The other day, in the planting about the complete book draft for Presidents, Prime Ministers and Parties, I mentioned Moldova in passing. Although I was vaguely aware that elections in that small country were due in spring, 2009, I was not aware that they actually were just winding down as I wrote–or that post-election protests were just getting wound up.
The reason for the mention of Moldova was that it is the only case, under democratic auspices, to move from one of the “separated powers” types to parliamentarism. The country moved to a parliamentary system in 2001 after a decade under the premier-presidential form (i.e. a directly elected, fixed-term presidency, alongside a prime minister and cabinet exclusively responsible to parliament).*
The Moldovan change in executive-legislative structure came along with the reemergence of electoral dominance by the Communist Party, via democratic elections.** The change to parliamentarism allowed the party to re-concentrate authority without the possibility that the opposition might be able to counterbalance it through finding a popular candidate who could win a national presidential election.
It is not as though the election was close. The Communist Party supposedly has won 61 of the 101 seats (+6 from 2005) on 49.9% of the votes, and the largest opposition party is the Liberal Party, with 15 seats on 13% of the vote. In fact, the bigger story compared to the 2005 election is not the Communists’ strength so much as the opposition’s fragmentation. The 2005 election was a bit closer (56 seats to 34 for the Democratic Bloc).
The presidential term is about to end, and this parliament will select the replacement (as well as, and constitutionally more importantly, the prime minister). Given that the Communists represent just less than half the electorate, the opposition could stand a decent chance in a popular presidential election, but those are–at least for now–a thing of the past in Moldova.
* Israel moved from a different hybrid–an elected prime minister who was nonetheless still responsible to parliament–back to its pre-reform pure parliamentarism, effective with the election of 2003. (There were three direct PM elections, in 1996, 1999, and 2001; the change back occurred almost immediately after the 2001 election.)
** Moldova has scored quite well on the various indicators of democracy throughout almost all of its post-Soviet independence. Both BBC radio and DW-TV have reported that international observers found these elections also to be democratic, albeit not without flaws.