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Moldova fails to fix political system

It appears that Sunday’s referendum in Moldova failed to generate enough voter interest to fix the country’s political impasse. Europe’s smallest country has been unable to elect a president for a year, and now faces parliamentary dissolution and new elections.

The story begins in 2000, when the 1994 Constitution was amended to replace the directly elected presidency with one elected by a three-fifths vote of the parliament. (The amendments also seem to have raised the age of eligibility to 40 from 35.) Unfortunately, the country’s political deadlock has prevented any candidate from receiving the necessary supermajority in parliament. Sunday’s referendum was designed to approve constitutional amendments to end the decade-long experiment with an indirectly elected presidency and return to direct public election. (There were other issues including confirming Romanian as an official language.) But voter turnout of 30% failed to meet the requirement of one-third of eligible voters. Analysts attribute the low turnout to apathy and a boycott by the opposition communists.

While no doubt a source of great frustration for the government, the failure perversely highlights one of the virtues of the semi-presidential system. It has long been argued that semi-presidentialism resembles presidentialism when the government is united, and parliamentarism when the government is divided. In the present instance, with a caretaker president, power naturally flows to the parliament and government. This may not have been the ideal of the constitutional drafters but still will leave the country able to function, assuming that the parliamentary elections produce a clear government mandate.


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