Moldova’s parliament endorsed a new electoral law on July 20, that stipulates that lawmakers will be elected under a mixed proportional-majority system. The legislation was backed by 74 of Moldova’s 101 MPs, the parliament said in a statement.
Opposition parties, most of which are not represented in the current parliament, see the new law as barring their access to the legislative body in future elections. Critics say it will favour established parties and those with greater financial resources, in particular the ruling Democratic Party and President Igor Dodon’s Socialists.
In response, the opposition have initiated mass protests, with supporters of Partidul Nostru starting the protests in front of the parliament building on July 19, when the ruling coalition announced plans to vote the bill.
Partidul Nostru activists were joined after the vote by supporters of the pro-EU Action and Solidarity Party (PAS) of Maia Sandu and Dignity and Truth Political Party (PPDA) of Andrei Nastase.
In anticipation of the protests, the central area of Chisinau was already filled with police officers in the morning of July 20. Barriers were also installed in front of the parliament to prevent protesters' access to the building.
A Partidul Nostru statement said that hundreds of its supporters had been “met by cordons of police in special equipment, up to eight rows” preventing them from marching to the presidential residence.
Supporters of the party — which used to be close to Dodon’s Socialists — have accused Dodon of betraying the people and aiding Vlad Plahotniuc, the unpopular head of the Democratic Party. They chanted "Down with Plahotniuc!" and "Dodon is a traitor!” during the demonstration.
“The regime is trying to destroy human dignity, but it will not succeed,” Partidul Nostru leader Renato Usatii, who left Moldova for Russia to avoid arrest, wrote in a Facebook post on July 20.
“Every day more and more of us must come to the centre of Chisinau. Hundreds of thousands of people will show this junta that we are a real, worthy nation. The junta can rule slaves, but not the people. The protests will continue and intensify. And we will drive them out.”
Meanwhile, the PAS wrote on its Facebook page “74 deputies decided today to kill democracy in Moldova. It's up to us to stop them from destroying this country!”
Further complicating the situation, the Democratic Party has already organised a demonstration in favour of the new electoral law on July 20. This will take place close to the opposition protests.
The protests are likely to develop during the coming days, possibly leading to conflicts between groups of people sharing different political options or to violent conflicts between violent groups of protesters and the police forces. If the protests do erupt into violence, the authorities might use the situation against the protesters, irrespective of their message.
Under the new electoral system, 50 MPs will be elected under proportional voting and 51 MPs under majority voting.
In its report on the proposed electoral reforms published in June, the Venice Commission — the Council of Europe’s constitutional law experts — made a number of criticisms, including pointing out that if the changes are adopted, the constituency members of parliament would be vulnerable to being influenced by business interests.
In addition, the commission said the changes “cannot be considered as having been adopted by broad consensus”.
Some measures have been taken to address the Venice Commission’s concerns, including a reduction in the cap on financing for candidates. However, the impact of the law remains broadly the same as the original.
In a recent comment for bne IntelliNews, Dumitru Alaiba of the Policy and Reform Center and Natalia Otel Belan of the Center for International Private Enterprise claimed the purpose of the electoral reforms was “to ensure the advantage of the party in power”.
“Because the uninominal system requires candidates to win across districts, it demands considerable funding. Therefore, this system will favour candidates with the financial backing of those in power, while putting emerging opposition parties at a significant disadvantage,” they argued. “The electoral change will increase the risk of electoral fraud, give independent candidates no choice but to join the governing Democratic Party, and diminish the role of the diaspora in elections.
Another significant change to be introduced under the new law is that voting stations will be organised for residents of the separatist republic of Transnistria. Technically, the voting stations will be organised on the territory of Moldova that the central authorities control (meaning not in Transnistria), most likely on the border of the separatist region. Transnistria’s residents were allowed to attend the vote in previous elections, but now they will have MPs specifically representing the region and its residents.
The Venice Commission also raised concerns about this aspect of the law, noting that “detailed and comprehensive criteria for the establishment of constituencies for Transnistria … and for citizens abroad are not stipulated”.
Finally, the proposed changes are unlikely to enhance the representation of women and minorities in the parliament, the commission concluded.