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Ballots of Moldovan citizens from Transnistrian region

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Igor Botan / February 14, 2009
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Problem of organising elections in Transnistria

After the independence of the Republic of Moldova was declared, Moldovan authorities could not make conditions to organise elections in the eastern rayons from the left bank of the Dniester controlled by the separatist administration. The latter has constantly resisted, claiming that Transnistria would be an independent state. The palliative solution accepted by Moldovan authorities to ensure the right of Transnistrians to vote at the first pluri-party parliamentary elections in February 1994 was based on the February 17, 1994 decree by Moldova’s President. The essence of the solution is that people from the left bank of the Dniester and Bender city where Moldova cannot open polling stations participate in elections in abutting localities controlled by constitutional authorities.

This solution was constantly repeated at parliamentary elections in 1998, 2001, 2005, as well as presidential elections in 1996. Starting with the 1998 parliamentary elections, special polling stations open to improve the record and ensure the security of the voting to electors from Transnistria. The table below shows the turnout of Transnistrian residents at elections.

Table 1. Number of Transnistrians who participated in elections
Locality/year1994*199820012005
Sanatauca32921878389
Vadul lui Rascov22---
Rezina2594724211492
Lalova6---
Saharna Noua8---
Solonceni686---
Jora de Sus59---
Cocieri1094582261588
Oxentia4---
Pohrebea4616--
Dorotcaia2441571058494
Gura Bicului45--
Varnita4249221622194235
Copanca1543048165
Rascaeti8553109266
Firladeni**-1010431
Molovata Noua**-21--
Nimereuca**-6--
Hagimus***   546
Overall7664377642988206

*In 1994, citizens from Transnistria cast their ballots in the mentioned localities at common polling stations. Therefore, data from supplementary lists do not provide a clear number of Transnistrians who attended the elections.

**New localities where special polling stations were opened for the 1998 elections. Localities for which the turnout is not indicated were not designed for the voting by Transnistrians any longer.

***The locality where a special polling station was opened for the 2005 elections. Localities for which the turnout is not indicated were not designed for the voting by Transnistrians any longer.

It is almost certain that Transnistrian electors will cast their ballots at special polling stations at the April 5, 2009 elections, too. So far, the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) has constituted the electoral constituency no. 37 for localities from the left bank of the Dniester, and now localities controlled by constitutional authorities where Transnistrians will be able to vote are to be established. The voting by citizens from the other side of the Dniester at special polling stations is a major indicator that the Transnistrian settlement process is stagnating.

How many citizens from the left bank of the Dniester have the right to vote at the April 5 parliamentary elections?

Official Transnistrian media outlets contest the number of Transnistrian residents who hold the Moldovan citizenship indicated by Moldovan authorities. They claim that Chisinau’s decision to extend the term for the free-of-charge issuance of identity papers to Transnistrian residents until July 31, 2009 is a propagandistic manoeuvre. According to accounts by the Ministry of Information Development (MID) of Moldova, more than 106,000 Transnistrian residents were issued Moldovan identity documents in the first half of 2008. The official Transnistrian media is particularly discontent with statements that 58.7 percent of Transnistrian residents who turned 16 years old would hold the Moldovan citizenship.

In order to combat these accounts, the Transnistrian media cites results of the November 2004 referendum, which would reveal that the region has 555,347 people, of them more than 90 percent hold the Transnistrian citizenship and only approximately 1/3 hold the “citizenship of other states”:

The attempt to cite results of the referendum with the purpose to accuse Moldovan authorities of manipulating with figures is unsuccessful. Thus, it is invoked that in 2005 the MID released data saying that more than 270,000 residents of Transnistria would hold the Moldovan citizenship, increasing 2–3-fold the number deliberately, and now it would claim that 326,000 Transnistrians would hold the Moldovan citizenship. These IMD data do trouble the Transnistrian authorities, as about 400,000 out of approximately 555,000 residents of Transnistria hold the right to vote in the region. Therefore, one may conclude that more than 4/5 of the Transnistrian electorate is part in fact of the Moldovan electorate, and it should be ensured the right to participate in the April 5, 2009 elections.

Given the facts above, one may understand why the problem of ensuring the right to vote to Moldovan citizens from Transnistria annoys the Tiraspol authorities. Accusations against MID that it exaggerates deliberately the number of holders of Moldovan citizenship are linked to the fact that the increasing number of Moldovan citizens justifies the necessary presence of Moldovan police in the Bender municipality, but especially explains the necessity to maintain Transnistria within the Republic of Moldova.

The excessive alacrity of Transnistrian propagandists to contradict the MID should be also extended on Igor Smirnov himself. The latter has told a recent news conference in Moscow that 125,000 residents of Transnistria hold Russian passports, and another 40,000 have applied for the documents needed to get the Russian citizenship. So, if the number of holders of Russian citizenship has increased more than twice in the last four years (from 56,000 up to 125,000), then why the number of holders of Moldovan citizenship could not have grown so much, especially when Moldovan authorities issue identity papers for free, recognising the right to citizenship of all those who were born or resided Transnistria within borders of the former MSSR when the independence was declared and afterwards?

How to explain opposition to participation of citizens from the left bank of Dniester in elections?

Media outlets affiliated to separatist authorities say openly that the participation of Transnistrians who hold the Moldovan citizenship in elections would become a strong factor to justify Moldova’s claims to incorporate Transnistria into the eventual reunified state, so that to further argue that elections took place nationwide, including the Transnistrian region. In this context, they explain that residents of the region get the Moldovan citizenship with the only purpose to extend their freedom of move.

However, Transnistrian leader Igor Smirnov is more careful in explanations. He told Moscow-based media that Transnistrian authorities will not obstruct Transnistrian residents who hold the Moldovan citizenship to participate in the parliamentary elections. According to Smirnov, residents of Transnistria do not raise any interest for the elections in Moldova, as there is a community of people in Transnistria who do not feel themselves part of Moldovan society, who have never lived in the Republic of Moldova. In addition, Moldovan electoral authorities did not formally ask the Transnistrian administration to settle the problem of participation of Transnistrian voters in elections. Smirnov gave as positive example the official request by the Russian CEC to open polling stations for the parliamentary and presidential elections in Russia in 2007 and 2008. Unquestionably, Smirnov understands that Russia does not formally regard Transnistria as part of its territory, while the Republic of Moldova regards it as an inalienable part, though Russia fully controls the Transnistrian regime, but not Moldova. A formal request by Moldovan authorities to the Tiraspol administration to open polling stations would have been used for propagandistic purposes immediately, such as the Republic of Moldova recognised the independence of Transnistria. Of course, none of ruling political forces of Moldova would accept during the electoral campaign to comment risks of being attracted in such a propagandistic campaign.

As expected, the community of nongovernmental organisations from Transnistria has joined Smirnov. Hereby, the chairman of the union of NGOs, Grirogiy Agre, has stated on behalf of the union that he does not warm the participation in Moldovan parliamentary elections. He explained that Moldova does not have really pro-Russia parties. According to Agre, the only pro-Russia party Ravnopravye cannot be taken seriously, as its leader Valerii Klimenco follows his interests, rather than wants to promote Russian interests, and his sporadic actions cannot be regarded as work to support the Russian community from Moldova. Formally, the community of Transnistrian NGOs bases its conclusion on positions of the leader of the Russian community from Transnistria, Victor Arestov, the chairman of the union of Transnistrian officers, Sergey Zaichenko, and union of staffs (OSTK), organisations which have been the head of lance of the Transnistrian separatism at level of “civil society” for many years. They claim that supporting the participation in the Moldovan parliamentary elections makes no sense because:

It is true that there are more subtle opinions. Thus, Alexandr Porojan, former co-chairman of the Joint Control Commission on behalf of Transnistria, considers that the eventual active participation of Transnistria’s population in the parliamentary elections in Moldova would advantage the Party of Communists. He says that this conclusion is related to the eventual conduct of residents of the Dubasari rayon, who have felt a support from Moldovan Government — seats offered to Transnistrian youths in educational institutions, construction of roads in Moldovan villages, etc., make people believe that “Voronin is not so bad.” Porojan is not a fan of the PCRM, he is rather interested in dividing the political power in Moldova, so that to be incapable to promote a coherent policy, including on Transnistria.

What to do?

The problem of opening polling stations in Transnistria is not linked only to the refusal of Tiraspol authorities to give green light. It is more complex and requires an adequate approach, so that not to harm and destabilise the internal political situation on the right bank of the Dniester. Thus, an authentic electoral process requires:

Therefore, no matter how important would be to ensure the electoral right to Moldovan citizens from Transnistria, a better solution than opening special polling stations used until now is unavailable so far. What Moldovan authorities could additionally do would be to try within “confidence-building actions between Chisinau and Tiraspol” to provide free transportation between certain localities in Transnistria and localities with special polling stations.

Universal, equal, direct, secret and free suffrage, what for? Vote of Moldovans living abroad