Moldova Parliamentary Elections 2019 preview

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An election for the Moldovan Parliament was due to be held in late 2018 but has been postponed until 24th February 2019.

A presidential election is due in 2020. Between 1996 and 2012, the President was indirectly elected by the Parliament. However a constitutional court ruling in March 2016 found the indirect electoral system to be unconstitutional and the country therefore reverted to the previous direct two round election system.

Local elections are due in June 2019. Local authorities are elected using a proportional party list system and mayors are elected using a two round system with a second round held (if no candidate wins more than 50% of the votes in the first round) two weeks later.

History

Moldova is one of the smallest of the former soviet republics and currently has a population of around 3.9 million. This number is based on the 2004 census and includes Transnistria. There is significant speculation that the true figure of those living in the country is significantly lower. There is a large diaspora and the country is heavily reliant on remittances sent from abroad with more than 38% of the country’s GDP coming in that form – the second highest in the world after Tajikistan. 

The country is one of a number of former soviet republics suffering from a frozen conflict. Since 1990 the territory on the east bank of the Dniester River has been under the de facto control of a separate government and is known as Transnistria. Transnistria is largely comprised of Russian speakers of Ukrainian and Russian heritage. Violent clashes took place in the winter of 1991 and this escalated into a full military conflict from March to July 1992. There is currently a large Russian force in Transnistria which is nominally present to safeguard large arms caches. The peace agreement is overseen by a tri-partite grouping of Russian, Moldovan and Transnistrian forces. Unlike other conflicts such as Nagorno-Karabakh, there are close ties between the populations of Moldova and Transnistria and residents are able to cross the borderline.

Various efforts have been made to resolve the Transnistrian dispute with the most significant being that led by Dmitri Kozak, a counsellor to Russian President Putin. His proposal in 2003 would have seen an assymetrical republic which would effectively have given Transnistria a veto on future constitutional changes. Although not the 50-50 split that the Transnistrian government asked for, the government of the territory signed up to the proposal. However the President of Moldova, Vladimir Voronin refused to do so after internal opposition and at the urging of the US and OSCE. In 2011 a further process started in Vienna but has not progressed. The issue is seen as being key in Moldova but a low priority for Western states with little chance for resolution, especially following the Russian annexation of Crimea.

Practicalities

The 101 seat Parliament will be elected using a mixed member system following electoral law changes in 2017. The system is ‘unlinked’ in that the list seats are allocated proportional to the share of the votes using the d’Hondt method regardless of the number of constituency seats won. There will be 51 members elected in individual constituencies and the remaining 50 from party lists. Of the 51 constituency seats, three are for Moldovans living abroad and 2 for Transnistria, although it is unknown how such elections will work in practice.

A varying threshold will apply to the lists. For single parties it will be 6%, for alliances of two parties it is 9% and for alliances of three or more parties it is 11%. Individual candidates running as independents face a lower 2% threshold.

For the election to be considered valid there must be a turnout of 33% or more.

Electoral History

There have been eight elections since Moldova gained independence in 1991. The country is unique in that it is the only one of the former Soviet republics in which an unreformed Communist Party has re-taken power after having been voted out of office.

The first election was held in 1994 with the Democratic Agrarian Party winning 56 of the 104 seats. The Communists (the Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova) then won the most seats in the following six contests with the number of seats lowered to 101 in 1998. However the PCRM was denied power in three of those elections as other parties combined to force them into opposition.

Turnout levels have fallen from 79.3% in the first elections in 1994 to 55.85% at the last elections in 2014. The threshold for a valid election was cut from 50% to the current 33% before the July 2009 elections.

All previous elections have taken place with a single nationwide constituency using closed party lists. One area where there have been regular revisions is that of thresholds. An initial 4% threshold has been changed numerous times with different levels for single parties, two party alliances and three or more party alliances being adopted in 2005. A lower threshold of 3% for independent candidates had been adopted in 2001 and was lowered to 2% in 2010. However, no independent candidate has ever come close to reaching this level. Indeed, all votes for independent candidates combined have never reached the threshold. The threshold for single parties is currently at its highest level ever. In 2009, the OSCE said that the (then 6%) threshold was a barrier to smaller parties being able to enter Parliament and should be lowered. In the history of elections in Moldova there have never been more than 5 factions elected to the Parliament.

The major stumbling block for Moldovan electoral politics has been the election of the president. In 1996 the system was changed to require the President to be elected by a super-majority of 61 MPs. If Parliament failed three times to elect a President then it would be dissolved and new elections held. This provision came into effect after the April 2009 elections when the PCRM won 60 of the seats. There were widespread accusations of vote fraud and opposition parties organised protests which led to the storming of Parliament and the building being set on fire. The Constitutional Court ordered a recount which was subsequently boycotted by the opposition which feared it would be used to allot the one extra seat that the PCRM needed. In the event the recount made no significant changes.

The opposition parties all voted against the PCRM nominated Presidential candidate and so fresh elections were held in July 2009. Once again the Communists won most seats, but with just 48 PCRM MPs (and 53 for the combined opposition which formed the government), no President could be elected.

In the face of a seemingly insurmountable systemic failure, Parliament looked to change the constitution. The Government and PCRM had different views as to what change was required and so a constitutional referendum was held on the basis of the Government’s plans in September 2010. The proposed changes won 87% support among those who voted, but with a boycott campaign organised by the PCRM and others, turnout was just 30.29% – below the one-third threshold.

This forced Parliament to be dissolved again and fresh elections were held in November 2010. The outcome was similar to the previous contest with the PCRM winning 42 seats and the other parties combined to form the Alliance for European Integration with 59 seats. The courts made the decision that the government would stay in place even if no President could be elected and this Parliament ran its full term to 2014.

The most significant change at the 2014 elections was the emergence of a new party. The Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova (PSRM) was led by Igor Dodon as a breakaway from the Communists. The PSRM came top of the polls with 25 seats followed by the Liberal Democrats with 23 seats, PCRM with 21 seats, Democrats with 19 seats and Liberals with 13 seats. One party (Homeland) was disqualified from the contest for using foreign funds.

In 2016 the courts decided that the indirect system used to elect the President was unconstitutional and the country should return to direct elections for the post. Igor Dodon won the subsequent poll with 52% of the vote in the second round (having secured 47% in the first). He beat Maia Sandu who ran on an ‘Action and Solidarity’ ticket. Turnout in the first round was 49% and 53% in the second.

In the summer of 2018 the mayoral election in the capital Chisinau was annulled following a complaint. The courts (which must certify the result of an election, found that Mr Nastase had received funding from overseas and had campaigned on polling day in contravention of the silence requirement. This led to a series of protests. The ‘winner’ of that election, Andrei Nastase, is standing on the PPDA ticket at this election and OSCE/ODIHR reports that interlocutors raise the possibility of the mayoral election impacting on Parliamentary polls.

Parties

The Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova (PCRM) has been the most successful party historically in Moldova. However it is now largely eclipsed by the Socialists. It is a true communist party and affiliated to the Party of European Left. The party suffered a major split in 2016 which saw 14 MPs leave the PCRM faction and subsequently join the Democratic Party.

Current polling average – 3%

The Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova (PSRM) has largely eclipsed the Communists. Whilst they just beat their rivals in the last elections they are now running at around 50% in opinion polls to 3% for the PCRM. Whilst the party has a history dating back to 1997, it was largely unsuccessful and did not compete in 2009 or 2010 elections, backing the PCRM instead. Igor Dodon joined the party in 2011 and the party gained most seats in the 2014 elections. Dodon won the Presidential election in 2016 and subsequently stepped down from the party leadership to be replaced by Zinaida Greceanii.

Dodon and the PSRM are largely perceived to be pro-Russian. However, the party and its leadership claims that they are pursuing a balanced foreign policy favouring neither the EU and the West nor Russia. Party platforms support the concept of a Moldovan language (although the constitution refers to the national language as Romanian) and Dodon and others choose to speak in Russian as their first language.

Whilst the party claims a socialist and left leaning ideology, many policy positions are nationalist and right wing in character. The party has links to the Europe of Nations and Freedom grouping and to populist parties across Europe.

Current polling average – 47-50%

The Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova (PLDM) is a conservative pro-European party. It is currently led by Viorel Cibotaru, a former Defense Minister. It was founded in 2007 by Vlad Filat and others as a breakaway from the Democratic Party. They were later joined by members breaking away from the Christian Democratic Popular Party.

The LDPM won 15 seats in its first election in 2009 and then 18 seats in the election three months later. Filat became Prime Minister as head of the Alliance for European Integration. In 2010 the party won 32 seats and became the dominant non-Communist party. Iurie Leanca replaced Filat as prime minister in 2013. In the most recent elections the party won 23 seats on 20% of the vote but support has since collapsed.

Current polling average – 1%

The Democratic Party of Moldova (PDM) is a centre-left pro-European political party alligned to the Party of European Socialists. It is broadly a social democratic party. It was founded in 1997 and led by Vladimir Plahutniuc and first deputy chairman Pavel Filip currently became Prime Minister in a coalition government in 2016. At the most recent elections the party won 19 seats on 15.8% of the vote. However, as a result of defections, the party currently holds 42 seats in the Parliament and is the largest grouping.

Current polling average – 11-14%

The Liberal Party (PL) is a conservative liberal party affiliated to the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE). The party is led by Mihai Ghimpu whose nephew Dorin Chirtoaca was Mayor of Chisinau. Founded in 1993 as the Party of Reform, the party held a broadly christian democratic platform. It failed to enter parliament in the 1994, 98 and 2001 elections. In 2005 the Party re-branded itself as the Liberal Party and adopted a liberal programme. Ghimpu became President of the Party and in the elections that year they won 15 seats on 13% of the vote. The party again won 15 seats in the second 2009 elections on a slightly higher share of the vote and entered government as party of the Alliance for European Integration. In 2010 the party dropped to 12 seats in Parliament on 10% of the vote.

In 2013 the party suffered a split as members broke away to form the Liberal Reformist Party which joined the new Pro-European Coalition government. In the most recent elections the PL won 13 seats on 9.7% of the vote.

Current polling average – 1-2%

The Liberal Reformist Party (PLR) subsequently lost all seven seats in the 2014 election. It is a centre-right liberal party affiliated with Liberal International and led by Ion Hadarca which believes in Moldovan-Romanian unionism.

Current polling average – not found.

The Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS) is a liberal pro-EU party founded in 2016 and led by former Education Minister Maiai Sandu. Sandu came second in the 2016 Presidential elections. The party has a centre-right ideology and is affiliated to the European People’s Party grouping.

Current polling average – 11-15%

The Dignity and Truth Platform Party (PPDA) is a centre-right party led by Andrei Nastase a lawyer who won the annulled mayoral election in Chisinau in June 2018. The party was formed in 2015 initially as a civic movement and calls for a change in the political class. It campaigns against the ‘oligarchic mafia government’ and particularly opposes Vladimir Plahotniuc.

Current polling average – 13-16%

Key Electoral Issues

  1. The rise of the PSRM in the polls appears to guarantee that the party will be the largest single bloc within next parliament. The significant question will be whether they will secure more than half of the seats. This may in turn depend on the performance of some of the smaller parties. If they can reach the threshold to secure seats then it lessens the chance of a single party government. However, the raising of the threshold would seem likely to preclude the Communists, PLDM and PL from reaching parliament through the lists. Based on current polls, only the PSRM, PPDA, PAS and PDM would win seats.
  2. The change to an unlinked mixed member system is also likely to work to the benefit of larger parties as parties with a small plurality of the vote can win an overwhelming majority of the seats. It would be perfectly possible for the PSRM to win more than two thirds of the seats on just under half of the votes. For the small parties to be represented in Parliament they are likely to have to concentrate their efforts on a very small number of constituencies where they are strongest and run big names in those seats. However, in a country which has no history of single member constituencies and where all parties like to portray themselves as being able to win a majority everywhere, this may be a hurdle too high to clear.
  3. The changes to electoral law – in particular the move to a constituency system – have necessitated the establishement of new electoral bodies with new powers. Constituency Electoral Councils will be formally established only 60 days before election day and so will face an uphill task if they are to complete there duties on time and in a satisfactory manner. One major task will be ‘comprehensive voter education’. 
  4. Voter lists – and the registration of people who are deceased or have emigrated – has proved to be an issue in previous elections in Moldova. This time there are approximately 2.8 million people registered and around 1 in 14 of these (some 200,000) do not have a registered home address. Whilst this is not a problem with a national voter list, it is a requirement for a constituency based system. How these people will be allocated to a constituency – or whether they will at all – will be a significant challenge for the electoral authorities.
  5. Candidate nomination will also be a challenge. In particular, candidates are required to obtain an ‘integrity certificate’. This is meant to exclude those who are, for whatever reason, barred from standing and also requires a financial disclosure. Similar requirements in other countries have been used to weed out candidates opposed to the incumbent regime and also to delay candidatures.
  6. The formal campaign will start 30 days before election day. As well as traditional campaigning methods, it is anticipated that there will be extensive online and social media campaigning. Given the fragility of the Transnistria dispute and the geo-political interest in the nation, it is possible that out of country actors (whether state sanctioned or not) may seek to influence the election. Authorities within the country have played down this possibility (maybe because they recognise that there is little action they could take to prevent it) and have instead raised concerns about the misuse of state resources – something that the OSCE premanent mission in Moldova is seeking to help the Central Election Commission to tackle.
  7. Campaign finance is a significant issue in Moldova. Accusations have been made in the past over the misuse of charitable organisations linked to candidates and whether these have been used for vote-buying. And, whilst campaign funds may not come from overseas, with the very high level of remittances, it is perhaps inevitable that a large proportion of campaign funds will have come, at least ab initio, from other countries. Regulations do not state how many times such funds have to have been ‘washed’ before they can be considered domestic.
  8. The level of mistrust in some state authorities in Moldova is very high. The annullment of the Chisinau mayoral election has led to this mistrust spreading to the electoral system. In addition, the significant changes in the alignment of MPs elected in 2014 has also engendered a lack of trust in the system.

OSCE/ODIHR will be running a full election observation mission for the 2019 Parliamentary elections. IRI – the International Republican Institute – has long term observers on the ground already, although the mission overall will be small. ENEMO has previously organised observation missions in Moldova, although a number of observers from Ukraine observing as part of the ENEMO mission in July 2009 were expelled from the country. The CIS organisation has also organised observation missions in Moldova in the past. It is likely that there will also be domestic observers although some organisations have raised concerns about an increase in the registration data required which may lessen the amount of domestic scrutiny.

Israel Election overview

benjamin-netanyahuAn early election in Israel is on the cards after one of the junior coalition partners in Benjamin Netanyahu’s government pulled out and another quit after not being given the vacant ministry.

UPDATE 19/11: Rumours of an early election may (just may) have been exaggerated. Neftali Bennet, the leader of The Jewish Home (the second party referred to above) has decided not to pull out of the coalition. This means Netanyahu will stay in power for now. But an early election at some point still seems more likely than not.

Overview

Early elections aren’t exactly new in Israel as governments are usually multi-party affairs and Prime Ministers beholden to the whims and foibles of junior partners. An attempt to make them more stable by directly electing the PM was tried from 1996 to 2001 but abandoned after those government’s also ran short.

Why is the system so fragile? Partly because of the national list system of electing Members of the Knesset (MKs). There are 10 parties and one independent in the 120 member unicameral Parliament despite efforts to tighten the system in recent years. In the past there was a 1% threshold before parties could gain a seat. That was progressively raised from 1988 to 2014 to the 3.25% limit that currently exists which means that parties entitled to fewer than 4 seats won’t get any at all. However there is nothing to prevent two or more parties running on a single list and, once in the Knesset, splitting apart again.

But the voting system cannot be held solely responsible. The fractured nature of Israeli politics (no party has more than about 30% support and there are many in the 3-6% range) has led to parties representing every strand of religious and political opinion.

Prime Minister Netanyahu leads Likud into this election as the strongest party and polls suggest that the centre right coalition of Likud and the religious parties will be the predominent force after the election. And so it might seem legitimate to ask why an election is needed at all. My reading is that an election allows each key actor to test their strength and take their place in the new Knesset (and government) accordingly. New parties come and go all the time in Israeli politics and it may be that one of these becomes a significant player.

The 2015 coalition was formed of just 61 MKs, the bare minimum for a majority and comprised Likud, Jewish Home, UTJ, Kulanu and Shas. Yisrael Beiteinu joined the coalition a year later. Negotiating coalitions is not the quickest process in the world and Netanyahu had to ask President Reuven Rivlin for an extension to the normal timetable for forming a government and came in only 2 hours before the revised deadline. 

The major change since the 2015 election is the collapse of the Zionist Union. This coalition of Labor and Hetnuah parties was created in order to challenge Netanyahu’s dominant position. It didn’t succeed and won just 24 seats to Likud’s 30. Hetnuah itself was only established by former foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in 2012 as a breakaway from Kadima, which was itself a splinter of moderates from Likud.

Yesh Atid has emerged as the biggest challenger to Likud. Yesh Atid are a centrist party seeking to represent the secular middle class founded in 2012. As such they compete directly with Zionist Union and climbed as high as 27% in the polls last year. However they now rest at around 16%.

But things will likely change again before voters have their say. Orly Levy split from Yisrael Beiteinu to sit as an independent MK and has stated a desire to form her own party. In addition, the Achi Yisraeli party has been created and former army general Benny Gantz has indicated a desire to enter politics either by founding his own party or with Achi Yisraeli. Both will encroach on the secular centre or centre right market and it will be interesting to see whether they can draw votes from Likud as well as Yesh Atid and Zionist Union.

Practicalities

The voting process in Israel is open to all citizens aged 18 or older on election day. Voters are given a ballot envelope and take the ballot slip corresponding to their chosen party or list when in the privacy of the polling booth.

Voting is conducted on the basis of a closed national list with seats allocated by the d’Hondt counting system.

A further quirk is the ability of parties which run separately to be considered to have run on a joint list when it comes to surplus votes. The d’Hondt system marginally favours larger lists over smaller. So if parties run together they are more likely to pick up the last allocated seats. Such agreements have been signed by Likud with Jewish Home, Yisrael Beiteinu with Kulanu, the Zionist Union with Meretz and Shas with UTJ.

Turnout in 2015 was 72% after a run of four elections with participation rates in the 60’s. The record turnout was 87% in the first election in 1949.

The parties

Likud ran in 2015 on an anti-Iran, economically right-wing platform whilst also walking away from any idea of support for a Palestinian state. Netanyahu’s polling day exhortation to supporters to vote in order to save the Israeli nation was criticised by US President Barack Obama and he later said he regretted making it.

Likud (and Netanyahu in particular) has a history of producing controversial but amusing election adverts, such as this one.

Leader: Benjamin Netanyahu 2015 seats: 30 Current polling: 29-32%*

The Zionist Union of Labor and Hatnuah had the teething problems of any joint ticket in 2015. In a pledge which brought to mind the Alliance campaign of the UK’s 1983 election, the parties pledged to have rotating prime ministers, although Hatnuah leader Tzipi Livni retracted that pledge the day before polling day when she announced that Labour Leader Isaac Herzog would be Prime Minister. The platform of the list was all about reigniting the peace process as well as social reforms. In 2015, the Zionist Union proved strongest in Tel Aviv and the more wealthy areas of Israel and won the most votes in 28 of the 33 richest areas of the country.

Leader: Avi Gabbay 2015 seats: 24 Current polling: 11%

The Joint List ran on the basis of a peace based on UN resolutions and the formation of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.

Leader: Ayman Odeh 2015 seats: 13 Current polling: 12%

Yesh Atid went into the 2015 election having been the kingmakers in 2013. But after taking on the finance ministry the party reneged on apparent pledges made to its supporters and implemented austerity cuts in order to cut the deficit. The party’s platform in 2015 was decidedly middle-ground on issues of peace and Iran and re-iterated pledges to invest more in health, education and welfare spending.

Leader: Yair Lapid 2015 seats: 11 Current polling: 16%

Kulanu, as a new party, ran in 2015 on the promise of breaking up monopolies and lowering the cost of living. Leader Moshe Kahlon formed the party after breaking away from Likud and sought to deflect questions as to whether he would back a Likud or Zionist Union government. His deputy Yoav Galant suggested a favouring of a left-leaning government but, in the event, the party joined the Likud-led coalition.

Leader: Moshe Kahlon 2015 seats: 10 Current polling: 8%

The Jewish Home ran in 2015 as a single state party backing small businesses and the middle class.

Leader: Naftali Bennet 2015 seats: 8 Current polling: 11%

Yisrael Beiteinu, which had run in 2013 on a joint list with Likud, was on its own in 2015. Avigdor Lieberman had proposed his own peace place which was controversial due to the huge population swaps which would have resulted. The party also supported a mortgage plan portrayed as right-wing and the return of the death penalty for terrorist cases.

Leader: Avigdor Lieberman 2015 seats: 6 Current polling: 8%

United Torah Judaism (UTJ) is an alliance of Haredi and Hasidic supported parties and favours a lasting peace, less government involvement in the economy and more help to ultra-orthodox families.

Leader: Yaakov Litzman 2015 seats: 6 Current polling: 8%

Shas, an ultra-orthodox party seeking the support of the sephardic haredic community ran on the basis of there being no opportunity for a peace process as there was no viable leader seeking peace on the Palestinian side. So their focus was purely socio-economic. However in 2015 the party was struggling after a number of years of controversy following the conviction and later release of Aryeh Deri, the former leader who once again was given the number one slot on the electoral list.

Leader: Aryeh Deri 2015 seats: 7 Current polling: 5%

Meretz is the most vocal party within the peace camp and urged a two state solution and agreed land swaps. The party also proposes a left-wing economic programme.

Leader: Tamar Zandberg 2015 seats: 5 Current polling: 6%

A further 15 parties failed to win seats in the 2015 election, albeit only two of these won more than a handful of votes.

New parties:

Un-named Levy party

Leader: Orly Levy Current polling: 6%

Achi Yisraeli

Leader: Adina Bar-Shalom and Michael Biton Current polling: ??

 

*Israel has a vibrant polling scene. For regular updates, see here.