MonitoringPoliticsCommentaries

Universal, equal, direct, secret and free suffrage, what for?

|print version||
Igor Botan / February 1, 2009
ADEPT logo

Free and fair elections?

The Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova (PCRM) hopes to win uncompromisingly the April 5, 2009 parliamentary elections. More than half a dozen of opposition parties credited with chances to succeed the 6-percent electoral threshold or have a rating close to the threshold are dreaming the same. But both the victory and the quality of the electoral process are important. The legitimacy of the governance that means post-electoral political stability and international multilateral support to Moldova depends on them. In this respect, the “national interest” which the ruling party claims to protect, dictates the necessity to hold free and fair elections. Anyway, international institutions, especially of the European Union, condition the future relations with the Republic of Moldova with free and fair elections.

The electoral legislation explains free elections in a very clear manner: ensuring the right to universal, equal, direct, secret and free suffrage. But it is well-known that the medal has a reverse. The practice proves that a new factor called manipulation, which is capable to annihilate many effects of free elections, entered into force everywhere once any restrictions were removed, without taking into consideration the political culture. Electors plunged into distorted information space become carriers of cliches and may give an absolutely free vote to characters born by propaganda. For this reason, elections must be free and fair. The manipulation undermines the principle of fair elections, which the legislation explains as “equal chances to every candidate or political party (every coalition) to participate in the electoral race, inclusively the access to the media.”

The manipulation needs appropriate tools: media outlets and “administrative resources”. Of course, ruling parties enjoy the greatest manipulation potential everywhere. Thus, ruling parties are criticised for manipulation, not for other reasons as claimed. A series of articles and researches reveal that the ruling party of Moldova holds a true “media-holding” which makes its image round o’clock, libelling opposition parties and their leaders. The units of the “media-holding” may be easily identified, as they use the same information blocs or images which migrate from an institution of the “holding” to another one to make the image of the PCRM and denigrate the opposition.

Only party in “white clothes” and others in?..

Public estates and administrative levers in Moldova are used both to facilitate the interests of the ruling party and especially to intimidate inconvenient persons among leaders and activists of opposition parties. In this regard, it is worth to mention the case of the leader of the Our Moldova Alliance (AMN), Serafim Urechean, for the simple reason that Urechean was “pioneer”. Accurate details may be provided — the libelling campaign against Serafim Urechean was launched at the Public Broadcasting Company TeleRadio-Moldova on February 9, 2002. It continued round o’clock since Chisinau-based offices of the OSCE and Council of Europe (CoE) had to issue a recommendation document called “Benchmarks for the Operation of Public Broadcasters in the Republic of Moldova”.

The saddest and most alarming thing is that law enforcement bodies have seemingly become tools to settle political accounts. Criminal cases have been fabricated against same Serafim Urechean and former public servants of the Chisinau City hall who worked together. Finally, no case filed against Urechean was proved and the Government had to pay damages accordingly to ECHR decisions to some of the accused. A fact worth to be mention is that the “lots of cases” have actually extended on leaders of all opposition parties which have a rating of over 2 percent and on opposition politicians with a certain influence in general. That’s the list below:

Of course, examples above are incomplete and not very precise, but they generally reveal the very bitter reality very often — in the Republic of Moldova, which bids for accession to the EU according to authorities, there is one party only, the PCRM, which wears “white clothes”. All other parties regardless of their importance should be considered led by potential criminals! The propaganda promoted by the pro-governmental “media-holding” inoculates in the conscience of electors day by day the positive, educating image of the PCRM, in contrast with the negative, destructive image of opposition parties and their leaders.

The chief of state, PCRM leader, who was interior minister in the Soviet times, affirms on diverse occasions that opposition parties are especially created “for corrupt individuals who lead them to invoke the violation of political rights when law enforcement bodies combat the criminal activity.” The chief of state could be partially right. “Guilty” leaders of opposition parties confirm this when they accuse each other or when they state that those who are really “blackmailable” give green light to cooperation with PCRM in order to save their skin. However, it is very suspicious that in Moldova leaders of all political parties exceeding 2 percent would be disposed to crimes. It is rather likely that cases are fabricated at order to suggest citizens that they do not have another choice but to vote the only party in “white clothes”.

In the light of the facts mentioned above, it could be useful to the “Coalition for a Clean Parliament” along with the “Coalition-2009” for free and fair elections to ask law enforcement bodies to release information about party leaders and all public functionaries participating in elections, about criminal cases filed against them, how many of them have been quashed, how many of them made the ECHR sentence Moldova, etc. Not only estates of candidates are subject of public interest, but also their past related to crimes they committed or abuses against them. The example of successful political career of the leader of the Ukrainian Party of Regions, Viktor Yanucovich, is a proof that such information is not harmful, but on the contrary, it may be very helpful both to candidate and to society.

Sad cases

There is a single opposition political party in Moldova headed by a well-known leader who does not have criminal charges filed on his name for the time being. This is former premier Vasile Tarlev, who decided on autumn 2008 to turn the Centrist Union of Moldova (UCM), a party rated 2 percent, into a successful party. The case of former premier Tarlev is relevant and even probative, and that’s why it is worth to be mentioned.

The case of former premier Tarlev proves that the arsenal of “administrative resources” is not reduced to fabricating criminal cases. There are more “delicate” legal tools aimed “to defend the legality” in Moldova. According to Moldovan authorities, former premier Tarlev has tried to “defy the legality” on three dimensions — civic, political and economic:

Efforts by public authorities to ensure the legality of public organisations would be welcome, should they advantage the subject concerned and should they be fair, objective and support the legality at level of state institutions as well.

Firstly, exigencies by Ministry of Justice in interpreting internal documents of some private organisations are in contrast with ignorance of constitutional regulations by key state institutions. Thus, the entry “into force when adopted” of hundreds (!) of parliamentary decisions should be declared unconstitutional, just in case to appeal to the Constitutional Court by authorised persons. Under Decision # 20 from 29 April 1999, the Constitutional Court established express that “According to Article 1 (4) of Law # 173-XIII from 06.07.1994 concerning the publishing and entering into force of official acts, Parliament’s decisions enter into force when they are published in Monitorul Oficial or accordingly to the date indicated in the text (that means when they are published or later, as foreseen by law bodies)… The non-publication of the Parliament’s decision means its non-existence.” An elementary checking reveals that parliamentary decisions are published in Monitorul Oficial within several days or sometimes a couple of weeks (!), and “non-existent decisions” may produce legal effects meantime. That’s what the “Parliamentary Twinning” project could start with — making order in some absolutely elementary things such as entry into force of normative acts, and then start approximating the Moldovan legislation to the acquis communautaire. For example, in 2003–2008 six parliamentary decisions concerning the participation of Moldovan military in the Iraqi operations entered into force when adopted, being published in Monitorul Oficial after 1–2 weeks. Who would have been blamed for illegal developments should Moldovan military suffered? Other tens of financial decisions entered into force contrary to the norms concerned. These examples come to reveal how petty is the “seeking fleas” in the CUM statute compared with the Parliament’s ignorance towards norms on entry into force of official documents and their inclusion in the State Register of legal regulations of Moldova held by the Ministry of Justice only (GD # 910 from 06.09.2000);

Thirdly, the involvement of the Ministry of Economy and Trade e in the organisational activity of the National Association of Producers, as well as reasons relating to the necessity of “depoliticising” used to eliminate former premier Tarlev as chairman of the organisation reveal the distortion of the common sense. Thus, invoking arguments that a party leader cannot run a nongovernmental organisation when the chief of state who represents all people is a party leader and acts publicly and deliberately to the detriment of some citizens with the purpose to promote party interests, is a defiance of the common sense. Thereby, prior to the Chisinau mayoral elections in May 2003, President Voronin addressed people in his quality of chief of state, inviting them not to elect Serafim Urechean as mayor. It is worth to mention in this context that in 2001 the Constitutional Court refused to consider the appeal by a group of legislators regarding the interpretation of constitutional norms on compatibility of the posts of chief of state and party leader, that means how a person can represent all people in general and some of them in particular. In 2008, the Constitutional Court turned down a draft amendment to Constitution in terms to ban the chief of state to represent a party. The rejection bill was somehow occasioned by the beginning of manifestations dedicated to the 650th anniversary of the Moldovan state. In this context, public authorities in general and the Constitutional Court in particular could take into consideration that the contemporary state called Republic of Moldova was based on three basic documents before the adoption of Constitution in 1994 — the Declaration of Sovereignty, the Declaration of Independence and Decree #201-XII from 27.07.1990 concerning the state authority, which say express that “the cumulating of leading functions in bodies of state leadership and state administration and any other office in political parties and social-political organisations and movements is prohibited.”

A question is emerging here — why citizen Vasile Tarlev, who has a set of rights guaranteed by Constitution of the 650-year-old Moldovan state, faces indeed some pressures that obstruct him to exert these rights? The answer seems to come from results of the 2007 elections at level of districts, at which people vote politically for party symbols. Year 2003 was chosen for a right comparison, as elections at the same level took place then.

Evolution of political vote for main parties
 20072003DifferenceDifference, %
Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova394023595289-201266-33,8%
Democratic Party of Moldova11216795030+17137+18%
Our Moldova Alliance +
Party of Social Democracy*
193282
55220
247205+1297+0,5%
Social Democratic Party +
Social Liberal Party**
43562
36645
54838+25369+46%
Christian Democratic People’s Party97927109822-11780-10,8%
Liberal Party55842-+55842n/a
Other parties***11313468101+45033+66%
Independents5081967233-16414-17%
Overall11526211237518-84897-6,9%

* In 2003 the Alliance of Independents (AI) led by Urechean, and Our Moldova and Social Democratic Alliance of Moldova (SDAM) hed by Dumitru Braghis were part of the Electoral Bloc called Social Liberal Alliance Our Moldova. Afterwards, the AI was reformed into Our Moldova Alliance and the SDAM turned into the Party of Social Democracy of Moldova, and they participated in the 2007 elections independently.

** In 2003 the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the Social Liberal Party (SLP) created the Electoral Bloc SDP-SLP and they attended the 2007 elections independently.

*** In December 2007 the Party of Social Democracy merged with the Social Democratic Party while in February 2008 the Social Liberal Party merged with the Democratic Party of Moldova.

One may observe that all important parties won the same or even more votes at the 2007 elections compared with the 2003 elections. The PCRM only was singularised, as it lost more than 1/3 of its supporters. Given the findings above, one may suppose that approximately half of those who did not vote the PCRM anymore were absent at elections, while the another half — elected other parties. Unquestionably, the political project of former premier Tarlev was targeting at electors who do not want to vote the PCRM any longer for certain reasons. Therefore, one may suppose that pressures against former premier Tarlev aim to halt him from using the protest potential against PCRM observed at the last elections. Thus, one may draw the conclusion that obstructing the UCM which is informally led by Tarlev, to participate in elections would not be surprising.

Conclusions

Before the electoral campaign, units of the PCRM-affiliated “media-holding” have developed an ample “brainwashing” campaign, which was in brief as follows: “while the ruling party and especially its leader worked for the economic and spiritual prosperity of the Republic of Moldova, ordered the 20-percent reduction of bread prices and a 20-percent salary rise (just to flank the electoral campaign by these happy events for people), defended the country against external enemies and internal spies, leaders of opposition parties undermined the sovereignty and independence of the country, its economic security through smuggling and corruption, dared to criticise the work of the ruling party,” etc.

Perhaps, the April 5, 2009 parliamentary elections will be declared free, the way it happened every time starting 1994, according to reports by OSCE observance missions. But it is almost impossible to declare the elections fair. The electoral campaign coverage concept drafted by the media watchdog CCA is very restrictive and prices for pay-for airtime set by the Public Institution TeleRadio Moldova seem to take care of the “washed brains” not to wake up and doubt over the Messianic role of the ruling party after assimilating electoral messages by opposition parties. If so, the title of this article has no answer as long as majority of citizens do not learn to answer themselves.

Moscow-related hopes of Chisinau and Tiraspol or “Moscow never sleeps”? Ballots of Moldovan citizens from Transnistrian region