Moldova’s parliament on March 16 finally elected a president, Supreme Magistrate Council Chair and Judge Nicolae Timofti. This outcome illustrates the promise of non-presidential systems to generate compromise even in highly polarized political situations, though this positive outcome was reached only after nearly 3 years of stalemate. Moldova’s is a parliamentary system because, while there is a presidency, this presidency is not directly elected but instead chosen by a vote of parliamentary deputies. This vote requires a supermajority: 61 out of the 101 MPs must vote for the president. The very high hurdle has been widely condemned over the past three years since neither of the two main political groupings, the Alliance for European Integration and the Communist Party, could muster the 61 votes needed to claim the prize completely for themselves. Many called for a return to direct presidential elections. But now, after three years of wrangling, the sides have finally been forced to compromise on Timofti, by reputation a relatively neutral political figure. The Communists did not vote for him, but his nomination was induced by the AEI’s recognition that it was not going to get one of its own elected and that forcing yet another round of early elections was unlikely to produce a different result and break the deadlock. The deadlock also induced three prominent figures to defect from the Communist Party faction last fall, just enough to tip the scales to a candidate that the AEI nominated. But these three declared that they would only vote for a non-partisan candidate. Hence the AEI decision to nominate the prominent “non-partisan” judge.
Of course, there is still a chance that a closed “power vertical” could be reestablished in Moldova under the prime minister or president. While some scholars and European policymakers have been quick to recommend them, parliamentary systems have not proven to be a panacea outside the West, including in Moldova. Vladimir Voronin’s Communist Party was quite able to sustain a non-democratic political machine under his rule for most of the 2000s with the same parliamentary system that exists now. It is also worrisome that the Communist Party does not recognize the current parliament as legitimate, pointing to a legally questionable series of events that justified yesterday’s parliamentary vote for president moving forward instead of holding a new round of parliamentary elections. But while continued protests and some continued polarization are likely, at least there is now a significant chance that Moldova’s two main centers of executive power (president and prime minister) will represent different political networks and have institutionalized incentives and at least some resources to resist each other’s attempts to amass power, should such be attempted. The fact that the AEI, which still controls a majority of seats (just not a supermajority), is a collection of political networks rather than a single unified network also facilitates this outcome, as does the fact that the Communists are likely to be interested allies of convenience for anyone resisting the building of a power vertical that is not their own. Even if the Communist protests eventually force a new round of elections, one hopes that the election of Timofti starts to set a precedent by which parties at least sometimes opt for constructive compromise instead of holding out for years for a “winner-take-all” outcome, even at the cost of national stability and progress. Moldova’s version of parliamentarism, therefore, has finally forced a political compromise that holds out a real hope for sustained political opening, though our optimism should be of the cautious variety. Dr. Henry E. Hale is a member of PONARS Eurasia and director of the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies (IERES) at George Washington University. For additional insight, see comments by PONARS Eurasia member Nicu Popescu at http://blogs.euobserver.com/popescu/category/moldova/