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Final stage of the electoral campaign

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Igor Botan / February 13, 2005
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Electoral contestants

Electoral campaign has entered the final stage. CEC registered 23 electoral contestants for the parliamentary elections of March 6, 2005, out of which 11 parties/blocs and 12 independent candidates. As Moldova has a proportional electoral system (one country one constituency) political parties, blocs and independent candidates would all be included in the same ballot, while the voters will have to choose only one of them. Electoral contestants may back off at least 5 days prior to elections.

For the first time the successive threshold of representation would be applied in the parliamentary elections. To get elected independent candidates would have to gather 3% out of the valid votes cast, political parties — 6%, a bloc of two parties such as “Patria-Rodina” — 9%, and a bloc of three parties like Moldova Democrata Bloc — 12%. Mandates are distributed according to Victor d’Hondt method.

Campaigning

There are two stages of the electoral campaign. The first one commenced with setting of the election day on December 24, 2004 and ended with the registration of electoral contestants, that is 23–30 days prior to e-day. Opposition was rather passive at that stage, it mainly appealed and contested against ruling party, accusing it of abuses in public media, use of administrative resources, intimidation of opposition candidates, obstructing opposition’s meetings with the voters, influencing judiciary in adjudicating electoral disputes. Many of those complaints were also covered in the monitoring reports produced by Coalition 2005 uniting 152 NGOs of Moldova.

The second stage started 3–4 weeks prior to e-day. It has been characterized by three factors:

  1. Under Article 47 of the Electoral Code, election debates are to be held at TV and radio stations, while TV channels are prohibited from covering “working visits” of the electoral candidates holding public office. Coverage of “working visits” of the governors was the main avenue for TV channels to promote a favourable image of the ruling party, and this not as part of air time, which was distributed quite evenly between contestants;
  2. OSCE has started its monitoring mission. As the President, also Chair of the ruling party, promised back in July 2004 to guarantee a democratic electoral process, while international institutions and western leaders have encouraged him to do so, authorities would no longer hold to the practices they used to before OSCE mission arrival;
  3. Opposition candidates have become more active only at the second stage, and this largely due to the previous two factors. Therefore they’ll enjoy the level playing field for only a short while.

Three factors are relevant in assessing the potential of electoral players: a) 2003 local elections results; b) tendencies shown by opinion polls; c) the way electoral contestants carries out their campaigns.

2003 local elections were equally political and administrative. In this respect of special relevance are elections results at the rayon level where party lists are voted. In 2003 Party of Communists (PC) rating slightly went down (PC ~ 48%), while that of the Christian-Democratic Peoples’ Party went slightly up (CDPP ~ 10%) as compared to 2001 rating. As a rule voter turnout in local elections is about 10–15% lower, this partly explains rating fluctuations. 2003 local elections are a good reference point in estimating the potential of the Moldova Democrata Bloc (MDB). Parties members of the MDB gathered about 30%.

Opinion polls conducted by IPP every six months after 2003 elections showed no signs of overturn in the rating of political parties and their leaders. Therefore, the second stage of the campaign would be of crucial importance for the election outcome. In fact, apart from the three forces already mentioned, the other 20 electoral contestants may count only on a successful campaign that would allow them to pass the threshold of representation. However, this is quite a challenge.

Factors crucial for elections outcome

There are a number of factors that might influence elections outcome. The aforesaid pointed that Party of Communists’ rating had reached saturation, especially since in 2003 it widely used the administration factor to swell its rating. On the contrary, major changes in domestic and foreign policies, or party modernisation, might have had a negative impact on the PC’ rating; nevertheless the party managed to start the electoral race as a consolidated force, which in itself is quite an achievement.

Given that PC does not have political allies of considerable weight and that “party modernisation” has led to the emergence of “left opposition”, the strategy chosen by Communists was to denigrate its main political foes and it was thoroughly carried out through public media, especially broadcasting in the last two years.

It’s quite difficult to assess whether that strategy proved successful in bringing new voters to the Party of Communists, but it definitely succeeded in dispersing political forces. Under those circumstances, the safest bet the Communists could count on is to repeat their 2001 score. Back then out of the 28% wasted votes (by the contestants who failed to pass the threshold), PC received 21% of them after redistribution, i.e. 21 mandates in addition to the 50 ones earned directly.

As compared to the previous electoral race, four less contestants dared to run in elections. Still, this time 6 less parties/blocs would run in elections, i.e. fewer votes would be wasted and redistributed accordingly. Back in 2001, there were two other forces competing with Communists for the same electorate, Agrarian Democratic Party and “Ravnopravie” Movement, and there weren’t on bad terms with each other. The latter gathered only 2%. This time however, there are three players on the Communist territory, i.e. Russian-speaking voters. All three accuse PC of changing political course from pro-eastern to pro-western.

That course stems from several factors. In 2001 PC enjoyed the support of the Russian Federation, Transdnistrian leaders and Russian Orthodox Church. However, right now things are quite opposite. Firstly, Russian State Duma haven’t come with something wiser than threatening Moldova to introduce economic sanctions, because President Voronin had refused signing Kozak Memorandum on settling Transdnistrian conflict. Even if far from being imposed, those sanctions could jeopardize the political stability of the country and tarnish the image of the ruling party. Secondly, the hostile attitude of the Transdnistrian authorities towards PC might also influence the Russian-speakers vote, who traditionally vote for the Communists. Finally, Orthodox Church decided to refrain from interfering in the election campaign, albeit many of its heads wrote quite favourable articles about the ruling party in the state media.

Nevertheless, apparently PC estimated possible losses and has come up with ways to compensate them. PC’s electoral offer was targeted mainly at pensioners (the most loyal and disciplined voters). PC did “political psychotherapy” on them, by raising their meagre pensions, providing a minimal package of medical services free of charge. None of the previous governings did that before. Secondly, PC kept the interests of rural population, which outnumbers the urban one, high on its agenda (gas supply, agricultural machinery). All of this might compensate the losses to some extent.

Yet another decisive factor is the “change” produced recently in Romania and Ukraine after elections. This might be a catalyst for RM. Christian-Democrats seized the momentum and chose orange as their colour in elections. Their leader, Iurie Rosca, recently said in an interview to “Nezavisimaia Moldova” that orange revolution was not imminent for Moldova, however if elections had been rigged, then they would have stood up.

The mere fact that President Voronin and the leader of the Communist faction in Parliament hosted press conferences and snort in derision of the “corn revolution”, shows that the very idea bothers the ruling party. Communist distress came to light when they attacked Coalition-2005 funded by western organisations to monitor electoral process. They accused the Coalition of partisanship in favour of Moldova Democrata Bloc and Tiraspol secessionist leaders. Curiously enough, Communists based their accusation on the fact that Coalition failed to report on alleged frauds committed by opposition, rather than being dissatisfied with the reported frauds committed by them. PC received a prompt response from western embassies and international institutions accredited to RM and had to back off.

The flack against Coalition might be explained by the fear that its reports would be used by opposition to justify their rallies. The funny thing is that, PC accuses Coalition-2005 of partisanship in favour of Moldova Democrata, while the rallies are led by Christian-Democrats; two rival political forces that would never reach common grounds, according to state media.

There are a number of factors that might have a surprising impact on election outcomes. However, one thing is for sure, refraining from rigging elections is the only solution for avoiding would-be instability.

The Visit of the Council of Europe Secretary General in the Republic of Moldova Post-election reflections