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Getting ready for May 2003 local elections

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June 14, 2002
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A whole set of events this month point to the fact that the major political parties of country are getting ready for local elections due in May 2003. Rather, they resumed pre-electoral activities, interrupted by the ruling of the Constitutional Court outlawing early local elections set for April 7, 2002.

Numerous factors force major political parties engage in the third local electoral race (after the independence of the Republic of Moldova was proclaimed on August 27, 2002 local elections were held on April 16, 1995 and May 23, 1999). In 1995 and 1999 local elections took place a year after parliamentary elections and their results once again confirmed those of the parliamentary elections, thus presented no relevance. Upcoming elections differ significantly from this point of view. An illustration in this respect was the electoral campaign launched in February 2002 in view of early local elections. As mentioned before, Constitutional Court outlawed those elections, on the grounds that it is unconstitutional to terminate the mandates of elected officials. However, the false start highlighted several tendencies, which would likely be valid in 2003 as well.

Firstly, it showed that four major players will engage in the electoral race, namely (from left to right): Communist Party (CP); Social Democratic Alliance (SDA); Independents’ Alliance (IA); and Christian-Democratic Peoples’ Party (CDPP). It is likely that the other 25 political parties registered with the Ministry of Justice will cluster around those key players. Certainly, there would be parties willing to run separately just to check their electoral rating. Secondly, the false start highlighted that the same electoral techniques are being used, i.e. denigration of big players via circulation of compromising materials on one hand, and usage of administrative levers by the incumbent governing on the other. And finally, there are indications that the confrontation between CP and CDPP is likely to continue until local elections of 2003.

During its last plenary session Communist Party initiated a campaign targeted at party modernization. The campaign is aimed firstly to recruit new personalities to the party, from different fields of activity, and thus to address the “shortage of staff” problem and also make CP image more attractive in the upcoming elections. Secondly, recently the governing party made public its intention to appoint deputy prefects to the rayons (districts) in line with its intention to revise the administrative-territorial division of the country. According to some domestic experts, would-be deputy prefects would be the ones to use the party “administrative levers”. Thirdly, the recent initiative of Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev to prohibit the use of “Romanian language” is once again the factor that used to divide Moldovan electorate.

The Communist governing has all the reasons to regret its failure to hold early local elections on April 7, 2002. In 2003 it would face some tough economic and financial problems. In particular, this year Moldova would have to pay to foreign institutions a debt equaling nearly 2/3 of its state budget. And this in the context of blocked foreign funding, and lack of income from privatization of state property. Secondly, Moldovan sugar exports to Ukraine have been stopped, as were those of food industry to Romania. Besides the economic damages to be incurred by Moldova, Communist governing image would also have to suffer due to their failure to support “domestic producers”. And finally, prohibition to use “Romanian language” phrase could be speculated on only in the rural environment. In Chisinau Municipality, the biggest stronghold in the local elections, this might have an opposite effect.

SDA headed by the former Prime-Minister Dumitru Braghis, engaged in campaign for local elections when the initiative on a “permanent round table” had been launched in April. The idea of a permanent roundtable aimed at facilitating the dialogue between the opposition and Communist governing occurred after Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly had passed a resolution on the functioning of democratic institutions in the Republic of Moldova. Another of SDA actions falling within its propaganda campaign is the collection of 200,000 signatures (about 10% of the registered voters) in support of a legislative referendum. The referendum is to be held on replacing the current proportional electoral system with a mixed one (50% of the deputies would be elected on the party lists, and the other 50% in the single mandate districts). Both initiatives have drawn other smaller parties to the SDA. Thus, it becomes a focal point for center-left and center-right parties who disagree both with the Communists’ and Christian-Democrats’ policy.

Independents’ Alliance headed by the Chisinau Mayor, Serafim Urechean, has also showed itself at the beginning of June. Alliance leader took part in the Congress of Local and Regional Power of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. Among other things the Congress heard a report on the situation in the Republic of Moldova. In his capacity as Federation leader Urechean could monitor the democracy in the Republic of Moldova, which would be at issue in November in Strasbourg. This position enables the Alliance to draw on its side other political parties, which potentially might form an electoral alliance in the 2003 electoral campaign. On the other hand, SDA has all the chances to overrun IA. The fact is that in February, the Alliance managed to draw 10 parties on its side. Though, Ureachean’s exclusive interest in being reelected as the capital Mayor scared all of them away. Some of them have now turned to the SDA Furthermore, allegations made by governmental press as well as the one controlled by the Communist Party and Christian-Democrats on Urechean’s involvement in corruption scandals once again point to the fact that Ureachean is an easy target.

As usual, last week Christian Democrats made an interesting move. During a party municipal conference, CDPP delegates elected incumbent deputy party Chair, Vlad Cubreacov, as the Chair of the Municipality Primary Organization. The move is aimed to designate Vlad Cubreacov as candidate to the Chisinau Mayoralty, and top candidate on the list for the election of municipal council. CDPP has been gaining grounds recently, fact confirmed by the 2001 parliamentary elections. After anti-Communist protest rallies organized by the CDPP, and Vlad Cubreacov’s kidnapping the latter has become a significant personality on the Moldovan political scenery. Given police failure to discover Vlad Cubreacov for two months, public attention attached to his figure will continue to be high, which might prove to be an advantage during the electoral campaign.

Cubreacov’s chances in elections are very high. He has all the grounds to count on the second round. Given that the incumbent Mayor is attacked both by his right-wing and left-wing opponents, and mass media’s reluctance to support him unconditionally as it used to in 1999 elections, Ureachen’s rating will inevitably decrease, fact already indicated by the opinion polls.

Communists also have no grounds to count on a high rating of their candidate. Social and economic problems, damaged relations with the neighborhood countries, confused ideological orientation, corruption scandals — all of them could result in low rating of the CP candidate. Despite Communist’s claims that they don’t have problems with professional HR, they still need to identify a candidate. Certainly, CP might promote an independent candidate, though the consequences of such a move are difficult to predict.

So, CDPP has all the chances for its candidate, namely Vlad Cubreacov, to draw more than the usual 12% it received in the Chisinau municipality. If CDPP candidate gets to the second round, CDPP might appeal to citizens to elect between “Christian-Democratic democracy and Communist authoritarian regime” or between an “honest and an compromised candidate”. The second is less likely, though no less likely than CDPP candidate in the second round. Would the other 25 democratic parties oppose such an appeal? No way! They would have to ally with CDPP. Given that upcoming elections would test voters’ confidence in the Communist governing and would be a prelude for the 2005 parliamentary elections, CDPP’ victory might have a great impact, especially as the Communists’ rating in Chisinau equals to about 43%.

A new political situation Modernization of the Governing Party