Moldova’s pro-Russian president seeks new powers to dissolve parliament

Moldova’s pro-Russian president seeks new powers to dissolve parliament
By bne IntelliNews March 2, 2017

Moldova’s President Igor Dodon has submitted to parliament a bill intended to give himself more powers to dissolve the legislative body. If the bill is not endorsed by lawmakers by March 24, the president plans to initiate a referendum on constitutional changes that would give him the same powers. 

Dodon was Moldova’s first directly elected president since a 2016 constitutional ruling scrapped the indirect election system previously in place, he has indicated he plans to extend the role of the president. He is keen to gain the power to dismiss the parliament as polls show his Moldovan Socialist Party (PSRM) would win early elections. 

Dodon’s bill, submitted on February 28, sets out five circumstances under which the president would be entitled to dissolve the parliament. This could take place after discussions with the parliament’s political groups, if lawmakers fail to enact the results of a public referendum within 12 months, if an attempt by the parliament to impeach the president fails to win support in a referendum, if the parliament fails to enact the budget on time, or by a public referendum initiated by the president.

The president is most likely to make use of the final option since the others are either unclear (particularly the first one) or unlikely to happen in the near future (the second, third and fourth). Dodon has stressed that similar powers are given to the president of Estonia. 

At this moment, the president can dissolve the parliament only if lawmakers repeatedly fail to appoint a prime minister, or if they fail to endorse legislation for more than one year. 

The five methods proposed by Dodon are "vague and contradictory”, legal expert Nicolae Osmochescu told Radio Free Europe in an interview published on March 2. Furthermore, Osmochescu explained that all the procedures involved in holding and validating the referendum, plus the procedures for dissolving the parliament under the revised constitution, will result in early elections held around the same date as the term elections due to take place in autumn 2018. 

The bill will probably be rejected by the parliament or maybe not even discussed, given the majority led by the Democratic Party, while Dodon's PSRM is in opposition. However, Dodon can bypass lawmakers and initiate a public referendum on this issue. 

The result of such a referendum would technically be weaker than in the case of a referendum initiated by lawmakers. Under the constitution, the result of a referendum “has supreme judicial power” irrespective of its initiator, but this power and its effects – specifically the amendment of the constitution — should in practice be validated by the Constitutional Court. By contrast, a referendum initiated by lawmakers would have immediate effect on the constitution, with the Constitutional Court only having to validate the result of the referendum (turnout, voting count) hence being involved to a lesser extent.

It remains unclear whether the Constitutional Court will support the president’s plans. There are no legal grounds to deny the effects of a referendum called by the president, but the court’s decisions have been unexpected in the past. Last year, it was responsible for the switch back to direct presidential elections. The move averted a deep political crisis (there was no 60% majority in parliament for the appointment of a new president) as well as paving the way for Dodon’s election.

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