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Negative trend in the electoral process

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August 25, 2003
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In mid-August the final report of the OSCE observation mission, Report on Local Elections in Moldova, was posted on the its official website. The report was accompanied by a note, entitled “Negative trend observed during Moldova’s local elections must be reversed”. This negative trend observed in the electoral process has been a source of concern for OSCE Observation Mission, especially given considerable progress made in the previous elections. Steven Wagenseil, Deputy Director of OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights called on Moldovan authorities to undertake every effort to correct the negative trend.

On the one hand, the report notes that the administration of the elections, the legal framework and voting procedures, as well as the activity of the Central Electoral Commission and election officials at all the levels were generally in accordance with OSCE commitments. However, those achievements had been shadowed by the abusive behavior displayed by the authorities.

The report identifies a number of shortcomings in the conduct of elections, such as heavily biased and distorted reporting by the state media, interference by the authorities in the election process by arresting or threatening to arrest opposition candidates, as well as misuse of public resources for campaign purposes. This refers also to the electoral staff of the Chisinau Mayor, Serafim Urechean, the main opposition candidate.

Experts point that the integrity of the electoral process was undermined by the latest amendments to the Law on Political Parties imposing rather exaggerated requirements for the party registration. The amendments also infringe on data protection, as they require for provision of comprehensive personal data for each party member. Another source of concern has been the citizens’ lack of confidence in courts and other institutions, the relatively low number of appeals being a relevant indication in this respect. In general the complaints mainly focussed on allegation of misuse of public resources for campaign purposes or on obstruction of opposition campaigning. This mainly refers to the overzealous enforcement of public security by police. OSCE report also reports on payment of bonuses to certain categories of population on certain occasions. Those practices should be forbidden as they disadvantage opposition candidates, which cannot afford to employ them. The report also outlines the case of the National House of Social Insurance that distributed humanitarian food aid, which reportedly included Communist Party campaign material. However the surprise of the recent campaign was that the Communist Party, which had violated the most legal provisions and largely engaged in electoral corruption, filled the greatest number of complaints. They are probably the only ones to trust the Moldovan judiciary.

Although the OSCE report covers extensively the positive and negative aspects of the electoral process, it is worth considering in detail the recommendations offered for consideration of Moldovan authorities in order to remedy the negative trend observed during the last elections. Those refer in particular to the following: CEC should be authorized to impose administrative sanctions for non-compliance with its orders or decisions; entire system of voter registration should be revised. It is recommended to create a Civil Register, a data base accessible to all electoral bodies for them to be able to correctly compile voter lists. In the previous elections the number of voters included in supplementary voter lists was up to 10%. However in the recent local elections 7.4% of the voters were included in the supplementary lists in the first round, and 4.9% in the second — a conclusive indication to the fact that things were not changing for the better.

A special attention was given in the OSCE report to mass media coverage of elections. The recommendations include among others: making the free air time more ample; broadcasters should be encouraged to provide contestants with equitable debate conditions for the voters to decide on their own which of the contestants are more competent.

In addition broadcasters should not provide members of the government who are also candidates with extensive media coverage during news programs. The latter should provide neutral and impartial election coverage, whereas matters directly or indirectly related to elections should be debated during shows specifically assigned to it. Furthermore, the public should be informed if a message is a paid political advertisement.

As for campaign finance, it was also covered in the report. It was recommended to impose sanctions in case of non-compliance with the law, as well as to have in place audit and control mechanisms.

In conclusion, one may assume that both representatives of the governing party as well as opposition parties are very much familiar with the flaws of the Republic of Moldova electoral system. Civic organizations of Moldova working in the field of elections have repeatedly raised the shortcomings mentioned in the OSCE report. The fact is that numerous parties, which stayed in power exploited the shortcomings to their own advantage. This is the only reasonable explanation for the total lack of sanctions, such as suspension of the candidate registration, for the repeated violation of the law. And this because, parties in power had enjoyed greater opportunities to violate the law and to avoid sanctions. This is especially true with regard to the incumbent ruling party, which in the two and a half years of its rule has been constantly advocating for improving Moldova’s image abroad, while itself bringing the greatest detriment to the image of the country through its actions, especially as far as elections are concerned — fact reported in the OSCE report as well.

Ideological inconsistency Republica Moldova — the country of projects, concepts, strategies…