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Elections in Gagauzia

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Igor Botan / November 30, 2006
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New electoral cycle

The electoral campaign for election of governor of the Gagauz autonomy has entered the last stage. On December 3, 2006, approximately 85,000 electors who reside the autonomy will cast their ballots for four candidates registered by the Central Election Commission (CEC) of Gagauzia. The intrigue of these elections has very strong specifics. Elections in Gagauzia launch a new electoral cycle in the Republic of Moldova. General local elections will take place with half a year after elections of Gagauz governor. The general local elections will have a special importance for estimation of electoral power of political forces with perspectives at the March 2009 parliamentary elections. Thus, the victory of one or another candidate at the December 3 elections will be important both for administration of public affairs in Gagauzia and evaluation of political trends in the Republic of Moldova.

Shared responsibilities

Elections in Gagauzia are interesting in light of relations between Comrat and Chisinau. Expectations are modulated by results of previous elections. Thus, Gagauz electors enjoyed the great “privilege” to vote political forces that gained elections and ruled the Republic of Moldova, following the turbulences in 1990–1993, which had a deep negative impact on relations between the Gagauz community and Moldovan authorities. Indeed, preferences of Gagauz electors coincided with preferences of the majority of Moldovan electorate, being anticipated sometimes. These preferences were linked to pro-CIS and pro-communist political forces. The difference is that the intensity of these preferences in Gagauzia was several times stronger in some places. Consequences of these preferences have the same logic — disappointments of citizens from Gagauzia are also strong.

Anyway, Gagauz elites that influenced the vote of common citizens are co-architects with full rights of present Moldovan realities. From this point of view, pretensions of some leaders from the Gagauz autonomy over full responsibility of Chisinau for problems faced by autonomy are not right. At the same time, there is no ground to believe that the condition of Gagauz citizens was better, if they voted another way, since the share of the Gagauz was between 3.5 percent and 4.5 percent in the period concerned. Thus, Gagauz localities voted in 1994 the components of the informal coalition between the Agrarian Democratic Party (ADP) and the Socialist Party and the Unitatea-Yedinstvo Movement (SPUYM), which garnered more than 80 percent of the mandates in the new Parliament, and this share exceeded the average on country. The benefit from this voting was very significant — Gagauz localities obtained a status of very wide territorial autonomy, a fact commented in the report by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.

Voters in Gagauzia started investing hopes at the April 1995 general local elections in ascension of the Communist Party of Moldova (CPM), registered again in 1994 after the parliamentary elections. The CPM garnered a record of 45 percent of the votes in the district of Comrat, while the average on country was 16 percent only. It was a clear signal that Gagauz electors regarded the ADP and SPUYM as temporary substitutes of CPM when it was prohibited (1991–1994). Gheorghii Tabunscic gained the first elections of the Gagauz governor in August 1995, with the support of ADP. Trends noticed after the 1995 general local elections were reconfirmed at the 1996 presidential elections, when CPM leader Vladimir Voronin gained three-fold more votes (34 percent) in Gagauzia than the average on country (approximately 10 percent), being defeated by premier Andrei Sangheli, informal leader of ADP. Winner Petru Lucinschi garnered 93 percent of the votes in the Gagauz autonomy at the runoff vote.

The CPM has become the cogent favourite of electors from the Gagauz autonomy at the 1998 parliamentary elections, garnering 70 percent of the votes vs. 30 percent, the average on country. Although the PCM remained in opposition after the 1998 elections, the Gagauz autonomy did not break off with Chisinau authorities. Thus, Dumitru Croitor, deputy foreign minister, was appointed at the 1999 elections of governor, being promoted to this office by Democratic Party (DP), after becoming lawmaker as part of the lists of DP headed by former speaker Dumitru Diacov.

Finally, the PCM garnered 80.5 percent of the votes at the 2001 parliamentary elections, while the average on country was 50 percent. Thus, offers of PCM coincided with expectations of electors from the region. The coincidence of expectations and realities was not very lasting. The things have dramatically changed after one year, with Chisinau authorities inspiring in early 2002 the organisation of a referendum on revocation of governor Dumitru Croitor. The referendum was declared by the People’s Assembly of Gagauzia, but delayed by administration of the governor, who decided to tender resignation. Details of this conflict are not the topic of this article, but it should be noted that President Voronin has brought grave public accusations against Croitor and the justice did not confirm them. The fact that Croitor was appointed ambassador of Moldova in Geneva after approximately one year produced the impression that governor Croitor did not simply comply with the “vertical of the state power.”

Thus, the new political reality in Gagauzia confronted after the 2001 parliamentary elections with the ideal to raise a communist party to the power on an absolutely democratic way, and it was known that this party has a very clear vision about what does the power mean and how to administrate public affairs. Communist parliamentarian Gheorghii Tabunscic gained the November 2002 early elections for the post of Gagauz governor in an electoral campaign criticised by local observers and experts of the OSCE and Council of Europe.

Once Croitor was dismissed and Tabunscic was re-elected, relations between Comrat and Chisinau which have been much or less insipid for approximately 7 years have become bitter. Reproaches of the Gagauz elite against Chisinau have reappeared in the forefront. Disappointment of Gagauz electors with the state of things manifested formerly through an increasing absenteeism has deepened. Participation in elections has declined from over 80 percent at the 1994 parliaments down to 58 percent at the 2005 parliamentary elections. The turnout has dropped from 70 percent down to 42 percent in the three cycles of regional elections. Thus, if the turnout at the first pluralist elections was higher than the average on country, now it is below the average on country. The turnout at any elections in the Chisinau municipality is lower than in Gagauzia.

A plenary disappointment of Gagauz electors was observed at the March 2005 parliamentary elections, when they radically changed their attitude toward PCM, casting only 30 percent of the votes, compared with 80 percent in 2001. Thus, the things have changed, with the support for PCM becoming 1.5-fold lower than the average on country. Curiously, the inversion is a manifestation of coherence, as Gagauz electors reconfirmed indeed their older option with more than 10 years after the 1994 parliamentary elections, casting half of their votes for the electoral bloc Patria-Rodina, created by socialists of the 1994’s SPUYM. The message is very clear — most of Gagauz electors constantly plead for political forces with a pro-CIS and pro-Russian message. This is a fact that cannot be ignored and must be taken into consideration — the Gagauz regard Russia as a guarantee of their existence, but this thing is not found in attitudes of the Gagauz toward Transnistria.

Offers of candidates

It is worth to mention that all candidates to the post of governor represent the “higher league” of the political and administrative elite in Gagauzia: incumbent governor Gheorhghii Tabunscic; former prosecutor of Gagauzia Alexandr Stoianoglo, deputy prosecutor-general of Moldova; Comrat Mayor Nicolai Dudoglo; Mihail Formuzal, mayor of the city of Ceadir-Lunga, a key economic centre of the autonomy. Offers of candidates have many things in common: strengthening of the autonomy; delimitation of relations between Comrat and Chisinau; modernisation of economy; development of social sector, etc. Details count and share the offers of candidates after criterion of preponderance of political or administrative factor. From this point of view, Gheorghii Tabunscic and Mihail Formuzal represent the political tandem — the first fights to maintain the post and he is supported by ruling party, while the latter considers himself persecuted by authorities (8 penal cases have been filed against him in the past two years), being clearly supported by one part of the Chisinau opposition. The Dudoglo-Stoianoglu tandem focuses on settlement of social-economic problems. Although the political component persists in their programmes and messages, they are not a confrontation like that typical to the first tandem.

However, all four competitors have been registered as independent candidates. There are two explanations: a) the existence of regional parties became impossible after the 1998 law on parties was modified; b) bidding on behalf of a political party at the regional elections in Gagauzia does not bring any advantage since all candidates must collect and submit a certain number of signatures of citizens allowed to vote to the CEC. The former existence evokes that the support of political forces from Chisinau had a significant but not decisive impact on results of elections of governor. This time, relations between the four independent candidates to the post of governor and political forces from Chisinau is strong enough. This makes the political factor stronger than the administrative factor. Candidates supported by ruling political forces from Chrisinau have gained all precedent elections. This thing seems to be the main intrigue of elections in this situation — will it stop this tradition or not. This fact keeps an unclear thing till last moment — who holds the greatest chances to win these elections?

Gheorghii Tabunscic, acting governor, benefits of factors typical to a candidate of the ruling party — administrative resources, but he also bears the consequences of being the main target of the opposition’s assaults. Moldova’s experience in the past 6 years demonstrates that there are more benefits of this hypostasis than disadvantages. Thus, any event of major importance that happens or is organised by authorities before elections are linked to intention of governors to influence the votes of electors: organisation of important meetings, symposiums or congresses (organisation of the first congress of the Gagauz from everywhere in June under the aegis of chief of state and incumbent governor); opening of social facilities, etc. — all these are elements of electoral conduct typical to all precedent governments in Moldova. The opposition truly presents them like dealing with own interests. But they cannot be clearly described as an administrative abuse and they cannot be sanctioned, while those who practice such actions describe them as elements of “strategic planning”. Seeking the signing of some codes of good conduct is the only solution used by opposition, but its insistence is usually ignored. Another tool used by opposition is to invoke the thesis that eventual success is obtained in spite of governors’ actions, not thanks to them. Anyway, it is hard to contest the fact that the quality of life in the Gagauz autonomy like in all Moldova has improved a little, while Gagauz localities are cleaner now than a couple of years ago.

The difference between advantages and disadvantages of the candidate supported by power is amplified by quality of local electoral legislation. Given the fact that Gagauzia is an entity with rural population, the electoral will of citizens is significantly influenced by local administrative, intellectual and religious elite like in all Moldova. This influence cannot be measured, while its effects cannot be contested in justice. The fact that persons supported by ruling forces from Chisinau have gained all previous elections of Gagauz governor may be a factor to encourage the incumbent governor. Gagauz electors could remain reticent over “temptation of fate” through support for the leader of the local political opposition.

Mihail Formuzal has joined the electoral race as a competent administrator and politician persecuted by central authorities. He has tested his quality of politician in confrontation with incumbent governor at the October-November 2002 elections. His entourage accredits the idea that ambition and competition to incumbent governor has produced the persecutions of Formusal.

A recent survey credits the leader of the Gagauz opposition, Mihal Formuzal, with the greatest chances to win. However, the results of the survey raises questions that the sociological research was ordered by telephone by a Ukrainian organisation whose interest for developments in Moldova is unknown. The survey was conducted by Socio-Inform republican centre of information and studying of public opinion, and findings of sociological researches carried out by this organisation have been dramatically different from results of other relevant institutions, as well as from realities. In addition, the survey was commented by an analyst with very clear political preferences. All these facts produce the impression of a political game rather than of an authentic sociological research.

It seems that the survey aimed to accredit the idea that Formuzal’s chances must be estimated in light of results of the 2005 parliamentary elections registered in the Gagauz autonomy. So or in another manner, a difference may be observed between the conduct of voters at elections of governor and at parliamentary elections. The vote of protest is more likely at parliamentary elections than at elections of governor. The programme and message of Formuzal, with a certain share of confrontation with the Chisinau governance, may be an obstacle for manifesting sympathy for him through voting, and this fact could favour the incumbent governor. Of course,

Formuzal has gained the sympathy of many persons when he was held on autumn 2005 and, it is said, released at the insistence of the OSCE Mission to Moldova. The call of a number of political parties from Moldova to stop the examination of cases against Formuzal throughout the electoral period had a positive effect for this candidate after the electoral campaign has started. President Vladimir Voronin released a statement in this respect and it also had a positive effect. It is considered this time again that the role of the OSCE Mission and ambassadors of the European Union and the United States was decisive in ensuring a normal electoral campaign.

It is worth to mention that Formuzal was clearly supported by extra-parliamentary political forces from Moldova — the Republican People’s Party led by Formuzal, the Social-Democratic Party and Patria-Rodina-Ravnopravye Bloc. The implicit support for Formuzal was expressed by opposition parliamentary parties — the Party of Social Democracy and the Our Moldova Alliance. The explanation of this support is that Formuzal promises in his electoral programme to seek the modification of Moldova’s Constitution in terms to introduce a clause on Gagauzia’s right to external self-determination, if Moldova joins Romania. Perhaps opposition parliamentary parties wanted to prevent an eventual support for such an initiative.

Campaigns of Nicolai Dudoglo and Alexandr Stoianoglo have been different from those of the candidates mentioned above in the virtue of the invoked factors. In spite of their skills and performances, electors have understood their manifestation as politically neutral. This way, they have placed themselves outside of the political show. Their participation in elections is an absolutely normal and legitimate manifestation of political ambitions of some persons who reached important and even impressive public rankings. The impact of their participation is that they have directed options of the electorate to certain bottoms, being able to orient themselves to convenient directions for contingency of runoff vote. But one of them could succeed to the runoff vote.

Conclusions

  1. In all likelihood, the intrigue of elections of Gagauz governor will continue till ballots of the runoff vote will be count, though surprises cannot be excluded.
  2. The victory of the candidate of the power or opposition will have an impact on the ruling party only. Firstly, the CPM will reconfirm its absolute domination and claim for victory at general local elections. The loss of the candidate of the power will not be dramatic for fate of CPM, which depends more on evolution of social-political situation in Moldova in general. This fact is well-known and used with ability as regards the Russian embargo on Moldovan products.
  3. The central power will have to take the necessary actions in order to normalise relations between Comrat and Chisinau for an eventual victory of the candidate of the opposition. This thing is important under all aspects of Moldova’s European perspective.
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