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Local elections — preliminary conclusions

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May 28, 2003
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It appears that the current campaign for the general local elections of 25 May 2003 has differed dramatically from the previous seven electoral campaigns held in Moldova after its declaration of independence in 1991.

First should be mentioned the fact that this has been the first electoral campaign held under a communist government. Secondly, this campaign has been qualified by many analysts and observers as the dirtiest ever. Thirdly, this campaign has resulted in the lowest voter turnout. Lastly, in this campaign, the ruling party has received fewer votes than in the preceding parliamentary elections.

One cannot argue for certain that there is a cause-effect relationship among these for factual characteristics of the current campaign. However, one may not underestimate the fact that the turnout rate is a highly strong indicator of citizens’ attitude towards government in Moldova. Beyond all doubt, there is a correlation between how the electoral campaign has been conducted and the voter participation rate. The experience of many states has shown that the dirtier and more repressive an electoral campaign is, the lowest the participation rate. Therefore, it has come as no surprise that for the first time in the electoral history of the Republic of Moldova a meagre 57.8 percent of voters showed up to cast their votes. This is a negative signal for the current government. All the more so as the turnout should have been quite high if the territorial administrative reform, which is about to start, had been indeed as much supported by the citizens as the current government has constantly claimed.

It appears, though, that the low voter turnout could be interpreted as a protest against the dirty methods of the state mass media intent on discrediting the electoral contestants, as mush as it is an indicator of people’s indifference towards the government’s proposal to build the “vertical axis of power”, which is likely to turn out costly and futile. For the sake of comparison, we would like to remind that in the local elections of 1995 and 1999 turnout neared 60 percent. It is true that in local elections participation is almost 15 percent lower than in parliamentary ones.

To grasp the importance of the results of these elections as compared to the previous ones, one needs to bear in mind the fact that Moldova has gone through only three electoral cycles since it declared independence in 1991. A sound statistical basis is therefore missing. Still, it is worth having a look at the returns of previous polls. Also, we should be wary of the risk that errors might happen when the returns of parliamentary elections are being compared with those of local elections at county or district levels.

In 1995, the Democratic Agrarian Party (DAP) in government at the time received at district level a number of votes (50.1 percent) which was almost 7 percent higher than that in the 1994 parliamentary elections (43.2 percent). In the same context, one can observe that the constituent parts of the Alliance for Democracy and Reforms (ADR), while in government in 1999, received in the 1999 local elections at the county level a percentage of votes (48.7) which was about 2 percent higher than the percentage they got in the 1998 parliamentary scrutiny (46.4). In general terms, one can therefore observe that in local elections the ruling party or coalition always gets more votes that in the preceding parliamentary elections. The most plausible explanation of this phenomenon could be that in the one-year interval between the parliamentary and local elections, during which the winners of the former govern, the political life continues to be under the hold and prevalence of the expectations that the voters had formed during the said parliamentary elections. As for the opposition parties, it should be noted that the front liners in parliamentary elections were basically retaining their rating in the successive local elections.

This phenomenon is well known both to the current ruling party and the opposition parties. In this sense, it is not by chance that the Communist Party of Moldova (CPM) wanted to hold early local elections in 2002, exactly one year after they took to power following the parliamentary elections of early 2001. Is not by chance either that the opposition had objected to holding early elections and insisted that they be held ordinarily in 2003, after the four- year mandates of local elected officers expired.

The preliminary results of this campaign, held two years after the parliamentary elections, reveal a slight decrease of about 2 percent in the CPM vote returns at district level. While this decrease should not be overestimated, it is still a clear indicator to the fact that the CPM is about to slide into a stagnation crisis, which might be followed by recession.

In the competition for mayor offices, the CPM scored best in the first round of elections with more than 25 percent of Moldova mayoralties being won over by them. However, the CPM might encounter serious problems in promoting its candidates in the second round. The problem is that the arrogant behaviour of the CPM in this campaign has left them without any potential political allies in the so-called Centre-Left Union set up in February 2003. It is so that the CPM has remained without any political allies who would encourage their voters to vote for the CPM in the second round.

There is a chance that the CPM might now try to revive the Centre-Left Union. At least one component thereof — the Democratic Party (DP), registered a very good return of 8 percent. The almost 2 percent received by the DAP is not to be overlooked either, as in certain districts these two parties scored unexpectedly high.

By all probabilities the DP will not make any public statements in this sense in order not to damage its political field of manoeuvre. As for the DAP, one can assume that the CPM does not even need to make a public commitment, as the political programmes of the two parties are very close anyway. A public declaration by the DAP calling on its voters to vote for the communists in the second round would rather damage the CPM. This has already happen in 1999 when the CPM and DAP set up a partnership and even a joint electoral bloc. Later on, though, that coalition proved damaging for the CPM, given that during the earlier DAP government more than 60% of Moldova’s foreign debt had been accumulated and that a large part of the CPM propaganda message had been blaming the previous so-called “democratic” governments who subdued the country to foreign creditors. Therefore, one can expect that the final percentage of elected mayors on behalf of the CPM correlates with the percentage of CPM candidates elected to district councils, i.e. is around the symbolic threshold of 50 percent.

As for the battle for the Chisinau municipality, one can observe that support for the CPM has declined in Chisinau more than in the rest of the country. The fact that Vasile Zgardan, the CPM candidate, was supported personally by President Voronin, who is also the Chairman of the CPM, has been interpreted by many journalists as a personal defeat of the latter. It is an enormous defeat given that practically the entire state mass media, both the electronic and the written ones, engaged in a persistent campaign of denigration of electoral contestants, especially of Serafim Urechean, the incumbent General Mayor. The OSCE and the Council of Europe observers have drawn attention to this fact in their preliminary statement of findings.

Although the independent candidate, Serafim Urechean (44%), came ahead of the communist candidate Vasile Zgardan (41%) in the first round, one can hardly make any reliable forecasts at the moment with regard to their performance in the second round.

There are a number of factors that give advantage to Serafim Urechean. Firstly, the voters in the Chisinau municipality are relatively educated and those who have voted for democratic candidates such as Vlad Cubreacov and Viorel Topa and who account for around 10% of votes in the first round, would rather vote for Serafim Urechean in the second round.

Secondly, it could happen so that the media pressure exercised by the electronic and written state media considerably diminishes after the OSCE and Council of Europe observers expressed their concern about the deterioration of the electoral climate in Moldova.

Thirdly, Serafim Urechean might insist that televised public debates are organised featuring him and his counter-candidate, Vasile Zgardan, where he could show that he is much more knowledgeable of the state of affairs in the municipality. Of course, Urechean would prevail in such debates only is the moderation of the show is equidistant. At the same time, it would be to the disadvantage of Vasile Zgardan to refuse to attend such debates as this would make him appear eluding to engage in a direct dialogue with the voters.

The advantages that Vasile Zgardan might have over Urechean mainly reside in the fact that the CPM has an extremely disciplined electorate, unlike the electorate of democratic parties, which could simply forget attending the second round of the local elections.

It is interesting to note that the CPM has shown unhappy with the results of the election in the Chisinau municipality. A certain anxiety could be read in the fact that the CPM has requested a court of justice to rule that all ballots originating in the municipality be re-counted manually. If the recount confirms the already announced results, it would be extremely encouraging for the lead candidate Serafim Urechean and extremely embarrassing for the communist candidate Vasile Zgardan. However, if the recount reveals significant mistakes, the advantaged one will be Vasile Zgardan.

The Moldovan Army Political style