The June 3-scheduled general local elections have entered the third phase — the decisive one. Voters are due to choose the best offers and candidates in the third phase after approximately 1,000 constituencies have been created and electoral candidates have been registered.
The specific features of local elections consist in allowing the testing of various electoral strategies (this article makes abstraction of electoral offers, focussing only on modalities of action of electoral contestants) besides the democratic election of public administration bodies of the respective level.
The precedent local elections (in 1995, 1999, and 2003) revealed that the share of independent candidates who became mayors or councillors was approximately 5–15 percent, with others being elected in local administrative bodies as parties’ candidates. There are several factors which rate the parties better than the independent candidates in eyes of voters, including at local level, though parties enjoy the least confidence among institutions.
Chances of independent candidates would grow at any elections in case of the uninominal vote, a fact demonstrated at the 1996 presidential elections and at the 1999 and 2003 local elections in Chisinau. Known political and administrative personalities such as Petru Lucinschi and Serafim Urechean have joined the electoral race as independent candidates and they won those elections.
These examples suggest very clearly what strategies and under what conditions political parties would have to test them. Indeed, these are practical implications found in the option of voters for their “useful vote” or for the “least evil”.
The “useful vote” has been clearly manifested during eight multiparty electoral campaigns starting with the 1994 elections and ending with the 2005 elections. Thus, between 8 and 17 parties, electoral blocs and dozens of independent candidates participated in elections for the Parliament and local public administration on basis of party lists. Every time 3–4 parties were capable to succeed the electoral threshold (4–6 percent). Surveys and standpoints revealed that the option of segment of voters for the “useful vote” is born from the reason to support the parties credited “with the greatest chances” on the respective doctrinarian segment. This aims not to waste the votes for “favourite” parties credited with “little chance” to succeed the threshold. This explains the desire of political parties to participate separately in campaigns for locals elections, inclusively with the purpose to test their political weight and capacity of attracting or refracting the “useful votes”.
When it is nominally voted the “useful vote” encourages strong independents (Lucinschi, Urechean) who win the elections inclusively due to the option for the “least evil” instead of the “big evil”, particularly at the runoff vote. Strong candidates of parties may also attract “useful votes” in the first round of elections when they become “consolidated candidacies” of several parties (like at the November-December 2005 municipal elections, when the withdrawal of Our Moldova Alliance (OMA) candidate Mircea Rusu had the absolutely confirmed effect — the sympathies for this candidate turned to Dorin Chirtoaca). The “useful vote” in this case consolidated a new trend, kind — “youths for the change,” etc. Thus, strategies on testing the political weight of parties are less relevant at mayor’s elections, with strategies on choosing the “least evil” being in the forefront.
As a rule, opposition parties do not stop contesting during electoral campaigns the conduct of the Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova (PCRM) and of public authorities. But they act in a dispersed manner. The last remark is especially typical for the ongoing campaign, which has very clear features: the PCRM, besides its status of dominant ruling party, competes with three sorts of opposition or, in other terms, with the “three-in-one” opposition:
The “three oppositions” are remarkable because each of them contests both the governing of PCRM and each other at level of inter-types of opposition and at intra-type level. Thus, relations between the “constructive” opposition parties and between some “intransigent” opposition parties are irreconcilable for sure, if not antagonistic. These reasons give us the most plausible reference point for estimating the chances of opposition parties and ruling party at the present elections.
The present “three-in-one” opposition gives very advantageous chances to the PCRM to keep its status of dominant party, though surveys reveal that the rating of the PCRM is on decline and this fact should threaten this quality. However, additionally to the advantages of PCRM as a ruling party, it also enjoys a big privilege of not facing a consolidated opposition with appropriate alternative offers.
But what implications this state o things may have? Former elections have demonstrated that the turnout in Chisinau is very low when the opposition is dispersed. According to estimates, any candidate of PCRM, no matter how unknown he is, may win the elections in the first round, if the turnout is below 35–40 percent. Of course, this is not an incontestable truth, but a finding based on “morphology” of the Chisinau electorate and electoral activism of these segments. The segments of the electorate sharing the PCRM values or of the one receptive at social promises like pension rises, which come exactly when the electoral campaign begins (the Government raised the pensions with 20% starting with April 1), etc., are most electorally active, making up approximately half of the 35–40 percent. If the turnout at elections in Chisinau exceeds 40–45 percent, the percent of voters usually grows due to participation of electoral segments which do not vote the PCRM and its candidates. Of course, the chances of the PCRM candidate to win drop much under the voters participation increase. It is worth to mention that the number of PCRM supporters in towns and cities is by approximately 15 percent lower than in rural areas, according to surveys.
Also, it is worth to note that the PCRM does not need the “useful vote” in semblance only. The PCRM has seen this done when it converted significant part of “candidate with chances” of opposition parties into its candidates or at least into independents. Secondly, a significant part of the massive segment of undecided voters could find out while examining the size of ballot paper that it is easier to choose the “leader” who has done his best to be the first in the ballot paper than to “have headaches” estimating what representative of the “three-in-one” opposition is best.
As a mater of fact, all opposition parties consider that it is not worth to create electoral blocs for participation in local elections. All of them hinted that participating in the electoral campaign alone is also a test of the electoral weight before the 2009 parliamentary elections. The creation of the electoral bloc Patria-Rodina by the Party of Socialists (PS) and the Social-Political Movement Ravnopravye (SPMR) is the only exception. This approach makes abstraction of particularities of the concrete situation, being capable to produce long-term negative effects on opposition. Even more, the negative image of the “three-in-one” opposition may become three-dimensional:
1) Contesting but ineffective. Opposition parties have raised hundreds of uncoordinated contestations against conduct of PCRM and electoral bodies. Also, opposition parties have shared their cases to international and local election monitoring institutions, embassies in Chisinau. Many claims of opposition parties are verifiable, this being their synthesis:
The facts invoked above and signalled in contestations and public or individual appeals of opposition parties toward observers are ineffective so far. Observers are not in charge with contesting the breaches of electoral legislation. So, the opposition may establish that the lack of communication between its components on issues of common interest makes it weaker and more helpless. The way the opposition treats the necessity of the Code of Conduct makes it inapt to appeal to this document in order to produce sounding events with participation of mass media, to call on feelings of manipulated electors.
2) Vainglorious but loser. The self-pride of some opposition parties is revealed by shuddered attitudes toward other opposition parties. In this context, optimistic statements that they will win these elections alone in the majority of constituencies, this being the premise of gaining the power at the 2009 parliamentary elections, seem to be groundless. Such attitudes would be understandable if they fit the ratings established by surveys (see Table 2.) or if they came on background of merging processes, not splitting of these parties. It seems more realistic for opposition parties to establish a minimum communication at this stage in order to ensure at least some fair conditions of competing with the ruling party. As regards the capacity of the opposition to consolidate its efforts in terms to profit from an eventual «useful vote» or a vote for the «least evil», the scepticism is inflexible. The «intransigent» opposition is firmly convinced that the electorate will sanction the «constructive» opposition in its favour for the «April 4 vote» in favour of Voronin’s re-election as President”, while the “constructive” opposition has nothing to do but to expect the contrary — the electorate will sanction the inflexibility of “intransigents” and so on. Under these conditions, one must guess what opposition parties will tell the electors whom they assured of their victory when others will win?
3) Well-disposed but counterproductive. The manner of action and argumentation of main opposition parties raises bewilderments. Appeals for unification, etc., are ceaseless, but parties are actually in a preserved division. Usually some parties merge, new blocs appear before parliamentary elections, but they break off later and look for those who are to blame for losses and so on during five electoral cycles! It seems that it is not yet the time of conclusions. Leaders of the “intransigent” opposition publicly accuse the “constructive” opposition of betrayal and co-participation in governing. They publicly claim that they refuse accept “constructive opposition” to “return back”, being lost for opposition. It means that the “intransigent” opposition does not consider an eventual coalition with “constructivists” to consolidate majorities in district and municipal councils, if needed be. Indeed, the “intransigent” opposition pushes in advance the “constructive” opposition toward eventual coalitions with PCRM at local councils’ level. It is hard to understand what this would give them. This kind of conduct would be understandable if the rating of the “intransigent” opposition was on the rise in contrast with ratings of the ruling party and “constructive” opposition, but it is not so (see Table 2.).
It is worth to note that the “three-in-one” opposition will be incapable at Chisinau mayoral elections to tell the “least evil” to voters. It will be impossible for voters to understand from representatives of “intransigent” opposition whom to elect in an eventual runoff vote — a candidate of PCRM or a candidate of the “constructive” opposition? Changing the places of representatives of the two oppositions, it will be unclear who would be the favourite as the “least evil”. This means to induce the absenteeism in favour of the PCRM.
The existence of at least several consolidated candidacies of the opposition, if not one, in order to raise the interest for the “useful vote” or for the vote for the “least evil”, if needed be, is a condition to encourage the participation in elections. The recent presidential elections in France demonstrated how the mechanisms of the “useful vote” and vote for the “least evil” function in the runoff vote and French sociologists have even calculated the percents.