Civil society vilified for opposing electoral changes in Moldova

As reported previously on the CIVICUS Monitor, two Moldovan political parties proposed amendments to the electoral system prior to parliamentary elections in 2018. Civil society groups have criticised the proposed amendments for favouring the majority party in power and those who have financial resources to influence policy. 

In May 2017, MPs in the Moldovan Parliament approved the introduction of a mixed electoral system, partly based on closed party list, which civil society organisations claim will cement the power of the dominant parties in Moldovan politics. As Mihai Popșoi reported in Open Democracy: 

"Ideally, parliamentary elections in 2018 would give Moldovans cause to hope for change. After these electoral reforms, the odds will be stacked against them".

The Venice Commission's review of the proposed electoral changes in June found that there was a lack of consensus between parties and civil society on the issue. Furthermore, the Commission would not recommend that the Moldovan government make any changes to the electoral system. Nonetheless, Moldova's two main political parties PSRM and PDM have thus far ignored the Commission's recommendations as well as the EU's warning against implementing the amendment to the Electoral Code. 

Association

Several members of civil society organisations have been intimidated for expressing their opposition to the electoral changes. Organisations that oppose the government's proposed mixed system have also been accused of not being independent.

On 9th May 2017, the National Council of NGOs from the Republic of Moldova published a declaration in solidarity with independent civil society. The document asserts that organisations can support democratic institutions and express critical opinions on issues related to the electoral system without having any political affiliation or bias. The Council also urged the public authorities, political parties and media outlets to avoid attacking civil society for presenting its views on government policies. 

In a separate development concerning civil society, the Ministry of Justice recently released a proposal for changes to NGO laws. The government has been working on amending NGO-related laws since 2016, creating a task force and consulting with civil society to ensure proposals meet international standards and include the sector's input. However, the latest proposals include three additional amendments which would inhibit civil society activities, restrict funding sources and increase the bureaucratic burden.

According to the changes proposed by the Ministry, civil society organisations would have limited involvement in "political activities", such as developing public policy or working on reforms. In addition, access to direct or indirect foreign funding would be restricted and organisations involved in so-called "political activities" could not be beneficiaries of the two percent law (Moldovan legislation allowing tax payers to redirect two percent of their income tax to non-governmental organisations). Organisations would also have to submit a new declaration on project income and expenses on “political activities” to the Ministry of Justice and the Central Electoral Commission. Any organisation receiving foreign funding would have to submit quarterly and annual financial reports to the Ministry of Justice, even though such reports are already required by the fiscal authorities on a monthly basis. If found non-compliant, organisations could face fines or even be forced to close by court order.

On 11th July 2017, 43 Moldovan organisations issued a statement requesting the Ministry of Justice to rescind the proposed amendments and instead adopt changes agreed upon during consultations with civil society. The statement reads:

"The proposals represent an attack on non-governmental organizations that are active in promoting public policies or any other activities to develop participatory democracy".

Following the statement's release, the Ministry officially published its draft law (Articles 26 - 28) with the amendments as outlined above. Civil society has called on the European Union and wider international community to closely monitor the situation as the government's proposed actions represent a threat the sector. 

Peaceful Assembly

Peaceful protests on the electoral code amendments have been ongoing since early May. On 14th May 2017, one of the largest protests took place. Led by civil society, the demonstration was also supported by opposition parties,and parliamentary and extra-parliamentary parties, such as the PAS (Action and Solidarity Party) and the PPDA (Political Party - Dignity and Truth). Protests have continued through June, with one action on 11th June gathering approximately 4,000 people in the centre of Chisinau. 

Expression

On 13th June 2017, PDM submitted a draft "anti-propoganda" law aimed at securing the space for information exchange in Moldova. The bill would allow the government to prohibit news, as well as political and military programming produced outside the country, in particular coming from the Russian Federation. In response to this initiative, Moldova's pro-Russian president Igor Dodon announced that he would block the draft law on securing the information space. Dodon's party PSRM controls two television stations that re-transmit programming from Russia. 

Nadejda Roscovanu, a journalist from the Jurnal de Chişinău, was physically assaulted by a shop owner in the capital city for attempting to photograph expired products. Several media organisations condemned the aggressive behaviour and have asked law enforcement authorities to investigate the case and take the appropriate measures against the attacker.