No elections scheduled yet as term of Moldovan president quietly expires

No elections scheduled yet as term of Moldovan president quietly expires
By Iulian Ernst in Bucharest March 24, 2016

The term of Moldova’s president Nicolae Timofti expires on March 23, but the date for the country’s first direct presidential election has not yet been set. The Constitutional Court recently confirmed that the president will continue his duties until a replacement is appointed.

Timofti was elected on March 23, 2012 as a compromise candidate to end a year-long political crisis. He took 62 votes in the parliament, just one over the 61 needed. Timofti’s term has been largely unremarkable, with the exception of last-minute actions such as rejecting the nomination of oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc for the prime minister’s seat in late 2015.

Another political crisis was avoided, or at least postponed, by the Constitutional Court’s decision to change the procedure for electing a president less than three weeks before the end of Timofti’s term. The president has to be elected through a direct election, rather than by the parliament, the court decided on March 4.

Initially, the court's decision, which stipulated that elections must be organised within two months of the end of Timofti’s term, was assumed to mean that the presidential election would take place in May. This raised concerns about the extremely tight schedule. However, the court's president Alexandru Tanase later clarified that the two-month deadline referred to the electoral process.

It will be up to the government to schedule the elections, which parliament speaker Andrian Candu, a member of the senior ruling Democratic Party, has said should take place rather later in the autumn than immediately.

The opposition is already taking steps to appoint its candidates for the presidency, while the fragile parliamentary majority - which enjoys even more fragile support among voters - has not yet commented on its plans.

The president of the Socialist Party, Igor Dodon, is the most likely presidential candidate at this moment. Dodon, who enjoys a high level of support according to recent opinion polls, recently specified that he is more "pro-Soviet" than pro-Russian. His victory would smooth negotiations with the separatist region of Transnistria, and diminish the risk of further separatist movements in other regions, but would put at risk Moldova’s European integration. Dodon supports the utopic idea of partnership with both Russia and the European Union, but he frequently visits Moscow to coordinate actions and secure support from Russian-speaking voters.

The pro-European opposition has not yet nominated a candidate and it is not yet clear whether the parties will agree on a single candidate. Andrei Nastase president of the Dignity and Truth party said that he is ready to stand, while Maia Sandu - another potential candidate - has said that another candidate such as businessman and former prime minister Ion Sturza might be a better option.