiser) elected representatives.

I don't buy it.  Switzerland has been holding referendums for years, and they are a natural and important part of the political system.  The Swiss take an interest in these votes and make sure that they are well-informed ahead of participating.  There is no good reason why, after a few years of settling in, it shouldn't be the same in Moldova.

Long live the people's republic!

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