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The 2003 Electoral Campaign

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April 25, 2003
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There’s one month left until the local elections of 25 May 2003. Practically, most of the practical work of preparation for the elections has already been done. The Central Electoral Commission (CEC) has succeeded in persuading the government to allot another 1.9 million Lei in addition to the previously allotted 7.5 million. This addition has been due to the fact that mayors will be elected in the same manner as the local councilors, by direct vote and not indirectly as was previously provided. Thus, the overall budget for the ongoing electoral campaign amounts to 9.4 million Lei. The electoral districts and district electoral councils (in districts, municipalities, towns, villages/communes) have been established in due time, and so have the 1987 precincts and their bureaus.

The CEC has adopted decisions of major importance on the threshold of electoral spending for contestants, the conception and regulation on the coverage of the electoral campaign in the mass media, and on monitoring of elections by local and foreign observers to be accredited by the respective electoral bodies and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In addition, the sample voting ballots for the election of mayors and councilors of both levels have been approved, and they which differ correspondingly. In all, 898 mayors and 11,843 district, town, municipal, village/commune councilors are to be elected.

At present, one can state that the first stage of the electoral period is over, and that the second one, the electoral campaigns of electoral contestants, has in fact started. 30 days before the election day, the term for registration of contestants for mayors, local and district councilors elapsed. The district councils have one more week to examine the documents submitted for contestants’ registration.

Of the 26 political parties registered in Moldova, only 18 have registered to date their electoral symbols to be printed on ballots. Of the 10 parties that created the Centre-Left Union in February 2003 led by the Communist Party of Moldova (CPM), seven have entered the electoral race individually. Other six opposition parties of centre-left and centre-right orientation have formed the electoral bloc Social Liberal Alliance “Our Moldova”, led by the Mayor of Chisinau Serafim Urechean. Two other parties of similar orientation have joined in the electoral bloc Social Democratic Party — Social Liberal Party. An important role in the current campaign is being played by People’s Christian Democratic Party, which represents the right opposition. They have initially called upon all opposition parties to run as a single opposition bloc, but after this initiative has failed, they refrained from forming any electoral blocs with small opposition parties.

Thus, the ruling party will compete with six potential political partners from the Centre-Left Union and as much as three “oppositions” of various standing, which still have accounts to settle among themselves.

The behaviour of parties in these elections sheds light on the fact that in the Moldovan political party system four major political groupings can be distinguished, which are likely to continue to stand out in the local political arena after the May elections.

Although the Republic of Moldova is experiencing its 7th electoral campaign held in conditions of political pluralism, the issues and major scandals related to the current campaign are prompted by the same factors: the behaviour of the state mass media, the use of the administrative leverage by the contestants and representatives of the ruling CPM, the intimidation of contestants from opposition parties, the obscure funding of electoral contestants’ campaign. Each of these factors deserves special monitoring and detailed analysis, which is being done by the CEC, the electoral contestants themselves and a number of non-governmental organisations.

The current local elections have an extremely high political stake, although, theoretically, they should be just “administrative elections”.

Firstly, these elections are for the bodies of the local administration system, which recently has been radically changed. There is no doubt that the revision of the local public administration system has been part of the ruling party’s efforts at building the “vertical axis of state power”. Testimony to this is the insistence with which the current government has promoted this idea by trying to hold early local elections last year, a proposal that was ruled unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court.

Secondly, President Voronin has been involved in the current campaign. During the ceremony of deposing flowers to the monument to Lenin for his 133rd anniversary, Voronin, President of Moldova and Chairman of the CPM, said that “at present, CPM main task is to strengthen the party and keep it in power. The CPM must do everything to win the mayoralty of the capital Chisinau in the local elections scheduled for 25 May 2003”. This development has reminded the public opinion of a similar case two years ago when the opposition parties turned to the Constitutional Court to rule on whether holding the office of the President of Moldova is constitutionally compatible with holding the chairmanship of a political party, obviously referring to Voronin’s case. The Constitutional Court decided back then that it was not in its competence to rule on that issue. As a result, at present one cannot distinguish when President Vladimir Voronin represents the interests of all Moldovan citizens from when he represents the interests of the party that he’s chairing.

It is true that the previous Moldovan Presidents, Mircea Snegur and Petru Lucinschi, got involved in the 1994 and 1998 parliamentary electoral campaigns, when the former supported the Democratic Agrarian Party and the latter — the Bloc for a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova. Moreover, Mircea Snegur even went the length of creating and chairing a political party during his presidential term, and thus set a precedent in the current constitutional setting. Therefore, even though the reproach to the CPM is well founded, it has no effects due to the precedents created by the two former Moldovan Presidents. This is how the foundations for the practice of “transfer of authority” from top public figures to candidates for deputies were laid. Still, the former presidents Snegur and Lucinschi never got involved directly in the electoral campaigns for local authorities, and so President Voronin is a groundbreaker in this sense.

Thirdly, the opposition press itself perceives the current local elections as a major political battle between the “leftovers” of democratic forces and the current ruling party, which is being accused of trying to build an authoritarian regime in Moldova.

Public opinion polls and local analysts have indicated that the highest chances in the electoral battle for the mayor of Chisinau belong to the CPM candidate Vasile Zgardan, currently Minister of Transports and Telecommunications, and Serafim Urechean, incumbent mayor of Chisinau and leader of the electoral bloc Social Liberal Alliance “Our Moldova”. The opposition press, which supports the latter, has written that the outcome of Urechean’s electoral battle with the communist candidate is crucial for the future of the democratisation process in Moldova. Allegedly, an eventual defeat of the communist candidate would set a precedent of enormous demoralising potential for the communists.

The representatives of the other two opposition parties are of a different opinion. They believe that the two top candidates are equally abusive in that they both make extensive use of the “administrative leverage” they hold, although to various extents. The communist candidate has at his disposal the entire central administration, including the ministry led by him, the State Radio and TV company, the governmental newspapers “Moldova Suverana” (Sovereign Moldova) and “Nezavisimaia Moldova” (Independent Moldova) etc. At the same time, the mayor of Chisinau is being accused of abusing, to the detriment of other electoral candidates, the media services of the municipal concern, which includes the TV station EuroTV, the radio station “Antena C”, and the newspaper “Capitala” (The Capital).

Since the political stake of the current local elections is so high, the tools used are up to fit it. At this stage, one can judge about the committed abuses by the nature of complaints that the electoral contestants have filed with the CEC. These refer most often to the abuse by public authorities and their media outlets in trying to manipulate the public opinion and defame Serafim Urechean, who is the main counter-candidate of the communists in Chisinau.

The other counter-candidates in Chisinau are probably counting on some sort of political gain resulting from the fight between the two top candidates. Indeed, the Chisinau Mayor, Serafim Urechean, deserves all support in his resistance to all sort of overt accusations at him. Yet, on the other hand, another part of the opposition parties remember well that in the previous local elections four years ago, Urechean himself abusively enjoyed governmental support, which fact was noted in the CEC decisions of 1999. One may say that Urechean is now the victim of the electoral abuses that he himself once helped embed.

In conclusion, the main characteristics of the electoral process are the following: abuses by those in government and revenge by those who proceed them, from one election to another, over and over again. The specific feature of the current campaign, though, is that the extent of abuses being committed is beyond any limit.

In this sense, there are examples, which can be easily qualified as intimidation by authorities of electoral contestants and the people close to them. This could go as far as arrests of candidates or of their subordinates at work etc.

Confessions made public by high police officers who said that, in this campaign, the Minister of Internal Affairs executes the political order to prevent the current mayor of Chisinau from being re-elected point to the fact that the Republic of Moldova is going through the dirtiest electoral campaign since 1994.

These examples show that the electoral climate in Moldova has considerably deteriorated, which fact has already been indicated by local and foreign observers with regard to the elections for the governor of the Gagauz Yeri autonomous entity. It is extremely sad that such things happen now after both specialised OSCE institutions (ODIHR), throughout years, have considered that to date elections in Moldova have been relatively free and fair, the same being said in the joint declaration of the Presidents Bush and Voronin of December 2002. It happens so that the very public authorities, who in their statements have repeatedly called for efforts to improve Moldova’s image externally, are now risking to affect in the most dangerous way the external image of Moldova through their own actions.

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