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New municipal elections

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Igor Botan / September 26, 2005
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Timeliness of new elections

The Central Election Commission (CEC) unanimously decided on September 23 to convoke new local elections in 10 settlements, including the Chisinau municipality, on November 27. CEC passed this decision on an as democratic as possible way, taking into account paragraphs (m) and (n) of Article 22 of the Election Code regarding “consultation of parties and public organizations” for “plenary participation in the electoral process.” The CEC sitting was really public, with participation of journalists, representatives of political parties and public organizations, as well as of the OSCE Mission to Moldova.

Although the CEC decision perfectly fits the international standards, norms of Moldova’s electoral legislation, rulings of the Constitutional Court regarding election of local public administration bodies, there is an impression, however, that this decision is inopportune, especially as regards the Chisinau municipality.

International standards particularly envisage the strict need of periodical organization of elections. Under Article 1 of the Election Code, the periodicity of elections is ensured within mandatory “general elections” of any kind. There are detailed norms on terms for organization of “general elections”, either parliamentary, or local polls. The same detailed norms envisage the establishing of eventual early parliamentary elections, which end an old phase and begin a new phase of periodicity of elections for the new Parliament elected for a 4-year period. This is a provision of Article 63 of Constitution.

As for local elections, the periodicity of elections is ensured by the 4-year mandate of local public administration bodies, which begins on the day of “general elections”, being in effect for the entire community of local councils and mayors in Moldova. The Constitutional Court has passed a number of rulings aimed to clarify the way of election of local public administration bodies and to establish the strict duration of their mandates, after adoption of Moldovan Constitution in 1994 and after the first local elections conducted on its basis in 1995. Thus, two rulings of the Constitutional Court say that the 4-year mandate of local public administration bodies established through Article 119 (1) of the Election Code cannot be shortened or prolonged. Another two decisions based on Article 112 of Constitution say that the central administration authorities cannot name the local authorities if a mayoral office becomes vacant. Even more, the July 30, 2002 notice # 2 of the Constitutional Court opposed the intention of a group of 52 lawmakers to modify the Constitution, so that to allow local councils to elect mayors indirectly, an intention which perfectly complied with the European Chart Autonomous Exercise of Local Power, an international document which has priority over internal legislation after the Moldovan Parliament ratified it in 1998.

All the documents envisaged above indicate the need to elect local councils and mayors within local “general elections”. Article 139 of the Election Code stipulates the organization of new election of councils and mayors in case of such a need. As for new elections of local councils, there were no major problems the past 10 years. There were very few cases of this kind. As regards new mayoral elections, such elections take place in 10–25 settlements a year throughout a 4-year mandate. The experience of new elections of mayors was satisfactory till the office of Chisinau mayor became vacant last spring, and new followed by repeated local elections failed.

Thus, if we speak about legal side of local elections in the Chisinau municipality, we observe that it was completely respected throughout current mandate: 1) citizens directly elected a mayor of Chisinau for a 4-year period on May 23, 2003; 2) early and, respectively, repeated elections took place on July 10 and 24 after the mayor elected in 2003 had stepped down, but they remained invalid because of the low turnout. Following questions appear under these conditions — how necessary the repeated new elections are, can the non-stop organization of new elections be avoided?

The answer may be based on the fact that the vacancy of mayoral office, regardless of its cause, always has an element of hazard and therefore the problem to elect the mayor must be treated through the opportunity to organize new elections or a deputy mayor must be ad-interim mayor. In this regard, before setting the new elections for November 27, CEC should call on the Parliament in order to try to persuade lawmakers to modify Article 139 of the Election Code, so that no election validation threshold of 1/3 participation rate be in effect for new elections or at least to eliminate it in case of repeated elections; to ask the legislature to interpret Article 139 of the Election Code on basis of Article 66 © of Constitution in a move to clarify how many times a settlement can organize new local elections throughout a 4 years mandate.

  1. If the legislature insists on the need to maintain at all costs the 1/3 participation rate threshold for validation of results of new local elections, this way giving them more legitimacy, it would be logical to apply Article 39 of the law on local public administration, which says that “a deputy mayor becomes mayor if the mayor steps down before term,” after an eventual failure of new mayoral elections because of the low turnout, till expiration of mandate and convocation of local general elections. This approach would be in perfect compliance with provisions of Constitutional and electoral legislation of Moldova, as well as with Article 3.2 of the European Chart Autonomous Exercise of Local Power, which says that self -government “shall be exercised by councils or assemblies composed of members freely elected by secret ballot on the basis of direct, equal, universal suffrage, and which may possess executive organs responsible to them. This provision shall in no way affect recourse to assemblies of citizens, referendums or any other form of direct citizen participation where it is permitted by statute.”

  2. If as many as needed new mayoral elections are to be organized, the barrier related to the mandatory participation rate threshold of minimum 1/3 out of the number of eligible citizens must be eliminated, at least for repeated elections after the failed new elections. This factor obstructed the validation of the July 10 early elections and July 24 repeated elections in Chisinau.

Both approaches would allow us to get rid of “electoral fibrillations” caused by eventual failed elections, which have nothing in common with the obligation of periodical elections and interest of citizens to have a local administration to protect their legitimate interests.

Interests of political parties

Leaders and representatives of political parties the Liberal Party (PL), Democratic Party (PD), Christian Democratic People’s Party (PPCD), Party of Communists (PC), Social Liberal Party (PSL) have favored the establishing of data of new local elections in their speeches before CEC passed this decision.

However, attitudes and expectations of political parties regarding the scheduled elections, especially in Chisinau, are different. Although the summer period halted the participation last summer, the results of the July 10 new elections and July 24 repeated elections highlighted the rating of candidates of parties in Chisinau. This rating also indicates the interests of parties for new elections:

  1. The ruling PC can be sure that the rating of its candidate will remain at the highest level the next two months till election day, being credited with real chances to become winner in the 1st round or runoff vote. This would happen in spite of major economic difficulties which follow the rise of fuels prices and commercial sanctions introduced by the Russian Federation;

  2. The parties which are members of the so-called “constructive opposition” (PPCD, PC, PSL) gave green light to establishing of election day without much enthusiasm. It is more important for them to pressure the ruling party to fulfill its obligations within “national consensus” in order to register concrete accomplishments by the May 2007 local “general elections” than to spend financial and organizational resources in order to understand one more time that their rating is lower than usually. In this regard, the solution proposed by PPCD chairman Iurie Rosca at a televised program on PRO TV channel to let the municipal council confirm the ad-interim mayor can be understood. It is true that he did not specify that such a solution is proposed only for cases registered after the failure of new elections;

  3. The active opposition represented by Our Moldova Alliance seems to be interested the most in organization of new elections in Chisinau. AMN leader Serafim Urechean said after the failure of new and repeated elections last summer that he will bid for the mayor post. He has recently stated that “the idea of the PPCD leader to deprive the electorate of the right to elect mayors is a continuation of the communist anti-reform and a deviation from principles of European democracy.” The interventions of Serafim Urechean against PCRM seem to be inspired. Permanent blaming of Moldova by the European Court of Human Rights continues on the western front. Russia’s commercial sanctions against Moldova are on the eastern front. However, the participation of Serafim Urechean in the municipal elections in Chisinau is very risky. He must only win for eventuality to participate in the municipal elections in Chisinau. However, Urechean’s resignation from the mayoral office last April with the declared goal “to promote the interests of citizens in the Parliament at national level,” followed by change of this intention with only half a year later, in order to come back to the Chisinau City Hall may lay serious obstacles on his way. He will have to give financial explanations as well — why millions of lei should be wasted because of him, public money, for these maneuvers of resignation-comeback to the Chisinau City Hall? Citizens may wonder whether an eventual victory of Serafim Urechean would mean the start of a new phase of the “cold war” between him and President Voronin.

  4. Parties with low rating are interested to participate in a new political show in order to keep the attention of voters.

These interests of political parties also highlight the problem of timeliness to hold new elections in the Chisinau municipality. Also, there are other problems regarding timeliness to organize elections:

  1. under amendments to the Election Code approved last July, preparations for the November 27 elections will take place during reformation of electoral bodies and CEC, and this contravenes the good practices recommended by the Venice Commission to avoid an essential change of rules during the electoral process;

  2. the Chisinau electorate may demonstrate tiredness and reticence over new elections after being convoked four times for voting in only 9 months (parliamentary elections on March 6; early local elections on July 10; repeated local election on July 24; new local elections on November 27). An eventual electoral activism of people who did not attend the elections last summer because of vacation could be combated by passivity of persons who voted in vain.

  3. some potential strong candidates may decide not to participate in the new elections because an eventual victory may rather harm their political career. Truly, does it make any sense for a strong opposition candidate to win the municipal elections with one year and half before general elections, on the eve of winter, which seems to be very difficult from energy point of view, without any certainty to enjoy the support and understanding of the municipal council?

All these causes taken together may have a negative impact on motivation of citizens to participate in elections.

What should voters do?

It may be supposed that electors in the Chisinau municipality are tired of invitations to cast their votes four times in only 9 months. However, they have nothing to do but to accept this situation and to use their constitutional right and obligation of citizen to cast their ballots. The best solution to the electoral tiredness is to make the Chisinau residents read or read again the extraordinary literary works of known writers Mihail Saltikov-Scedrin and Iaroslaw Gasec — “The Story of a City” and, respectively, “Municipal Elections” in the new electoral period. Thus, the special pleasure is to persuade that “all is old and all is new”, that means the present problems of the Chisinau municipality and their approach by politicians during electoral campaign are very similar to the ones faced by other cities from other meridians almost 100 years ago (and even more).

Kazan’ CIS Summit Electoral polygon