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Gagauzia Parliamentary Election: perspectives and candidates’ strategies

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Infotag / March 3, 2008
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Part 1. Pre-Election Forecasts

Preparation to an ordinary election of the Popular Assembly [parliament] in Gagauz Yeri, an autonomous region situated in southern Moldova, kicked off quite long ago. The outgoing legislature’s mandate expired yet on December 17, 2007, but the law-stipulated deadline for holding an election permitted the deputies to sit in the Assembly for another 3 months.

However, the deputies’ ardent desire to stay in power till the last possible day went contrary to the local populace’s desire to have the election as soon as only possible. That contradiction was used by the opponents to the incumbent legislature, mainly by the United Gagauzia Movement, as an extra opportunity to enlist the population’s support.

Yet another remarkable event, which local observers tend to perceive in the election context, was the demonstrative departure of the Comrat [autonomy’s administrative center] Mayor Nikolai Dudoglo from the Gagauzia Executive Committee [government].

The Comrat Mayor was one of the strongest candidates for Gagauzia Bashkan [governor] at the latest presidential election, having lost to the incumbent Bashkan Mikhail Formuzal only some 7% at the second round of voting. However, Dudoglo’s work in the Gagauzia government and the Bashkan’s striving for avoiding conflicts with potential opponents led to reduction of antagonism between the two political leaders in the autonomous region.

The absence of visible differences between Dudoglo and Formuzal added voters to the Bashkan. Already by autumn of 2007, the Comrat Mayor had much fewer grounds, than a year before, for aspiring the leadership role in the autonomy. So, the statement by Nikolai Dudoglo that he was quitting the Executive Committee was a signal that he was dissociating himself from the figure of Bashkan and, simultaneously, was reminding the compatriots of his intention to stand for the Gagauzia Popular Assembly.

Shorter than a fortnight before the March 16 polls, the pre-election configuration in Gagauz Yeri is as follows. The 35 seats in the local legislature are being contested by candidates of the ruling Moldovan Communist Party, by supporters of Bashkan Formuzal and of the United Gagauzia Movement, as well as candidates oriented to Comrat Mayor Nikolai Dudoglo. Indeed, the political spectrum of all candidates is much broader, for as many as 10 political parties and movements are taking part in the election campaign. However, even in case of success, the candidates of each participating organization will have to join one of the three main political forces.

As for the political weight and relative perspectives of each competing group, these can be jugged, albeit partly, by the result of the June 2007 local elections. More than a half of newly-elected local mayors and council members were the supporters of the Bashkan and the United Gagauzia Movement. In about 20% populated areas, the victory was with Communist Party representatives. And pro-Bashkan candidates won in some 15% populated areas. Such is a conventional proportion of political forces in Gagauzia, for the election system based on single-mandate constituencies can bring about certain corrections into this layout.

Of great importance will be the political preferences of voters living in Gagauzia’s three towns, for they decide the destiny of 10 deputies in the 35-member Popular Assembly. For example the electorate in the capital town of Comrat, providing 4 deputies to the forum, continues to be more inclined to Mayor Nikolai Dudoglo, so he is very likely to be elected to the Assembly, along with his 2–3 comrades.

The voters living in the rest 2 towns in Gagauzia — Chadyr-Lunga and Vulcanesti — are predominantly the supporters of Bashkan Mikhail Formuzal. So, out of the 6 deputies these towns are to give to the Popular Assembly, at least 4 may be the representatives of the United Gagauzia Movement.

As for the MCP’s perspectives, we should say that the ruling party continues to have a certain — not very numerous but fairly stable and reliable — electoral resource that includes certain villages in the Chadyr-Lunga and Comrat raions. They are regarded as potentially reliable ones for the MCP primarily thank to two major villages, with each to provide 2 deputies to the Popular Assembly.

One of the two villages is Kopchak — the native place of the previous Communist Bashkan George Tabunshik, and the other one is Kongaz. In Kongaz, one of the runners for the Popular Assembly is the incumbent village mayor, a Communist, who won more than 80% at the 2007 local elections there. So, he should certainly be in the new Assembly’s Communist faction.

And in all the rest populated areas of Gagauzia, the crucial condition of success is the efficiency of candidates’ work with the politically uncertain electorate.

All this means that the Communists will have to make very much effort to at least approach to the figure of 20% they achieved at the last year’s local elections. And the perspective of preserving their 22 mandates they have in the outgoing Popular Assembly seems to be just unrealistic, so the ruling Communist Party should count on a harvest of maximum 7–8 mandates in the new legislature.

The United Gagauzia Movement’s electorate (judging by the 2007 local elections) comprises most voters in the Vulcanesti raion, a majority of populated areas in the Chadyr-Lunga raion, and some villages in the Comrat raion. Should the United Gagauzia manage to preserve its present influence until this March 16, it is likely to have up to 20 deputies in the new forum.

The Comrat Mayor’s influence geography is fairly limited. Firstly, Nikolai Dudoglo fails to meet the criteria of an all-Gagauzia leader. Secondly, even in Comrat raion villages neither Dudoglo nor any other political force has a definite advantage. With an account of the Comrat citizens\ stable sympathies, Nikolai Dudoglo will win a mandate in the new legislature together with maximum 6–7 comrades.

Pro-Dudoglo candidates cannot indeed count on whatever majority in the forum. Theoretically, they could substantially influence the Assembly’s work only if the Communist Party and the United Gagauzia come to have a compatible representation in the forum. May be, Dudoglo himself is even cherishing such plans, but there exists a whole number of reasons why the Comrat Mayor’s dreams may fail to come true.

The first reason, or, rather a risk, is that there exists a high probability that the United Gagauzia may come to have an overwhelming majority in the forum, so the law-making process will not whatever depend on Dudoglo’s position or outlooks.

The second reason is the known presence of differences existing between the Dudoglo team and the Communists. For example, Nikolai Dudoglo and Kongaz Village Mayor Demyan Karaseni (Communist) are running for the Popular Assembly with a definite intention to become the Assembly Speaker. So, by the degree of opposition the Dudoglo/Communists relations may be not inferior to the Dudoglo/United Gagauzia relations.

Part 2. Candidates’ Pledges and Electorate’s Needs

The political forces storming the Gagauzia Popular Assembly these days certainly realize how strongly their final results depend on the contents and popularity of their ideological stances. As can be seen from the runners’ canvassing, each competing group has its own vision of how they should build a bright future for Gagauzia.

The Communists’ chief fad and the essence of their campaigning is the thesis on “the ability to bargain with Chisinau”. This thesis is used by the Communists practically at all elections, and its tonality is varied depending on the posts they hold in Gagauzia governing structures. This year, e.g., the thesis sounds as follows: “After the old Bashkan [Communist George Tabunshik] had gone [in 2006], Chisinau started allocating less means for Gagauzia. Now if the Communists fail to get to the new Popular Assembly, Chisinau will cease providing central means at all”.

Apparently, an election campaign based on such ideas and techniques may cause different reactions by the Gagauzes. For some of them, the very thought of remaining without whatever central financing seems horrible. In the conditions of the populace’s low living standards, the ability of these or other political forces to be on good terms with Chisinau and to enlist the central Government’s help may play a crucial role at swinging the electorate to their side. As a rule, the terms of bargaining with Chisinau are disregarded by the wide public. On the other hand, hints at possible cessation of the central funding are perceived by many voters as a blackmail, and such moods work against the local Communists.

While canvassing, the United Gagauzia Movement propagandists place emphasis on the need to achieve the unity of all power levels in the autonomous region. A majority of United Gagauzia representatives in the Executive Committee [government], local governance organs and in the Popular Assembly would give to the Movement a green light for launching many initiatives, which have been included into the organization’s program documents but could not be put into reality due to opposition by other forces in the Assembly.

The United Gagauzia’s initiatives on a stronger local autonomy, on setting up regional political parties, on extending the rights to run external trade and foreign political activities — all this Gagauzia badly needs, and this finds support by a considerable segment of local residents.

The Movement’s position on the Transnistrian conflict settlement deserves a special attention. According to this position, should a re-united Republic of Moldova come to existence, Gagauzia will be demanding a legal status analogous to that of Transnistria’s. This idea is particularly popular among local residents, and it can ensure a good popular backing to the Movement.

Yet one should not disregard a whole number of negative moments. First and foremost, these include Gagauzia’s liabilities against credits received in previous years that are very burdensome for the chronically scarce regional budget; and the bitter consequences of the unprecedented 2007 drought that struck the southern waterless region particularly hard. These as well as some other circumstances are restraining Gagauzia’s economic growth, paralyzing social reforms, and undermining the Gagauzia leadership’s prestige, thus telling negatively on the image of the United Gagauzia candidates.

Judging by the statements made by Nikolai Dudoglo and his allies, this team is not ready yet to offer a wholesome vision of Gagauzia’s future to local residents. At the moment, the chief topic of their canvassing is a severe criticizing of the incumbent executive power and personally Bashkan Mikhail Formuzal. Such approach can harvest a certain percentage of the electorate’s sympathies. However, a tough criticism alone is unable to ensure success without an offer of a positive program, the more so that Gagauzia is going to have a parliamentary, not a presidential election, so an excessive attention to the personality of Mikhail Formuzal may be regarded as irrelevant by many.

The March 16 election will reveal the real preferences of the Gagauzia electorate. But if one regards the approaching election to the Popular Assembly through the prism of the political projects being offered to voters, then the election returns should become a valuable indicator of the current condition of the Gagauzia society and of the people are viewing the future structure of the entire country. The election should show how comfortable the Gagauzes feel within the framework of their autonomy, and what should be done to ensure such comfort.

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