Moldovan judges, prosectors locked in dispute over referendum

Moldovan judges, prosectors locked in dispute over referendum
By Iulian Ernst in Bucharest June 1, 2016

Members of the Moldovan Court of Appeal have spoken out against plans to prosecute judge Domnica Manole for her decision in favour of a public constitutional referendum requested by the Dignity and Truth (DA) civic organisation.

The DA, one of Moldova’s main pro-EU opposition groups, wanted a referendum on constitutional amendments including direct presidential elections, the limitation of the number of MPs and MPs’ immunity. Manole ruled against a decision by the Constitutional Court not to allow the referendum to go ahead, but her ruling was later overturned by the Supreme Court. Her supporters say she has been targeted because she dared to take on the ruling regime.

In addition to the Court of Appeal, a group of NGOs have expressed support for Manole, after the magistrates’ body CSM green-lighted the plans to prosecute the judge for her decision, in what would be a highly politicised case. The prosecution, led by the acting head of the prosecution office, Eduard Harunjen, is making an “unprecedented attempt to intimidate judges, which goes against international principles and against the European integration of the country,” the public statement from the NGOs, quoted by, reads.

Opposition MP and potential presidential candidate Maia Sandu has also spoken out against the plans to prosecute Manole, contrasting her treatment with the lack of action over frauds that led to the loss of $1bn from the Moldovan banking system and other acts of large-scale corruption. “Another example of intimidation of judges who dare to oppose the regime. Another sign of the true intentions of this government,” Sandu wrote on her Facebook page.

The DA is expected to hold a demonstration on June 1 in protest against the prosecution of Manole.

Moldova’s recent switch to direct presidential elections is based on a Constitutional Court ruling in March. While the decision is backed by an overwhelming majority of Moldovans, the DA wanted it to be formalised by a referendum.

The Constitutional Court initially ruled against the DA’s request even though it had collected signatures from more than 400,000 Moldovan citizens, more than 10% of the country’s population. The court said the signatories were not sufficiently dispersed across the country geographically.

On April 14, Manole approved the DA’s petition and cancelled the Constitutional Court’s earlier decision.

In support of her decision, Manole argued that the administrative structure of the country has changed since the law regulating public referenda was enacted, thus making some requirements included in the text no longer applicable. Specifically, the requirements on the geographic distribution of the citizens supporting the referendum are no longer applicable, she argued. This was the specification invoked by the Constitutional Court when it invalidated the DA's request for a public referendum.

However, on April 22, the Supreme Court cancelled Manole’s decision and upheld Constitutional Court’s decision against a referendum.

The functioning of Moldova’s judicial system is at core of talks not only with the European Commission, but also with the International Monetary Fund. Corruption is widely believed to run rampant in the judiciary. In Transparency International’s 2015 Global Corruption Perceptions survey on Moldova, 80% of respondents described Moldova’s judicial system as corrupt, the highest percentage for any public institution.