A “Wretched Dictatorship”: PAS Is Desperately Eliminating Election Rivals

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Christian RUSSU
After more than two years of holding absolute power in the country, the PAS is forced to resort to emergency measures to counter its political rivals, revealing a ruin of internal unity and a lack of control over state institutions
The Constitutional Court’s verdict in the evening of 3 October not only thrilled the public, but also caused a stir in the ranks of the ruling party. Many people have already accepted the fact that the current government has taken everything under its control and will continue to tighten the screws under the slogans of European integration and hybrid war with Russia. Therefore, few people expected that the judges would suddenly give PAS a slap, recognizing the fact of violation of the basic law and the attempt to deprive people of their electoral rights. However, we should admit there were hints that things would unfold this way. After the representatives of the banned “SOR” party submitted a new request to the Constitutional Court on 19 September, there was a “draw”, when the votes of the 4 judges were divided in two without the possibility of making a decision. Already then, the situation was quite precarious. The return of the well-known Domnica Manole to the court was a wake-up call for PAS, given the whole experience of relations with this person. However, the ruling party seemed calm at first glance. Now it is obvious that behind the demonstrative coolness and confidence there was a trivial confusion. On Tuesday evening, the public was reassured that everything was under control and that “criminals” and “Kremlin’s henchmen” would not be allowed to participate in the elections anyway, while respecting the recommendations of the Venice Commission. The ruling party’s lawyers must have immediately set about scrutinizing the reasoning part of the CC decision in order to prepare a new legislative barrier. The court’s main complaint was the lack of individualization criteria for those deprived of the right to run in the November 5 local elections. The argumentation base of the new draft law was to be built around this wording. The fact that the problem was fully realized was evidenced by the meeting of the Emergency Commission at 7:30 a.m., as well as searches at the residences of former SOR party members. The EC quickly imposed a ban on participation in local elections based on a number of criteria, among which was that those running for office had not only charges, but also mere suspicion of having committed the offences mentioned in declaring the political party unconstitutional. Certain provisions, just in case, were duplicated personally for Marina Tauber and other leaders of the “SOR” party. For example, those “excluded from previous electoral processes...” and “included in the international sanctions list...” are forbidden to participate in the elections. And the mass searches by law enforcers were apparently intended to increase the number of oppositionists, who, given the EC decision, will be prohibited to participate in the election campaign. In the same morning, during press conference Igor Grosu announced his readiness to consider the claims of the Constitutional Court on “individualization criteria”, according to which a politician cannot be elected. The updated draft law submitted to the parliament not only duplicated the decision already adopted by the Emergency Commission, but also contained step-by-step instructions for law enforcement agencies and the CEC to eliminate political rivals in the upcoming elections. The former, after the entry into force of the law, had to submit within 3 days the lists of citizens in accordance with the above-mentioned “criteria”, while the latter were ordered to prepare within one working day the final “firing lists” of those who would be denied or cancelled registration as participants in the electoral race. Another notable point that goes beyond legal practice: the draft law provides for the possibility of avoiding sanctions if those associated or suspected of having ties with a banned party prove that they have dissociated themselves from it, including through public statements. In other words, according to the ruling party’s deputies, Marina Tauber may be allowed to participate in the elections if she had somehow disassociated herself from her party before it was recognized as unconstitutional. However, it is clear that after such a hypothetical coming-out, an undesirable political competitor will cease to be such for the authorities. To make it even more reliable, the PAS adopted the draft law introduced on the same day by the former Minister of Justice Olesea Stamate in two readings at once. In order to follow some formal procedures, the parliamentary session was even divided into two, and the final draft law seemed to take into account the CEC’s opinion on the possibility for candidates to provide evidence of the termination/absence of criminal proceedings, which was referred to by Stamate. Of course, no one had time to prepare any written feedback from the CEC on the draft law, which was hastily made up at night. Many political observers were deeply impressed by everything that happened yesterday. Some saw in the actions of the ruling party a violation of democratic principles, others - a readiness to prevent the loss of power at any cost. However, in my opinion, the biggest revelation was the realization that after more than two years of absolute power, PAS had lost control over the country’s governing institutions. The party that came to power with slogans about the need to restore trust in state bodies, having achieved its goals and placed its appointees everywhere, eventually lost trust in them itself. Given the internal feud and corporate conflicts within the ruling party, there are attempts to re-insure in case of failure or malfunction, which only leads to an increase in mutual distrust and further unity’s ruin. It is a good question how the responsible functionaries in the law enforcements and the CEC will fulfil the duties outlined by the government. Besides, the responsibility for each case of refusal or admission to the elections will fall on a specific public person, not deputies. Promised bonuses of 5000 lei for the elections will hardly be a significant incentive in the face of a possible threat to become a criminal case. Therefore, we can assume that the implementation of the hastily adopted legislative norms may be sabotaged on the ground. The fact that the authorities used two of the only proven and fail-safe tools in one day as fire-fighting response to emerging risks is somewhat a litmus test of the coming turmoil in the country. If preparations for local elections lead to such impulsive and chaotic actions, then what should citizens expect from the next, much more politically significant presidential and parliamentary elections? There can be no doubt that as a working option, to minimize risks, PAS considers a return to the procedure of electing the head of state in parliament. But how long will the authorities be able to keep themselves afloat in this case?