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Would CEC preserve its independence?

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December 22, 2003
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On December 16 Central Electoral Commission’s six year mandate expired. Although under Moldova law CEC members could hold two mandates at most, Moldovan authorities chose to replace its entire membership. This radical change does not run counter to the law, however it raises eyebrows.

Firstly, the replacement of the entire CEC membership undermines one of the cornerstone principles employed when the Electoral Code had been drafted back in 1997, namely ensuring the continuity of the CEC activity. Continuity was to be ensured via a gradual replacement of the CEC membership, and that is exactly why the mechanism of two consecutive mandates was provided for. It was recommended by certain international organisations working in the electoral field, such as International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) and Association of Central and Eastern European Election Officials (ACEEEO). However due to the shortage of funding, Moldovan authorities accepted only partially the recommendations, thereby establishing a CEC with only 3 out of 9 members working on a permanent basis, i.e. Chairman, Deputy Chairman and Secretary, the other six being summoned only during electoral campaigns. During those six years both ACEEEO and other international organisations have made significant investments in the Moldovan CEC, by accepting it as a full-rights member, providing it with research and conference publications, exempting it from the membership fee.

This investment proved to be worthwhile especially if judging based on the OSCE reports on monitoring elections. On the other hand, it is also true that the old CEC made mistakes and passed decisions that raised harsh criticism. An illustration to this effect was the decision to validate the results of a consultative referendum on replacing the existing form of governing with a presidential one held back in 1999. CEC decision back in 1999 indeed favoured President Lucinski who initiated the referendum in the first place. The thing was that the voter turnout was only 58.5%, and not 60% as was required by the law. Back then, CEC argued its decision by invoking a rather vague wording of the law, which in their opinion only recommended and not imposed the 60% voter turnout threshold. Another example of a quite controversial decision was CEC’ last year refusal to register an initiative group calling on a consultative so as to assess whether citizens were in favour of joining EU and NATO. CEC decision was quite stunning due to the arguments cited, under the constitutional law citizens may not be preliminary consulted on issues that require the conduct of a constitutional referendum for a decision to be taken. In both cases it was quite obvious that CEC acted under the pressure wielded by the incumbent ruling that were pursuing their own interests.

Although the examples cited above point to the fact that political meddling has had an impact on the CEC activity, it should be mentioned that those controversial decisions of the CEC were confirmed by the Supreme Court of Justice and Constitutional Court. Still the old CEC was characterised by a pluralism of opinion, fact that brought an added value and a progress in the electoral process. This fact was cited by the President of the country who had to thank the old CEC for its high professionalism, which was praised alike by the international institutions working in the electoral field.

Having said that, we may conclude that the old CEC was professional only when free of any pressure. Therefore, in order to improve the electoral process in the Republic of Moldova a mechanism should be found, which would thwart any attempt to wield heavy influence and that would build on the positive experience acquired. Moldovan authorities, however, chose another path, that is, to ignore the 6 year experience acquired.

The second cornerstone principle employed in drafting the Electoral Code had been the impartiality of CEC members. To ensure CEC’s impartiality, it was provided for that Parliament, Presidency, and Supreme Magistracy Council shall designate each 3 members into the CEC. Back in 1997 those 3 institutions represented a broader spectrum or interests, which often ran counter or even zeroed each other, however nowadays those 3 institutions represent one single interest, that of the Communist Party. In this respect it is worth mentioning that Communist majority did not even go into the trouble of consulting the opposition factions when it came up with the 3 candidates for CEC. The fact that judiciary in general and Supreme Magistracy Council in particular are under the governing control has been largely commented upon in the last two years, that is why we may rightly have some doubts about the candidates designated by this institution. And last but not least, last local elections were illustrative to the fact that the Presidency acted more like an electoral agent of the ruling party than a public institution. Indeed in his capacity as the President of the country, Vladimir Voronin, interfered in the electoral campaign by openly electioneering in favour of the Communist Party. We have further reasons to doubt if considering that one of the 3 persons designated by the President to the CEC is no one but the Chief of the control department over the enforcement of President orders. This new member of the CEC came to be known in the last elections when he served as Communist Party representative to the Chisinau electoral council. One week prior to his designation to CEC he published an article in the “Communistul” newspaper reporting on how well he had guarded Communist party’s interests throughout the campaign. Based on the report, he was indeed an earnest guard of the Communist Party interests, fact which normally would disqualify him as a candidate to CEC, who should be first and foremost politically impartial. In this case however, on the contrary his service to the Communist Party was repaid fully by him being appointed as the Secretary of the CEC.

Albeit Electoral Code provisions that CEC members may not be party members, it wasn’t an obstacle for politicising the Commission. Formally, the membership in the Communist Party may be suspended; however it is still questionable whether such a formal measure would take over the party discipline or the gratitude for being promoted. That is why, opposition parties face a new challenge now, reconsidering the principles ensuring CEC impartiality. Otherwise one may not dream of free and fair elections in the Republic of Moldova in the near future. And this especially as the last OSCE report pointed to the fact that Moldovan authorities undermine free and fair elections when it comes to influencing their final outcome.

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