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Why were new elections necessary?

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Igor Botan / June 27, 2005
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The Democratic Moldova Bloc (BMD) headed by Chisinau mayor Serafim Urechean garnered 28.53 percent of votes in the March 6 parliamentary elections, and got 34 out of 101 mandates in the new legislature. Under Article 70 of the Moldovan Constitution, “the quality of lawmaker is incompatible with any other post, except for didactic and scientific activity”. Serafim Urechean decided to step down from the post of Chisinau mayor and to be lawmaker in the Moldovan Parliament on April 18, 2005, the last day of the one-month deadline after validation of mandate, when he was supposed to make a choice between the two offices.

Under provisions of Article 109 of Constitution and its interpretations by the Constitutional Court, the mayor must be elected at a new scrutiny. Thus, the elections for the Chisinau mayor became unavoidable. It’s worth mentioning that neither the Election Code, nor the law on local public administration provide for the exact term for new elections. The first normative document says only that “the Central Election Commission (CEC) establishes the date of new elections at least 60 days before election day.” The second document envisages only the office of interim mayor since the mayoral post becomes vacant and till election of a new mayor. Thus, though new elections are mandatory, the legislation offers enough flexibility to the CEC for a concomitant organisation of elections in several localities where offices of mayors and councillors are vacant. Although the political opportunity factor must be excluded, the logic behind establishing the date of new elections is based on optimization of administrative efforts, expenditures, adequate coverage of campaigns in mass media. Thus, new local elections will take place in 14 localities of Moldova on July 10, though the mayoral posts became vacant in different periods. Of course, the public opinion focuses on capital of the country, but the results of elections in other localities will be suggestive for interpretations.

Going back to Serafim Urechean’s decision to step down from the Chisinau mayor post, we must highlight that it was backed and criticized among his supporters. President Vladimir Voronin brought clarity to this disagreement situation during a visit to the Chisinau City Hall, shortly after Urechean had tendered resignation, saying that the “cold war” between central authorities and city hall was over.

It doesn’t matter now that the war was “cold”, but some questions must be answered after the end of the “war”: who started it and with what purpose, who won and who lost, etc.? It is known that the “cold war”, which had propaganda, legislative, administrative, political, etc. dimensions, started in early 2002, when the central authorities tried to revise local public administration system. This action perfectly complied then with logic of adjustment and inclusion of local public administration in the structure of the “state vertical power”, whose building was proclaimed as a strategic objective. However, the early election of local councils scheduled for April 7, 2002, which should result with election of mayors by councils, were annulled. The March 14, 2003 decision # 13 of the Constitutional Court declared as unconstitutional the provisions of 13 articles from the December 28, 2001 Law on Local Public Administration, and 14 articles of the Election Code amended on January 25, 2002. The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe also turned down the envisaged amendments.

The actions mentioned above represented only the prelude of the “cold war”. The cause of this war was indicated later — “the struggle against corruption” in the Chisinau City Hall. It is interesting to underline that nobody doubted over existence of corruption in city hall. By contrary, the absolute majority of those who discussed this issue were sure of corruption there. The true concern was to demonstrate the existence of corruption to courts, as well as to provide evidence that this scourge persists in the central public administration, too. Why the “cold war” started only against the Chisinau City Hall, namely against the Chisinau mayor-general, was the question. The answer was also well-known — Chisinau is the key economic centre of Moldova, where the most profitable affairs take place, which has the most important contribution to GDP, raises largest collections to the budget, the highest financial inflows are registered here, etc., while its authorities did not want to be included in the “state power vertical”.

These factors helped Chisinau mayor Serafim Urechean to become one of key leaders of opposition after the start of the “cold war”, though he publicly assured immediately after the absolute victory of the Party of Moldovan Communists (PCRM) at the 2001 parliamentary elections that he is ready “to cooperate with the new government”. “For the sake of Chisinau residents,” of course. On one hand, the authorities insisted that Urechean’s involvement in political life is a manoeuvre aimed to overturn the meaning of corruption-related cases inside the city hall, and to turn them into ordinary persecutions from political reasons. On the other hand, supporters regarded Urechean as a “sleepy lion” which woke up to join the Moldovan “big politics” after being provoked, knowing how to set accounts with those who spoiled his “nice dream” to “cooperate with the power.”

Urechean met the expectations at municipal level, defeating the PCRM candidate to the Chisinau mayor post, Vasile Zgardan, at the May 25, 2003 elections. Urechean’s victory was special, particularly because his main rival benefited of all the imaginable and impossible administrative resources. For that reason the same enthusiastic supporters of Urechean identified the Chisinau City Hall with “the last bastion of democracy” in Moldova. The victory was also decisive for appointment of Serafim Urechean as leader of a key opposition party — the Democratic Moldova Bloc. However, Urechean’s BMD failed in the 2005 parliamentary elections after the victory in 2003. Therefore, it was very risky for Urechean to keep running the post of mayor, with such a decision meaning the continuation of the “cold war”, obstruction of his normal activity, and incapacity to implement his project “Sociopolis” that he promised to Chisinau residents at the May 25, 2003 elections. In this regard, the “besieged fortress” strategy of PCRM against Chisinau was effective. Those who were down-hearted and tired of political, administrative, financial-budgetary manoeuvres of the Chisinau Municipal Council, government, etc., components of the “cold war”, left the “last bastion” of democracy without any “battles”.

A very bad situation followed the “cold war”. The Chisinau residents were the main losers of the “cold war”. They still face the range of unsolved old problems, which the “cold war” had even worsened. The worst is that Chisinau residents do not know at least whether the “cold war” was grounded, since the justice proved nothing after the three-year “war”. Thus, if Urechean is not corrupt, the “cold war” started by central authorities is an example of sounding abuse, with negative effect for the capital and its residents, especially for democratic processes in Moldova. If he is corrupt and the authorities could not prove his guilt for more than three years, with all their declared interest and arsenal, then Urechean is a very talented person who stands out on background of some authorities incapable to combat the corruption scourge through legal methods, though they just signed and adopted strategic documents such as the Moldova-European Union Action Plan, Strategy on prevention and struggle against corruption, Economic Growth and Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper, which call among others for democratisation of Moldova, anti-corruption fight, etc. In this regard, the metaphor of the chief of state regarding the “cold war” was very accurate and funny, but harmful for his party. It insistently raises the following question: will the authorities be capable to implement and fulfil the tasks outlined by these strategic documents? This question is not smutty, but it is serious for the future “national consensus”.

Under these circumstances, the turnout of the new elections for the Chisinau mayor, regardless validated or not, will have a significant impact, including on further development of the party system in Moldova, which is crossing a critical phase. Thus, two parties of the so-called “constructive opposition” face internal conflicts, which affect their image and rating. The ruling party is also undertaking a declared modernisation process, and it is expected to review its basic documents, and eventually to change its name. This process is rather latent and it is part of promotion of internal and foreign policies by PCRM leader, which may generate internal tensions and would be probably fuelled from outside, though they serve as ground for the so-called “national consensus”. Resignation of the leader of the so-called “active opposition”, Serafim Urechean, who contests the actions of government and “constructive opposition”, from the post of Chisinau mayor, and challenging of early elections create conditions for manifestation of perceptions of voters over the immediate effects of the “national consensus” and variances he had provoked between parties who supported him. It’s worth mentioning that the “cold war” justifies his resignation from city hall and absolves Urechean of responsibility for his promise to implement the mega-project “Sociopolis”, which called for another number of smaller projects such as “Buy Goods Made in Chisinau”, “Your Apartment”, “Protected Elderly”, “Education”, “Healthcare”, “Anti-Poverty Struggle”, “Clean Water”, “Youth of Chisinau”, “Chisinau — Centre of International Tourism”, “Chisinau — Regional Commercial Centre”, “Chisinau — Producer of Ecologically Clean Goods”. The probability that Urechean could maintain the mayoral office at the 2007 general local elections was significantly declining given the ongoing “cold war”. For this reason, it was logical to resign from the mayor post, which was reducing his perspectives, and to choose the office of lawmaker that opens new opportunities in national politics. His capacity to use the new opportunities is a problem of future, including of the Alliance Our Moldova, which elected Urechean as chairman at its June 25 congress of the party.

The effects of postponement of decision to resign from the mayoral post with one month and half after the March 6 parliamentary elections may be of a special importance so far. This delay “pushed” the new elections to the mid-summer, during vacations and holidays. Voter participation in the three general local elections held in Chisinau in April-May was around 45 percent. Thus, this percentage could decline in the upcoming mid-summer elections. These forecasts are based on the fact that the problem of students’ vote is not an issue anymore because of summer holidays. Previous local and parliamentary elections in 2003 and 2005 proved that students represent about 10 percent of the total number of voters in Chisinau. As a rule, many young and medium-aged families with moderate income leave the cities for summer holidays, especially for the sake of their children’s health. It is hard to estimate their proportion but it wouldn’t be exaggerate to forecast a voter turnout lower below 1/3, needed to validate elections. Also, the structure of electorate could be somehow distorting, if categories of citizens with a reduced “mobility” such as elderly, veterans, citizens with low and very low income would mainly cast their ballots on July 10. These categories of citizens need social assistance and that’s why they are more motivated to vote, increasing the chances of parties viewed as targeting social protection.

Thus, the chances of candidates must be estimated both based on the party ratings and their evolutions after the “national consensus”, and voter turnout and categories of voters casting their ballots. We saw that the latter may depend a lot on the time period elections are held, as well as on the dose of confusion generated by perception of the need of these elections provoked by the “end of the cold war”, justification of this war, eventual effects, etc.

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