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Factors that might influence elections’ outcome

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Igor Botan / July 3, 2005
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Significance of new elections

Albeit July 10 new local elections in 14 localities are viewed as quite passive, their significance is hard to underestimate. There are several factors worth considering when estimating elections’ outcome, namely: a) inert voter sympathies; b) “Gagauz syndrome”; c) “national consensus”; d) low voter turnout, which increase the ratio of the “low mobility voters”. Let’s consider each of them in greater detail:

  1. In the three electoral cycles since independence, local elections were usually held one or two years after parliamentary elections and they greatly resembled the results as parliamentary ones. This observation is more or less valid for the elections of rayon/county councils. The same voter preferences over time are due to the fact that both councillors and MPs are elected on party lists. Depersonalisation of the candidates on the list also greatly contributes to that, they are rather identified with the electoral symbol of the party or its leader. In addition, the inertness of electoral sympathies happened at times of relative political and socio-economic stability following parliamentary elections.

    As for the mayor elections, the overlap with parliamentary elections results is much lower. And this because the majoritarian electoral system used for mayor elections, besides the rating of the parties also highlights the personal qualities of the contestants.

  2. One of the most interesting phenomena produced in the recent parliamentary elections was the so-called “Gagauz syndrome”. This specifically refers to significant regress of the Party of Communists’ (PC) rating in the Gagauz-Yeri region from 80% in 2001 to mere 30% in 2005. A slight regress has been registered practically in all the regions heavily populated by national minorities (Bulgarians in Taraclia, Ukrainians at the North), including Chisinau. Certainly, “Gagauz syndrome” stems from the change in foreign policy, in particular worsening relations between Republic of Moldova and Russian Federation. However, this factor should not be generalized for the entire country, as in Gagauzia it was triggered, among others, by the referendum on ousting Gagauz Governor in 2002 and claims of opposition harassment.

  3. Following March 2005 parliamentary elections, the main event that outraged public opinion was “constructive” opposition’s support to Voronin re-election as the President of the Republic of Moldova. The so-called “constructive opposition” argued their decision by the need to consolidate “national consensus” in view of European integration and Transdnistrian conflict resolution. Still, one of the “national consensus” side-effects was the outburst of internal conflicts within the two opposition parties — Social-Liberal Party and Christian-Democratic Peoples’ Party, coupled with a negative media campaign against the two. This specifically refers to Christian-Democrats who designated their own candidate for the Chisinau mayoralty race. Noteworthy, the party rating was on the rise, heating 15%, however this time it could drop.

  4. The mere fact that elections were scheduled for mid-summer might also change the demographics of voter participation. The increased ratio of low-income voters (those who cannot afford to take a vacation and therefore have a low mobility) in the voter turnout, might significantly distort election outcome. Previously this factor was considered in greater detail.

The first factor mentioned is a major one, the other three either strengthen or diminish it. Expectations of “massive migration” of voters from one candidate to the other determined by the “useful vote” or, on the contrary “protest vote” phenomena refer specifically to the elections of the Chisinau Mayor and are inspired by the last three factors. The first factor should have a major impact in the other 13 localities were new elections of the mayors are to be held. From this point of view it is worth examining the contestants in those localities as well.

LocalitiesWhose candidate held the position before it became vacantPCMNACDPPDPPRRSLPSDPRPPLPLUPREMAVIndep.Total
ChisinauIndependent1 111   111310
Ghidighici, Chisinau municipalitySLAMN 1         23
Chetrosu, Anenii Noi rayonPC1          45
Balasinesti, Briceni rayonDemocratic Party1  1 1     14
Slobozia-Sireuti, Briceni rayonPC1   1 1     3
Alexandru Ioan Cuza, Cahul rayonSLAMN 1 1       46
Frumoasa, Calarasi rayonPC1           1
Parcova, Edinet rayonIndependent 11 1       25
Piatra, Orhei rayonIndependent 11 1        3
Teleseu, Orhei rayonIndependent 1     1    13
Zaicani, Riscani rayonPC11    1     3
Vadul-Rascov, Soldanesti rayonSLAMN1  1  1    14
Purcari, Stefan Voda rayonSLAMN  11 111   27
Talmaza, Stefan Voda rayonPC  1        12
TotalPC — 5
SLAMN — 4
DP — 1
Independents — 4
1053722511112159

Thus, out of the 14 vacancies five were previously hold by Party of Communists’ representative, 4 by Social-Liberal Alliance “Moldova Noastra” (SLAMN), 1 by Christian-Democratic Peoples’ Party (CDPP), 4 by independents. Noteworthy, Party of Communists designated candidates only in 10 localities, Democratic Party (DP) in — 7, Moldova Noastra Alliance — 5, Social-Democratic Party (SDP) 5, Christian-Democrats — 3, Social-Liberal Party (SLP) — 2, Patria-Rodina-Ravnopravie Bloc — 2, Republican Peoples’ Party (RPP) — 1, Liberal Party (LP) — 1, Labour Union “Patria-Rodina” (LUPR) — 1, and Environmental Movement “Alianta Verde” (EMAV) — 1. Out of the 59 electoral contestants competing in the race for the mayoralty of 14 localities, twenty one are independent candidates.

Candidates running for the Chisinau mayoralty

Supposedly mayor elections are more administrative than political elections, however Moldovan political elite gives them a special importance, especially in Chisinau. There are plenty of examples when mayors of capital cities made a spectacular political carrier. As for Chisinau elections, an indicator of their importance is the number and quality of candidates. Among the ten contestants there is one former Prime-Minister, an incumbent Minister, three former Ministers, a judge at the Supreme Court of Justice and the Constitutional Court, a diplomat. The others also boast an impressive resume.

Unfortunately, no opinion polls have been made public. That is why one may only speculate on the candidates’ chances. To make the rating easier, one might classify the contestants into three distinct categories.

Candidates designated or supported by parliamentary factions

All the four factions represented in Parliament either designated or announced their support to a candidate for the Mayor’s seat.

Zinaida Greceanii, candidate of the Party of Communists, Minister of Finance stands the greatest chances of victory. Albeit not a party member, her main advantage is the high rating of the Party of Communists. Still a mention should be made that the party rating has been dwindling in Chisinau since 2001, more than 9% in the last four years. In the 2001 parliamentary elections PC garnered in Chisinau — 47.05%; in 2003 municipal elections — 43.74%, mayor elections (first round) — 40.7%; 2005 parliamentary elections — 37.97%. This trend is a result of “Gagauz syndrome”. In 2003 Party of Communists lost mayor elections. This year Communist party designated a high professional candidate, still in her case the rating of the party and of its leader are determining the final outcome. If the voter turnout is as usual around 45%, Communist candidate has little chance to win. However if the voter turnout is very low, close to one third required for elections validation, then Greacianii stands a real chance to win even from the first round. And this because of the increased ration of “low-mobility” voters in the voter turnout. If counting on the “inertness of the voter preferences” principle, one should take into account that in the recent parliamentary elections 128 thousand voters out of 618 thousand included in the voter rolls cast their ballots in favour of the Party of Communists. For the July 10 elections to be validated about 200 thousand voters should come to the polling stations. Consequently, Communist candidate stands real chances for a landslide victory, even if “Gagauz syndrome” or low turnout steals ? of their votes. At the same time “Gagauz syndrome” might be compensated by the vote of the suburbs, including 18 localities part of the municipality. There are about 85 thousand voters (i.e. 14% of the total voters) in the suburbs, on top of that as a rule the voter turnout there is 10% higher that in the city. In the 2003 local elections it was the suburbs that secured the victory of Serafim Urechean. Urechean’s resignation as a mayor might turn the suburbs to the strongest candidates that would promise to solve their problems, especially as the extreme poverty qualifies many citizens of suburb as low-mobility voters.

Dumitru Braghis, independent candidate, former Co-chairman of the Moldova Noastra Alliance, MP, supported by Moldova Noastra Alliance (MNA). Pundits give him great chances of success, at least to get to the second round. In 2001 parliamentary elections, while a Prime-Minister he headed “Braghis Alliance” Electoral Bloc and won 13.36% nation-wide, while 9.39% in Chisinau. In the 2003 elections to the Chisinau municipal council Moldova Noastra Social-Liberal Alliance garnered 25.12%. In the recent parliamentary elections Moldova Noastra was cast 31% of the votes in Chisinau. His personal rating as well as the active campaign he carried out, cast Braghis as the non-Communist candidate standing the greatest chances of success. In the first round Braghis might win the votes of those who albeit support other contestants fear they have no chances — the so-called “useful vote”. In addition, Braghis might attract some “floating votes” as a result of “Gagauz syndrome”. In 2003 Serafim Urechean, MNA leader, managed to capture those votes, which in fact brought him the much-coveted victory. It is also true that at the time, incumbent mayor Urechean enjoyed a very high rating in Chisinau. Now, it is important for Braghis to get to the second round when he would have a chance to exploit all the factors shaping this campaign, except for “low mobility”. The latter however is the determining one.

Gheorghe Susarenco, candidate designated by Christian-Democratic People’s Party, MP in the Christian-Democratic faction, former judge of the Supreme Court of Justice and Constitutional Court, former member of the CEC in 1994, former Deputy Mayor of Chisinau, not a party member. His work in the Constitutional Court and CEC stand as testimony to his professionalism. One may estimate Susarenco’s rating by judging on Christian-Democrats’ rating. In the 2003 local elections and 2005 parliamentary ones Christian-Democrats’ rating in Chisinau was around 15%. Still, in 2003 Christian-Democrat candidate Vlad Cubreacov garnered only 8% of the votes. It is believed that due to “useful vote” phenomena Urechean snatched many votes from Cubreacov. This time the same phenomena might be less important, however the “national consensus” might cost them dear. Another factor that might affect the performance of the Christian-Democrat candidate is preponderant participation of “low-mobility” voters in elections.

Vladimir Guritenco, candidate of the Democratic Party, praetor of Botanica district of the Chisinau Municipality, former Minister of Labour and Social Welfare might have in Chisinau a higher rating than that of his party. In the 2003 Democratic Party garnered 3%. It is very unlikely that the party’s rating has evolved. Democratic Party ran as part of the Moldova Democrata Bloc (MDB) in the 2005 elections and afterwards was severely criticized for leaving MDB. His strong point is the good image he has among the residents of the Botanica district. It’s hard to say whether any of the aforesaid factors would have a significant impact on Guritenco’s performance in elections.

Candidates designated by extra-parliamentary parties and alliances

The two candidates in this category are leaders of extra-parliamentary parties representing left opposition that heavily criticizes governing party led initiatives, especially “national consensus”:

Valerii Klimenko, leader of the Social-Political Republican Movement “Ravnopravie” is supported by the Socialist Party and Party of Socialists (the latter two formed an electoral bloc “Patria-Rodina” in the recent parliamentary elections). In the July 10 elections Klimenko would represent Patria-Rodina-Ravnopravie electoral bloc. He runs for the third time in the Chisinau mayoral elections. In 1999 he garnered 4.1%, in 2003 — 1.8%. In the recent parliamentary elections his party got 2.83% nation wide and 3.29% in Chisinau Municipality. “Patria- Rodina” Bloc was cast 4.97% nation wide and 4.7% in Chisinau municipality in the recent parliamentary elections. Patria-Rodina benefited to a large extent from the “Gagauz syndrome” garnering 51.5% in Gagauz-Yeri in 2005 over only 4.7% in 2001. Klimenko appeals mainly to the “national feelings” of the citizens of Russian origin. Given that relations between Moldova and Russia continue to worsen, one might well expect “Gagauz syndrome” to be on the rise. Noteworthy Klimenko insists he is “the only one able to repair and improve relations with Russia”. Under certain circumstances Klimenko might even get to the second round.

Gheorghe Sima, leader of the Labour Union “Patria-Rodina”, former MP, former Minister of Education. In the recent parliamentary elections his party got 0.92% nationwide and 1.45% in Chisinau.

Both candidates share similar views especially as regards RM integration into CIS and single economic space. Besides bringing up administrative issues in his campaign both of them contests the principles that laid the ground for the “national consensus” between all the parliamentary groups, i.e. European integration and “3D” strategy for the Transnistrian conflict resolution.

Civic activist candidates

In a way, the other four candidates represent civil society — they are rather known as leaders of non-governmental organisations:

Iuliana Gorea-Costin independent candidate, Chair of the European Association of Political Strategy, diplomat, former RM representative to the Council of Europe. Previously Gorea-Costin ran for the presidency in 1996, accruing 0.64% nationwide and 0.73% in Chisinau. Her main strong point is the way she communicates.

Vladimir Garaba has been designated by the Environmental Party “Alianta Verde” (EPAV), Chair of the Chisinau Territorial Organisation of the Environmental Movement. In the past elections EPAV ran as part of electoral blocs represented in Parliament. Only in 1994 did the party ran separately and accrued 0.4%. The party did not take part in the recent parliamentary elections. It seems that Garaba’s main goal is to highlight environmental problems in Chisinau rather than win the race. He does not make populist promises rather points to the problems faced by the municipality.

Dorin Chirtoaca has been designated by the Liberal Party (until recently Party of Reforms), lawyer, Project Coordinator of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights. The fact that he is the party Deputy Chair of the party does not bring any advantages in itself. In the past the party has had a quite modest performance: 2.4% in 1994; 0.5% in 1998; 0.7% in 2001. In the 1995 and 2003 local elections the party ran as part of the largest opposition electoral bloc. Therefore, Chirtoaca’s main advantage is his personal qualities. TV debates set him in a very positive light as he is good in expressing his thoughts. Albeit he is the youngest candidate, only 28 years, Chirtoaca seems to have been able to prove himself as very knowledgeable of the Chisinau problems. There are many signs that Chirtoaca would gather “protest votes” of those who have been disappointed by the way democratic parties reached the “national consensus” with the ruling party. Mass media promoting the renewal of political elite outlined the following scenario for Chirtoaca to enter big politics: attracting as many “protest votes” in July 10 elections; converting “protest votes” into “conscious votes” and attracting new votes in the 2007 local elections; attracting “useful votes” in the 2009 parliamentary elections and getting into Parliament.

Mihai Severovan, independent candidate, Chair of the Employers’ Union in Public Services of the RM, independent councillor in the Chisinau Municipal Council, probably the most experienced in administration. He was a Deputy Minister of Communal Husbandry (1987–1990), Chairperson of the City Executive Committee (Chisinau mayor in 1990), Minister of Constructions and Territory Planning (1998–1999). In addition, Mihai Severovan has a vast experience in politics. In 2001 he ran for Parliament on the lists of the Party of Rebirth and Reconciliation, while in 2002 was elected Deputy Chair of the Liberal Party’s National Council (which merged with Moldova Noastra Alliance in 2003). In 2003 Mihai Severovan ran for the mayoralty as an independent candidate and garnered 1.3% of the votes.

The eve of mayor elections Was the “national consensus” rescued?