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Moldova - Government

The Moldovan parliament adopted the law on the country’s transition to the mixed electoral system in the final reading on July 20, 2017. A total of 74 deputies representing the ruling coalition and the Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova voted for the bill. The new law disregards most of the recommendations of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe, which insisted that the bill not to be passed without a political consensus achieved.

When asked by journalists about the Venice Commission recommendations disregarded by the Moldovan parliament, Candu said: “These recommendations have been 99% implemented.... As for the political consensus mentioned in the Venice Commission recommendations, it has always been relative. Many Moldovan bills were enacted by fewer votes from deputies. For example, the very electoral code that we have amended now was passed by 66 votes. The agreement on the association with the European Union, which is a more important document, was ratified by 59 votes. And in case of the law we have passed today, 74 deputies out of 101 voted in favor,” he said.

The new legislation provides for half of the lawmakers to be elected on party lists and another half in individual constituencies. Critics say the electoral changes favor the country's two largest political parties -- the ruling pro-Western Democratic Party and the opposition pro-Russian Socialists. They say the Democratic Party initiated the changes in an effort to do better in the 2018 parliamentary elections amid declining popularity. However, supporters say the changes will make politicians more accountable.

Moldova's Constitutional Court ruled that a move by President Igor Dodon to hold a referendum that could broaden his powers was unconstitutional. Constitutional Court judge Tudor Pantiru announced the ruling on 27 July 2017, saying that the questions that are to be posed in the referendum "are beyond presidential authority."

The pro-Russian Dodon signed a decree in March 2017 calling for a nationwide referendum on September 24 in which Moldovans would be asked whether the president should be allowed to dissolve parliament and announce early elections. Voters would also be asked whether the number of deputies in the single-chamber legislature should be reduced from 101 to 71. It would also ask whether history classes that are called History of Romanians should be renamed History of Moldova.

Government effectiveness in Moldova is low. This is an omnipresent problem and a chronic one. It crops up in all responsible analyses of Moldovan politics and in local political discourse. Moldova has a “system” of government in which most services are administered inefficiently; poor implementation and enforcement are rampant; and government officials routinely disregard input from below and from elected representatives. In a democracy, an apt yardstick for effective government is satisfaction on the part of the governed. By this criterion, governmental performance in present-day Moldova is poor to abysmal, especially on the economic issues that most grip the population.

Members of the civil service are often undertrained, overburdened, and, most pressing for many, underpaid. The average monthly salary in public administration in 2011 was 3,419 lei (roughly $275). Bureaucrats moonlight and, reportedly, take advantage of corruption and rent-seeking opportunities to make ends meet. Government managers’ flexibility in matching personnel with tasks has been limited by staffing caps imposed by the IMF, which stand in the way of hiring in priority areas.

Obstacles to democratic governance are very much in evidence at the level of the central government. First, there are serious staffing issues. Since wages are low across the range of executive institutions, turnover is high, many positions go unfilled, and the quality of personnel leaves much to be desired. Competent and qualified individuals regularly migrate to the private sector or to international organizations which pay much higher compensation. Second, politicization of the bureaucracy runs counter to efficient administration and accountability. Under the coalition government, ministries and other executive agencies were allocated as patronage fiefs to the ruling parties. While some version of this practice is normal for multiparty governments everywhere, in the Moldovan context ministers appeared to be more responsive to party bosses than to the prime minister, which hamstrings coordination. A number of institutions (for example in the justice sector) which would normally be nonpartisan were also allocated politically and gave every appearance of being employed for partisan purposes. Third, parliamentary supervision, which can correct for some executive excesses, is weak in Moldova. The framework for it, well established legally, is often rendered inoperative by rifts within parliament, the hegemony of party leaders, and the lack of an established culture of governmental responsibility.

Moldova is a republic with a form of parliamentary democracy. The country has an estimated population of 3.56 million, including an estimated 600,000 to one million citizens living outside of the country. The constitution provides for a multiparty democracy with legislative and executive branches, as well as an independent judiciary and a clear separation of powers between them; however, under the previous government led by the Party of Communists (PCRM), which was in power until September 2009, the president heavily influenced the three branches of government. In July 2009 parliamentary elections, four opposition parties won enough seats to establish a governing coalition, known as the Alliance for European Integration (AEI), which entered office in September 2009.

The Legislative, the Executive and the Judicial Powers are separate and cooperate in the exercise of their prerogatives in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution. The Constitution of the Republic of Moldova is the supreme law of the country. No laws or other legal acts and regulations in contradiction with the provisions of the Constitution may have any legal power.

The President of the Republic of Moldova as the Head of the State represents the State and is the guarantor of national sovereignty, independence, of the unity and territorial integrity of the nation. In this context the notion of “the Head of the State” means the person called to represent the state at the top level representing the entire nation and its territory (Article 77 of the Constitution). Any citizen of the Republic of Moldova over 40 years of age with the right to vote that has been living in the country for at least 10 years and speaks the State language can run for the office of President of the Republic of Moldova (Article 78 paragraph (2) of the Constitution).

The President of the Republic of Moldova was elected by the secret vote of the Parliament. The candidate obtaining at least three fifths of the votes cast by elected deputies was considered elected. If no candidate obtained the required number of votes, a second ballot was held to choose from the two first-placed candidates, in the order of the number of votes cast for them in the first ballot. If after the second ballot no candidate obtains the required number of votes, repeated elections were to be conducted. If after repeated elections the President of the Republic of Moldova was not elected, the acting President was to dissolve the Parliament and establish the date of new Parliamentary elections.

For much of the post-communist period the president was preeminent. Since 2009 the balance of power gravitated in the direction of the PMO. This was an unintended consequence of the extended vacancy in the presidency caused by the inability of parliament to elect someone to this position and, after many months of trying, the legislative leaders finally deciding to fill the post with a candidate from outside the inner circle of political leaders. Interim presidents from 2009 to 2012 allowed the prime minister to carve out a more forceful role. Judge Nicolae Timofti’s election as president in March 2012 may have opened the way to a new equilibrium in relations between the top executive positions.

Moldova’s Constitutional Court ruled 04 March 2016 that the president should be elected by popular vote, reversing a 16-year-old constitutional amendment that gave lawmakers the power to choose the head of state. The decision was the latest chapter in the continuing political turmoil that erupted in 2009 when President Vladimir Voronin's second constitutional term expired. The 30 October 2016 election marks the first time since 1996 that the country's president is not being chosen by parliament.

The president is directly elected for a 4-year term (eligible for a second term). Dominance of the national-level executive branch is of concern for the progress of accountability. Decision-making power is concentrated in the PMO, the cabinet, and the upper levels of the ministries. Control over particular departments falls to the parties and many positions are dispensed on a party basis. When disputes arise between ministries, they are resolved by negotiation among coalition party leaders. In well-functioning democracies, the legislature plays a central role both in democratic discourse and in overseeing government. Moldova’s remains markedly passive and its oversight work has languished.

The Republic of Moldova is a Parliamentary Republic. Parliament may be dissolved once per year. The Prime Minister is designated by the President. In the Parliament (Parlament) 101 members are elected through a closed-list proportional representation system to serve 4-year terms. Moldova operates as a single constituency for 101 seats in parliament. To enter parliament there is a three percent threshold for independent candidates, six percent threshold for parties, and a twelve percent threshold for electoral blocs consisting of more than two political parties. An election is valid only if one-third of registered voters turn out.

The Chairman and the Deputy Chairmen of the Parliament are elected after the legal constitution of the Legislative body. According to the Regulations of the Parliament, the Chairman of the forum is elected for the entire duration of the term by a secret ballot of the majority of the elected deputies at the proposal of the parliamentary factions. Deputy Chairmen of the Parliament are elected by an open ballot of the majority of elected deputies, at the proposal of the Chairman of the Parliament, after the consultations with the parliamentary factions.

The working body of the Parliament – the Standing Bureau – is formed taking into consideration the proportional representation of the factions in the Legislative body. The Chairman and Deputy Chairmen of the Parliament are its ex officio members. The number of members of the Standing Bureau is determined by the Parliament’s decision. Authority is concentrated in the standing bureau, consisting of representatives of the party factions, and in the factions themselves. There are 10 standing committees. Leadership positions are allocated proportionally to all of the parties represented, including those in opposition.

Parliament’s development as an institution has been hindered by a string of factors. Turnover among deputies has been high. In the July 2009 election 65 percent of MPs entered it for the first time. Among the parties in the ruling coalition the legislative experience of MPs is even less. Minority representation is concentrated in the PCRM, which accounts for more than half of the 22 females and 19 of 21 ethnic minority MPs. Legislators’ commitment to parliament is minimal in comparison to their commitment to their parties. A majority of MPs are not deeply engaged in lawmaking, participate pro forma, and in their votes fulfill the instructions of the faction. For many MPs, experience with and understanding of the legislative process is limited. Staff positions are often filled on the basis of patronage rather than expertise, and staff turnover is high. Staff is in short supply, mostly unprofessional, and politicized.

Decision making in parliament is concentrated in the leadership of the party factions that make up the ruling coalition. Although it is normal in democratic legislatures around the world for MPs to be bound by party discipline, in Moldova the space for them to influence leaders’ decisions is by all accounts tremendously limited. Consequently, the committees, which should optimally be forums for developing consensus on the basis of expert opinion, in practice are of limited importance in the decision-making sequence. The oversight function of the legislature is also enervated. Ministries do not necessarily provide committees with the information needed to perform the task effectively. While committees have the right to call on ministers and functionaries to appear at hearings, they are often snubbed without consequences. Party leaders shelter members of the executive branch who are associated with their organizations, employing their control over MPs to so that individuals will not be subjected to politically damaging oversight.

Parliamentary supervision of the executive is weak. The legal framework for it is well established. However, rifts within parliament, the hegemony of party leaders, and the lack of an established culture of governmental responsibility come together to chip away at oversight. Cooperation is also poor with local leaders, who lament national officials’ fixation on top-down control and partisanship.

Links between the Moldovan legislature and the grassroots are weak. This problem is exacerbated by an electoral system based on a single national electoral district, proportional representation, and closed party lists. This system insulates MPs, the large majority of whom reside in the capital, from voters, the majority of whom reside elsewhere. MPs routinely purchase their places on electoral lists in order to pursue economic gain.

At peak levels the judicial system is widely seen by Moldovans as manipulated by political and business insiders seeking to subvert competition and lobby their interests. Moldovan courts are nominally independent from government and political interference, suffering from low levels of efficiency and citizen trust. In 2003, the government restructured the judiciary by eliminating the lower-tier of appellate courts (called tribunals) and the Higher Court of Appeals. The judiciary now consists of lower courts (i.e., trial courts), five courts of appeals and the Supreme Court of Justice.

In addition, a separate layer of courts covering the judicial settlement of economic/trade-related litigation was created. This quasi-separate court system consisted of the District Economic Court as a trial court, the Economic Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court of Justice, whose jurisdiction included the adjudication of economic litigation.

However, in July 2011, Parliament enacted a series of amendments, which reorganized the judicial system and dissolved these economic courts. Within six months from the date of enactment, the jurisdiction of economic courts was gradually transferred to civil law courts, namely appellate and trial level courts. Seen as a measure targeting corruption, the action raises questions about civil law judges’ sufficient training to deal with matters of commercial or business disputes.

As a precondition to EU accession and visa liberalization, the government in 2011 adopted a National Strategy for Justice Sector Reform (NSJSR), listing among the problems to be solved poorly managed courts; opaque and non-merit based promotion of judges; a defective SCM; inadequate quality of services provided by the justice system professions; lack of working accountability mechanisms; unduly complex pre-trial procedures; disinterest in child-friendly justice; and a perception that corruption is rife throughout the justice arena.

Although Moldova possesses the general infrastructure for rule of law, its practice is selective. At critical points political leaders have provided a bad example by altering or trying to alter the constitution or disregarding its requirements for reasons of political expediency. Weaknesses are evident throughout the judiciary, the main vehicle for applying the law. Many judges and court personnel are poorly trained. While an adequate framework for administering trials, disciplining judges, and holding them accountable for misdeeds has been put in place, implementation so far has been limp.

A malfunctioning justice system affects all aspects of life in Moldova. On the economic front, it handicaps investment, opportunity, and competition. On the political front, justice sector institutions are often seen as tools of political and business elites colluding to gain patronage and preserve their own interests while shortchanging service delivery. Citizens lose trust in the fairness of the courts when they are unable to achieve redress under the law, thereby fraying the social contract with the state.

Judges in Moldova are immune from arrest, investigation, and liability for criminal or administrative offense (minor misdemeanors), except where a very serious crime is concerned, unless consent is given by the Superior Council of Magistrates (SCM), the president of the country, or Parliament. This immunity has harmful effects when the judges who enjoy it are underpaid and often have not internalized the norm of impartiality. Despite widespread recognition of the problem of inappropriate judicial behavior, to date only a handful of individuals have been convicted and none has been imprisoned.

Moldova has two layers of subnational government with a huge number of units: a first tier of 898 urban municipalities and rural communes and a second tier of 32 raions or districts, along with three municipalities and the Gagauz autonomous region, with second-tier rights. Fragmentation results in the majority of rural public authorities, in particular, bearing representational responsibility but being denied the wherewithal to assure proper services. Eighty-six percent of all local governments have fewer than 5,000 residents and almost 30 percent have fewer than 1,500. Not surprisingly, financial resources often suffice for only barebones staffing. It is generally believed by Moldovan experts on the subject that the division of responsibilities between the first and second tiers is unclear. Earlier legislation transferred nominal responsibility for some functions without considering the local governments’ economic situation or capacity carry out their assigned tasks.

Local government is material to the improvement of governance in Moldova because it is closest to citizens, who largely feel disenfranchised. The existing balance of power, where a strong central state towers above feeble local actors, dates back at least to the Soviet period. Moldovans would prefer to see this imbalance rectified. Overcentralization is an enduring pattern. Deference to higher authority is ingrained in the Moldovan bureaucracy. Despite all manner of declarations about reform, projects for devolution to local authorities – and stimulation of the capacity to solve problems on the spot – remain on paper. There has been no fiscal decentralization; unspent balances at the end of the fiscal year revert to central ministries. The GOM exercises disproportionate control over regional and local authorities. Their budgets are for the most part on the center’s books and the national ministries are responsible for many services delivered locally. Local public authorities are legally responsible for a large number of mandates determined in the capital, for which they have neither the personnel nor the resources to meet the commitment. A National Strategy for Decentralization (NSD), passed after two years of debate in April 2012, has met with resistance. This will continue to be a problem as long as national elites maintain control over the distribution of resources, which provides them with influence over the local political scene.

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