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Moldova: Parliament Plans Presidential Vote, But No Candidates Yet

Under a new parliamentary republic system, the Moldovan parliament is due to elect the country's next president in 10 days (Dec 1). But so far there has not been agreement on even one candidate, hardly an auspicious beginning for the new system.

Chisinau, 21 November 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Walking the streets of Moldova's capital Chisinau, it's hard to believe a presidential election is coming up in less than two weeks. There are no leaflets to be seen, no posters, no campaigners and -- so far -- no candidates.

The December 1 election will be unique in Moldova's short history as an independent country. The country's next president, the third since independence, unlike the first two, will be chosen by parliament and not by popular vote. And the new president will hold largely symbolic powers within a new parliamentary republic.

This form of government is fairly common around the world, but the circumstances under which it has come to pass in Moldova are unusual. Instead of holding a national referendum on the issue, the parliament itself four months ago voted to change the constitution to a parliamentary republic, and gave itself the right to choose the head of state. It was a major defeat for the incumbent president, Petru Lucinschi, who had provoked the change by suggesting a referendum to increase presidential powers.

Observers say that Moldova has been crippled by a weak executive branch at loggerheads with parliament. But the change to a parliamentary form of government is unlikely to improve matters when parliament itself remains without a stable majority. The failure so far to find a candidate is characteristic of its deeply divided state.

Ion Morei is an independent deputy in parliament. He says most deputies realize parliament is so fractured it's unable to function properly.

"I think most deputies and most political parties which are active in the Moldovan political arena are absolutely clear that the existing parliament -- in which there is no stable majority -- in fact is unable to function. So to any serious person, it's clear that it will be very hard to find a candidate and choose the third president of the Moldovan republic."

The 101-seat parliament is divided among the communists, who hold 40 seats, and several right-leaning and centrist parties.

Under the new system, a presidential candidate needs 25 parliamentary votes to be nominated and 62 votes to be elected. That means that a successful candidate would need the support of communist leader Vladimir Voronin, parliamentary speaker Dumitru Diacov, and former President Mircea Snegur, who control the three largest parliamentary groups. Snegur has already announced his desire to stand and is likely to be nominated next week after long negotiations with the other leaders.

By law, the new president can also be chosen from outside parliament. Various figures have been mentioned, including the Moldovan ambassador to France and the head of the constitutional court. But none has been nominated.

A president from outside parliament might be preferable because such a figure would stand above party politics. The new president retains the right to appoint ministers and will have influence over foreign policy.

If no candidates emerge or if parliament cannot agree on who to elect, Lucinschi -- whose term lasts until January -- will disband parliament and hold new elections.

Many observers believe that until Moldova has a stable party system, parliamentary government is a lost cause. Moldova today has some 35 registered political parties, quite a number for a country with less than two million voters. Seemingly endless factional infighting has left the country stagnating without major economic reforms. Lucinschi's press secretary Anatol Golea says:

"Without a [stable parliamentary] majority, it is hard to say who has responsibility for the state of the country. Deputies themselves understand it's very hard to lead the country in such a situation, especially at the present time of transition, when very often it is necessary to take urgent decisions on privatization, on attracting investment, on the energy complex."

Most Moldovans say they prefer a presidential rather than a parliamentary republic because they believe a strong single figure is their only chance to escape from a steady downward spiral of economic decline. But the voters themselves are so indifferent to this election that many admit to not even knowing it is to take place. And few seem to mind losing their democratic right to elect their head of state.

Anatol Pasat, editor of the news agency Infotag, sees both good and bad in giving parliament the right to elect the president.

"On one hand, of course people have the right to choose their own president. But on the other hand, every election is a huge expenditure and our country isn't so rich -- like the United States -- that it can hold elections and then examine the results 10 times, put its mistakes right, hold repeat elections. So when parliament chooses the president, maybe it will take place with less bloodshed and less cost. But maybe also it will be less fair."

Even if the president had continued to be chosen by popular vote, it is unlikely that public interest would be much higher. Analysts say Lucinschi would probably be re-elected in a popular vote, not because he is admired by the people but simply because there is no alternative. Parliament is even less admired by the people, and it's unlikely it will improve its image anytime soon.