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Bashkan elections in Gagauz Yeri

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October 2, 2002
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Bashkan elections are scheduled in Gagauz-Yeri for October 6. The electoral campaign is characterized by mutual suspicions of falsification. In fact the upcoming elections is a way of settling the conflict arisen in January. Back then, after a control conducted by the Court of Accounts, Gagauz Yeri Parliamentary Assembly initiated the procedure of ousting the incumbent Bashkan. The initiative was supported by the President Vladimir Voronin who accused Bashkan Dumitru Croitor of embezzlement and called him a thief. Gagauz administration denied the accusations and opposed the referenda on ousting the Bashkan, which resulted in scission of the Parliamentary Assembly. Later on Dumitru Croitor and Ivan Burgugji, Chief of the Protocol Section of the PA were investigated for obstruction to referenda. In their turn, the two claimed the referendum was illegal and running counter to the Republic of Moldova laws.

Domestic analysts believe those political games impaired the executive branch in the region and thwarted some extremely important investment projects in the southern region of Moldova. The investigation launched against him and his supporters determined Bashkan Croitor to resign in the summer of this year. In its turn the resignation led to early elections scheduled for October 6.

One may say that the Bashkan position is disputed by the Communist Party representative Gheorghii Tabunscic, on the one hand and another five candidates on the other (Stepan Topal, Ilia Stamat, Mihail Formuzal, Gheorghii Burgudji and Constantin Tausanji), the latter stand to some extent in opposition to the Communist authorities. It is believed Tabunscic counter-candidates decided to run separately in elections so as not to allow him to win in the first round of elections, and to join their forces in the second round in order to defeat Tabunscic. The same tactics was used in 1999 when Croitor defeated Tabunscic.

It is generally believed that Gheroghii Tabunscic has great chances to win the elections especially as he enjoys the support of the Communist Party. Gagauz observers report that the entire apparatus and national governmental press work for the electoral staff of the Communist candidate. Although Tabunscic is not a member of the Communist Party, in 2001 he entered the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova on the Communist Party list. He held the Bashkan position in 1995–1999. Tabunscic runs as an independent candidate in the current elections, although he enjoys the support of the governing party. Consequently, the Communist Party decided to allow Tabunscic to use the Communist Party electoral symbol — the hammer and the sickle — in his electoral campaign. President Voronin present at the meeting when Gheorghii Tabunscic was designated as a candidate to the Bashkan position highlighted the Communist Party objectives in Gagauz Yeri, namely Tabunscic’s victory in elections in the first round. Also, the President briefed the Communist Party activists on the electoral tactics to be employed in order to secure the victory. Thus, they have to have door-to-door meeting and talk to every voter and convince him or her to vote for Tabunscic. It seems that the Communist activists took the President’s advice too seriously. The representatives of Civic Initiative of Gagauz Yeri (coalition formed of several non-governmental organizations in the region) claim that Communist activists together with local government representatives started collecting citizens’ ID on the pretext of collecting data for a census. One may suppose those actions are intended to intimidate the voters and use those data to manipulate the voter rolls, especially as many Gagauz Yeri residents left abroad in search of a job. An illustration of this, is the way the meeting, when Tabunscic was designated as a candidate, was covered in mass media. Thus official press in Comrat, namely “Vesti Gagauzii” reported the event as meeting of the Communist Party activists with the President of the country, as a reunion held to designate Tabunscic as a candidate in elections. Chisinau official press reported the same very meeting as a “Forum of the Gagauz Yeri Civil Society”. Another illustration of manipulation intentions is that under the decision of the Gagauz Yeri Central Electoral Commission ballots were printed at a private Printing House owned by the Chief of the Communist candidate electoral staff. Civic Initiative observers pointed that almost all electoral commissions have been staffed with persons loyal to the governing party or even party members. When there were doubts with regard to the loyalty of the poll worker the position was simply left vacant. The same observers claimed Communist authorities had fully used the so-called “administrative lever”. Another illustration is the election coverage in mass media. Seventy percent of the airtime at the Radio and TV was granted to the Communist candidate, whereas the printed media provided space only for the Communist party program. Furthermore, delegations of high-rank Chisinau officials invaded Gagauz autonomy to support Tabunscic and to exercise pressure on city and village executive bodies.

The polls indicate that from among opposition candidates Stepan Topal has the greatest chances to make it to the second round. Mr. Topal was the first President of Gagauzia (1990–1995), at the time the region declared its independence from the Republic of Moldova in 1990. It is believed Topal’s great chances are due to his appeal to national patriotic feelings. He is always presented as the architect of the Gagauz Autonomy, who opposes the plans of the Communist party and its candidate to undermine the statehood of the autonomy.

A good sign for Topal is the fact that just several days prior to elections one of the candidates, Ivan Burgidji, withdraw from the race in his favor. Also, Topal enjoys the support of the former Bashkan Dmitri Croitor. In fact according to some allegations the political crisis, which made Croitor resign, was staged by Gheorghii Tabunscic.

Interestingly enough Topal’s electoral campaign exploits the achievements of Croitor governing. The fact that the autonomy budget doubled during the latter’s governing is cited. Furthermore, pensions, arrears to the wages were paid during the Croitors’ governing. During Tabunscic’s governing salaries were not paid for years, and if paid than with altered food. As for agriculture, Topal makes reference to the fact that during Croitor’s governing “Pamint” project was implemented with the financial support of USAID, which enabled a boost of agricultural farms. Also Topal cites the level of processing the land during the governing of the previous two Bashkans. Another argument, impressive investments from Turkey, Italy and Russian made during Croitor governing, and new jobs created at the time when active citizens flee the country in search for a job.

Another opposition candidate, Mihail Formuzal, has great chances only in Ciadir-Lunga, where he is the Mayor and in the nearby villages. Formuzal is believed to be open-minded and a good practitioner, who managed to establish a favorable environment for investments in Ciadir-Lunga and thus outnumber the investments in the capital of the Gagauz Autonomy — Comrat. The animosity existing between the two cities greatly decreases Formuzal’s chances in elections.

The chances of Ilia Stamat are also very modest. Stamat was a member of the Communist Party and even got in Parliament on the Communist list (1998–2001). He was excluded from the Communist faction due to the fact that in the second round of 1999 Bashkan elections he supported Dmitri Croitor, rather than the Communist candidate Gheorgii Tabunscic. It is believed that Croitor appointed Stamat as the Head of the Foreign Economic Relations Department in appreciation of his support. Upon Croitor’s resignation Stamat had to leave his job as well. Stamat has a pro-Russian electoral message and a “bear” as his electoral symbol. Obviously the symbol comes from “Edinstvo” ruling party in Russia, so as to exploit the sympathy of the locals for Russia.

Although known for being a good manager, Cahul Municipality Mayor, Constantin Tausanji, has very few chances to succeed. Local observers point that one of his drawbacks are the various political compromises he made during his career, which indicate his lack of principality in matters related to the “fate of the Gagauz People”.

Independent observers expect that election results would be falsified so as to ensure the victory of the Communist candidate or at least to declare elections invalid if the first variant is not possible. Nevertheless, Civic Initiatives managed to recruit and train 70 independent observers due to monitor elections in 62 polling stations. Furthermore, the League for the Human Rights Defence (LADO) would also monitor the elections with another 70 observers. Also international observers from the Congress of Regional Powers of the Council of Europe and OSCE would monitor the elections. Although the high number of observers is an encouraging news for the opposition candidates, it still remains to be seen if their mission would have any crucial impact. It is believed that electoral frauds are committed much earlier than on election day, i.e. by employing “the administrative lever” and intimidating the voters, in fact the governing party already succeeded in this. Gagauz observers believe the governing party would use the experience of manipulating elections in Gagauzia to replicate it in the general local elections scheduled for next spring.

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