Comparative Politics

Election Report: The Secret Election of Moldova’s Unknown President

Mar 26 '12

The following election report on Moldova’s recent indirect presidential election is provided by Ion Marandici, a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science at Rutgers University. Now although you may be tempted to skip this post on your way to an analysis of Rick Santorum’s latest fund-raising numbers, it is absolutely worth reading, even if you don’t know in which continent Moldova is located (Europe!). Having begun to peek around the chaotic world of Moldovan politics myself over the past year, I can vouch for just how interesting politics in this country can be…

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Finally, after its Twitter moment on April 7, 2009, Moldova, a parliamentary republic, got its president. 917 days of bickering, two snap elections (July 2009, November 2010) and one failed referendum to amend the Constitution were necessary before the Moldovan parliamentarians secretly elected the country’s fourth president. When I say secretly, I refer actually to two aspects of the presidential elections.

Firstly, the presidential elections were secret, because the parliamentarians were forced by the Constitutional Court to fold their bulletins and hide their preferences from the TV cameras; during the previous rounds of elections, the party leaders would ask their MPs to show the completed bulletins to the cameras before throwing them into the ballot box in order to prevent defections and thus achieve party discipline. However, on January 12, the Constitutional Court decided that the voting should be secret and invalidated the last round of the presidential elections (from December 15) stating that the secrecy of the vote was violated and thatfor that reason the elections were unconstitutional. However, on March 16, the party leaders found a way out: they asked their MPs to fold the bulletins in a specific way in order to ensure that none of them defects and jeopardizes the election of the President (see the picture below).

Secondly, the elections were secret, because the nomination process was secret. It would be no exaggeration to say that Nicolae Timofti, the new president, is a stranger to the vast majority of Moldovans. It is not clear neither how he was nominated nor who nominated him. Earlier this month, the name of Veronica Bacalu (working for the IMF) surfaced as a possible nominee, but the Liberal Party opposed her nomination and her name misteriously disappeared from the press being replaced by Nicolae Timfoti.

The Moldovan voters had less than two days to figure out who the presidential candidate was. A former judge, Nicolae Tomofti’s first ever TV interview was aired in the evening of March 14; on March 16, he already was the elected President receiving the votes of all the MPs except for the Communists (the latter boycotted the elections). The fact that even experienced observers of Moldovan politics don’t know much about his policy preferences is a clear sign of what the future role of the President will be. Most probably, the profile of the Presidency as an institution will decline in the upcoming years.

In fact this is a new political model for Moldova. After the Moldovan Presidency was strengthened by the Communist President Vladimir Voronin (2001-2009), whose party controlled both the Parliament and the Government, many were talking about authoritarian tendencies. Indeed, from 2001 to 2009, the political power in the country was revolving around the President. The most important decisions were made in the Presidential Palace by presidential advisers, who were clearly more influential than the Government and the PM. With the election of Nicolae Timofti chances are high that Moldova will resemble other parliamentarian republics (Estonia, Albania, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Hungary), where Presidents are merely background actors. If that will be the case than the major winner of the presidential elections is the current PM, Vladimir Filat.

As such Moldova is the only CIS country to have a President elected by the Parliament. It was the only European country to be ruled by a Communist Party for eight years (2001-2009) and it probably was one of the few parliamentarian republics to produce a very powerful president. The Moldovan parliamentarism, introduced in 2000, was the result of the inter-institutional conflict between President Lucinschi (who pushed for more presidential powers) and a Parliament fearing a strong President. The Parliament won the fight, but the Communists won the battle. So twelve years later, the election of the unknown Nicolae Timofti suggests that the Moldovan elites are re-discovering the rules of the game, the rules of a parliamentary republic.