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The sociological portrait of new elect mayors

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Igor Botan / September 7, 2003
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Over the summer of 2003 the governmental media has written extensively about the problems being encountered by the local public administration bodies formed following the local general elections of 25 May 2003. Most of those problems have manifested as collateral effects of the revision of the public administration system and the territorial administrative organisation (whereby 10 counties were replaced by 33 districts). Thus, the accounts of a series of mayoralties have been blocked and there is a shortage of personnel to fulfil the tasks provided for by the new laws etc. Obviously, these problems prompted others, such as the ones related to the preparation of premises for the new school year and the preparation of communal service providers for the winter season, as well as other social problems.

These problems do not seem to be provisional ones. For example, the mayors of towns Cahul and Orhei, which are two important economic centres, have expressed their bewilderment at the extremely rigid requirements on the number of employees that are to be hired by mayoralties. The inadequate number of local public administration officers may affect the activity of mayoralties throughout the mayors’ mandates. Curiously, both mayors who have expressed their public discontent have been elected on behalf of the ruling party, which has been claiming that the revision of the local public administration system has been well prepared.

Judging by all appearances, the personnel requirement is part of the Government efforts to avoid the criticism of those who have opposed the revision of the system of the public administration system arguing that increasing the number of mayors by 1/4 and that of second tier administrative entities (districts) thrice would lead to significant increases in the number of public officers and, hence, in the related expenditure. Thus, according to Government decisions, the personnel of village (commune) mayoralties is to comprise 4 to 13,5 items and that of town and municipality mayoralties, except municipalities Chisinau and Balti, between 8 and 26,5 entities. The personnel of the apparatus of a district chairman and its seven subdivisions will be composed of 60,5 to 83 items. These figures do indicate an increase in the number of public officers, although not big enough for the mayoralties to function normally.

During the meeting that President Vladimir Voronin had this summer with the representatives of the new leaders of districts, he asked them to observe the requirements for the structure of the leadership bodies of the territorial-administrative units. In this sense, the Parliament will vote on the draft amendments to the Code of administrative offences adopted on 9 July by the Government. The amendments provide for fines worth 70 to 100 minimum wages for the central and local budget institutions that will exceed the required number of personnel.

Another issue that is to be faced by the new mayors seems to be that of their political affiliation. Unfortunately, immediately after elections, within the analytical show Argumente (Arguments) on the National TV Station it was explicitly said that the new mayors elected on behalf of other parties than the ruling one might encounter serious problems upon the formation of budgets of the localities they represent. In fact, this seems to be not a purely local practice but rather one widely spread. For example, recently, the BBC radio broadcast a report about Romania saying that there too the mayors elected on behalf of the other parties than the ruling one are being discriminated against particularly when it comes to budget transfers.

It is possible that the issue of the political affiliation of mayors will cause misunderstandings in the mayor associations to which they belong. Presently, in Moldova there are at least seven mayor associations: the National League of Mayor Associations, the Federation of Local and Regional Powers, the Association of Mayors and Local Collectivises, the Association of Mayors from Gagauz Yeri, the Association of Women Mayors, the recently registered Social-Liberal Party Mayor Association, and the long ago established People’s Christian Democratic Party Mayor Association.

Therefore, there is no surprise in the fact that the general assembly of the Association of Local and Regional Powers held on 9 August and attended by 310 mayors caused certain misunderstandings. The organisers said that the Association was an apolitical structure, that the meeting was “dictated by the changes that have occurred as a result of the reversal to the district administrative system”, and that “the Association has always been a front line supporter of the local public administration reforms on principles of political equidistance, rationality and maintaining the social and political consensus in the society”.

In reply, the leaders of other two mayor organisations launched on 11 August 2003 a statement criticising the organisers of the above meeting and accusing them of pretending to be the “only association of local powers in Moldova, who defends the interests of mayors” and of “serfdom and secrecy” because “they have failed to invite, at least out of decency, representatives of other similar organisations”. The statement also says that the Association “had been re-created through the district executive committees, upon the direct instruction by the central Government”. In their view, “an organisation founded by the Government may not claim to be defending local autonomy, because the effective and real defence of the interests of local authorities necessarily involves a series of indispensable conditions”.

The arguments of the authors of the statement are very serious. First, the last plenary meeting of the ruling party, dedicated to the results of the recent local elections, was held under the generic “ the vertical power axis has been built”, from which it would follow that the authorities of local public administration are a subordinated link in the “vertical axis”. This can be felt through “the administrative pressures and the political actions, exercised by the central Government over the local authorities, the imposition of the structure of personnel, from the bottom up, against which the mayors have protested and which runs counter to Article 6/1 of the European Charter of Local Autonomy, whereby the mayoralties are obliged to reduce their personnel and the number of services offered; Government involvement in the process of creation and re-creation of associations of elected officers conflicts with the spirit of local economy and, obviously, the recommendations made to the central authorities by the European Commission and the Council of Europe etc.”

Under these circumstances, there emerges another series of questions. For example, how can the Association of Mayors and Local Collectivities claim that it is not apolitically affiliated if the very issue of the reversal of the local public administration reform has been in the past few years one of the hottest political issues in Moldova? How can it claim that it “has always been a front line supporter of the local public administration reforms”, if the local public administration reform of 1999, carried out with the support of the Council of Europe and a series of donor countries, has been actually abolished, and a comeback to the old organisation of principles of functioning occurred? Should one infer from this that the Association has supported both the reform of the local public administration in 1999 and its abolishment in 2003?

Unfortunately, one can expect all these problems to have an important impact on the political struggle in Moldova. The thing is that one of the authors of the above statement, the leader of the Federation of Local and Regional Powers is no one else but the General Mayor of Chisinau, Serafim Urechean, who has recently become one of the co-Chairs of the recently constituted Alliance Moldova Noastra (Our Moldova) (AMN), which the ruling party called its “main political rival” during its last plenary meeting. Hence it is possible that the political struggle between the two parties could be also fought through the mayor organisations. It is worth noting here that according to the data of sociological polls, the mayoralties are the bodies of public administration enjoying one of the highest rating in terms of citizens’ trust, over 50%, which is second highest rating after the president.

This is not an accidental thing. Mayors represent an elite category of the Moldovan society. First, the mayors are the only elected category of officers, who participate in a political act of major importance, such as the direct, absolute majority elections in single mandate districts. This is what distinguishes them from the deputies to Parliament and the councillors in local bodies of all levels who are elected almost in an anonymous way, on party lists, and even from the President who is elected indirectly by the Parliament. The same opinion polls have indicated that the absolute majority of citizens disapprove of the method of election of councillors, deputies and the President.

Hence, one can say that the method of election of mayors is strong evidence to their personal qualities. In this sense, there is a series of factors that make it likely that the mayors and their professional associations will cope with the issues and challenges they will be facing, obviously provided that the central administration observes the principles of local autonomy.

Positive expectations are also fuelled by the extremely positive sociological portrait of the new elect mayors. Firstly, it is worth noting that the average age of mayors is 47.5 years, which means they are experienced but still active enough to fulfil their plans. The average age is the lowest with the mayors elected on behalf of the Social Democratic Party and Social Liberal Party Bloc, and the highest, 48 years, is with those elected on behalf of the Communist Party.

The mayors’ level of education is very high. Almost 26% of them have an educational background in agriculture and livestock engineering, 24% — in teaching, 19% — in engineering, 6% — in economics, 5% — in law, 4% — in medicine. Among them, there are also a few graduates in political sciences, journalism, military affairs etc. Less than 9% of the new mayors do not have a higher education background, but there is no doubt they have strong leadership skills since they won a fierce electoral battle in which one mayor seat was disputed by four candidates on average.

It is interesting to consider the occupations the new mayors had before their election. Firstly, it should be noted that 290 mayors were re-elected, which is 32.3% or almost a third of all mayors. If one takes into account the fact that another 11 interim mayors and 14 deputy mayors have been elected to mayor seats, almost 35% of the elected mayors are experienced in mayorship. Things look even better if one takes into account that 109 more new mayors (12%) used to serve in local public administration bodies before elections. Thus, about 47% of the new mayors have the necessary administrative experience to successfully fulfil their obligations. This is important because only 1% of the new mayors are graduates of specialised public administration institutions.

As important is the experience of the other half of mayors. 11% of them used to hold posts of directors, or worked in leadership bodies of joint stock associations and Ltds; 7% were employees of private enterprises; almost 10% held positions of leaders of peasant farms; 5% had gathered managerial experience as directors of schools and 6% had developed good communication skills as teachers. The social position of part of the new mayors before elections was: 7% — unemployed, 2% — doctors, 2% — pensioners, 1,3% — policemen, 1% — NGO leaders etc.

It is interesting to observe the representation of women in the mayor profession. Curiously, the percentage of women mayors is almost the same as the percentage of women deputies — almost 16% (right after the February 2001 parliamentary elections, 10% of deputies were women; however, this percentage changed as deputy deputies filled vacancies left open by leaving deputies). Of interest is the distribution of women mayors by political affiliation: the Social Democratic and Social Liberal Party Bloc — 21%; the Democratic Party (PD) — 19%; the Centrist Union — 18%; the Communist Party — 17%; independent candidates — 16%; People’s Christian Democratic Party — 10%.

Notably, the sociological portrait of mayors elected on behalf of the ruling party is not very different from that of mayors from the opposition parties. From this point of view one can assume that the Communist Party’s problem of shortage of qualified personnel has been solved, at least at the local level. The Communist Party has accomplished its task of promoting to local public administration bodies good professionals irrespective of whether these share or not the communist views. Nonetheless, there are indications that the communists’ attraction has not been the strongest one. One can draw this conclusion if one observes the behaviour of 1/3 of those 290 re-elected mayors, who changed their political affiliation after their previous mandate. It seems that the Communist Party had most opportunities to attract non-communist former mayors. Statistical data show that the most prodigious in this sense has been the AMN. Apart from the mayors that were members of the AMN constituents, it has recruited about 1/3 of all mayors that migrated to other political parties or 1/6 of all re-elected mayors. The Communist Party has succeeded to attract an equal number of mayors, but in terms of percentage the AMN was twice more efficient than the communists. Obviously, the methods of attracting mayors differed. Easiest were to be converted the formerly independent mayors (elected in 1999), followed by the mayors of the Centrist Alliance, the Democratic Convention, the Party of Democratic Forces, People’s Christian Democratic Party. The curious thing about it is that two former Party of Democratic Forces mayors migrated to the rival Communist Party.

As interesting is the case of the Mayor of Ungheni, Vitalie Vrabie, who has been recently elected Chairman of the Association of Mayors and Local Collectivities. He won his previous mandate as an independent candidate, and the current one as a candidate from the Communist Party. The curious thing is that on the eve of the electoral campaign the Court of Accounts verified the financial activity of Mr Vrabie, but made public the results of the control and the found irregularities only after his re-election. Obviously, things of this sort have prompted speculations about the methods that the communists used to attract successful mayors to its ranks. Those speculations do have a share of truth in them given the abusive practices of the Communist Party in the 2003 campaign described in the final OSCE Observation Report published on 14 August 2003.

Another curiosity is the fact that the percentage of mayor mandates by political party in the 256 new mayoralties is not much different from the average party rating nation-wide. Thus, it becomes obvious that the communist initiative to increase the number of mayoralties by 1/4 has practically yielded no additional political benefits. Formally, most benefited from this increase the party who had opposed most the reform, the People’s Christian Democratic Party. For example, the Communist Party received 36% of the number of mandates in the new mayoralties, while the Christian Democrats received 55%. It is also interesting that the AMN got 18% of mayor seats in the new mayoralties, which is almost 3% less than their countrywide result. This result is significant as it shows that the influence of Serafim Urechean as the leader of the Federation of Local and Regional Powers and of the Alliance of Independents was not decisive for the final results for the simple reason that in those localities there were no mayors to have been affiliated with and hence eventually influenced by either.

The above statistical data show that the new mayors have the potential to successfully fulfil their functions provided that the central administration respects the local autonomy. However, the recent conflicts between the major Moldovan mayor organisations leave little place for optimism.

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