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News 03 Apr 17

Moldova Debates Changing Country's Electoral System

Moldova’s ruling Democratic Party has submitted a bill to change the electoral system and scrap the old party lists so that districts directly elect their MPs - but critics of the idea spy an agenda.

Ana Maria Luca
BIRN
Bucharest
Moldovan Democratic Party chief Vlad Plahotniuc, the promoter of the new plurality voting system.

Moldova's current electoral system is in question as politicians and civil society activists debate a bill to replace the party list proportional representation system with a plurality or winner-takes-all system, which means voters would directly choose one candidate for their district.

The proposal, submitted at the beginning of March and discussed on Friday in parliament, came from the leader of the ruling Democratic Party, PDM, Vlad Plahotniuc.

The face that he is the country’s richest and most controversial businessman, however, has fuelled concerns - including that parties with less financial resources would be disadvantaged.

Pro-European politicians say it is the only way to prevent President Igor Dodon’s pro-Russian Socialist Party from winning a landslide in the next election.

According to the PDM bill, the Moldovan diaspora would also have its own representatives in the parliament. Voters in certain electoral districts would also hold right to dismiss their deputies if they deem them inefficient.

The PDM has started a campaign across Moldova whereby local members of the party explain to citizens what the new system would mean. “Your vote, your MP! You elect the man, not a list,” the slogan of the campaign says.

"It’s important to debate it; we’re waiting for the first emotional reactions to calm down and we want a dialogue with arguments,” Plahotniuc wrote on Facebook.

People need to “understand who the supporters of the current electoral system based on party lists are and what arguments they have to say that people should not directly elect their MPs,” he added.

Action and Solidarity Party, PAS, the party of Dodon’s former presidential rival, Maia Sandu, boycotted Friday’s debate, however.

PAS said the new system would allow the ruling party to design electoral districts as it sees fit. It would also prevent proper representation, PAS said, because only one candidate would be elected per district, so people who vote for candidates who do not make it into parliament would not be represented. It also says that smaller parties with smaller budgets will have a hard time securing votes.

PAS cited the examples of neighbouring states that have given up the plurality system because it allegedly encouraged corruption.

“Neighbouring states (Romania, Ukraine, Georgia) all had unsuccessful experiences with the plurality system. They gave it up after realizing that its failure led to the emergency of 'local barons,'" the PAS press release said, referring to rich businessmen who use their local influence to gain political support and enter parliament.

President Dodon said he also opposed the bill. “If parliament passes the bill, I will block it,” he warned last Monday.

The President last week signed a decree calling a referendum for September 24 when, among other things, Moldovans will decide whether to empower the President to dissolve parliament and call early elections.

Many opinion polls show a majority of Moldovans favour the plurality system. A poll by Promo-Lex Association said 32 per cent of Moldovans want the plurality system, 23 per cent want to keep the proportional system and 21 per cent want a mixed voting system. 

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