Vote of Moldovans living abroad

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Igor Botan / February 23, 2009
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Those keeping Moldova afloat cannot participate in governing

Claims by some electoral contestants to ensure the electoral right of Moldovan nationals working abroad are absolutely legitimate. Even more, it is worth to mention that ensuring the electoral right of Moldovan gastarbeiters is more legitimate than that sanctioned by laws, by Constitution and electoral legislation. The big Moldovan paradox is that those keeping Moldova afloat cannot participate in governing of public affairs by electing their representatives in leading state bodies.

It is true that when governors, for example, praise themselves that they have managed to increase the budget twofold in one electoral cycle they forget the true source of the “phenomenal success” — remittances from gastarbeiters. Gastarbeiters’ remittances were equivalent to the state budget, representing approximately 1/3 of GDP, in the latest period between parliamentary elections!

Diagram 1. Dynamic of remittances, annual values, million USD

Annual value of remittances
Source: NBM, IMF

If so, what attitude should political class in particular and governors in general have towards gastarbeiters? The answer is clear — they should take care that their political interests and willingness be taken into account.

How many gastarbeiters does the Republic of Moldova have and how many of them vote?

The number of Moldovan gastarbeiters is big for sure. But those pleading the cause of Moldovan gastarbeiters exaggerate their number for rather noble reasons, in order to emphasise the importance of this problem. As a rule, a round number of 1,000,000 out of approximately 2.4 million people entitled to vote (without citizens from Transnistria) is given. Indeed, data from various sources correlated together estimate the number of gastarbeiters between 400,000 and 600,000 people.

Really, these estimated data released by the Chisinau-based offices of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) correlate very well with accounts by the Ministry of Information Development (MID) and findings of surveys:

The exponential rise of remittances does induce the conclusion that the number of gastarbeiters is growing exponentially as well. Another explanation would be that those working abroad accommodate themselves better and better with the passage of years and they earn more, respectively. If so, the gravity of the problem of Moldovan nationals working abroad consists both in the very high number of approximately 1/5 or even 1/4 of those entitled to vote, and in the fact that those who left the country are the best citizens, enterprising, with ages between 20 and 50 years, capable to handle their destiny alone.

In the light of all these facts, it is almost impossible to estimate the number of gastarbeiters who participate in elections. The table below reveals the number of Moldovan nationals from other countries who participated in the voting in different electoral years.

Table. Number of Moldovan nationals who participated in the voting abroad
Location / year1994199820012005
United Kingdom---108
New-York (UN)-18-96
Geneva (UN)-121779
Strasbourg (CoE)-52694
Frankfurt (consulate)-2951112

I.e. approximately 2 percent out of about half a million nationals who are abroad voted at the last elections. Perhaps, students, tourists and those who are legally staying in these countries cast their ballots. Therefore, one may draw the conclusion that approximately 1 percent out of the overall number of gastarbeiters voted at the last elections!

International experience regarding voting by nationals living abroad

There is an ample international experience regarding the voting abroad. The general rule is that, since elections are a manifestation of sovereign willingness of nations, they take place in respective territories and in their “extensions” abroad — embassies and consulates. When there are reciprocal interest and willingness, governments of some states sign agreements on opening extra-territorial polling stations outside of diplomatic missions, and this is the only way to do so. Many citizens of other states are abroad, as phenomena of “globalisation” change the realities. For this reason, the “voting by correspondence” or the remote vote, by post, usually before the Election Day is often used. This method is widely used by the United States. The online voting has been extended much in the recent period. Last years, the OSCE has organised conferences to debate minimum mandatory standards for the online vote and measures to secure it. Suspicions related to security of the electronic vote make governments of many developed countries reticent over electronic vote. Find below latest examples confirming these facts:

Is it still possible to open polling stations outside of diplomatic missions?

The problem of opening supplementary polling stations abroad rests with the Government, not with the Central Electoral Commission (CEC). But even in the event it would sign agreements with authorities of countries which host many Moldovan nationals, the Government could not do anything, since Article 29(5) says clearly that “in case of parliamentary elections and republican referenda, a polling station shall open in each diplomatic mission and consular office of the Republic of Moldova for employees of these representations and their families, as well as for Moldovan citizens from countries concerned, regardless of their number.”

Therefore, the legislation should be modified, in order to be able to open polling stations outside of diplomatic missions. The CEC budget shall be modified as well, though the problem does not consist in funds, but in allocating them on time, and the Government could use the “reserve fund”. It is unimaginable to suppose that the Parliament and Government would convene to examine this issue. But problems do not end here; procedures of voting abroad, outside of diplomatic missions are very complicated, requiring a detailed preparation long before the electoral campaign. These problems may be resolved only in conditions of a reciprocal confidence between governing and opposition regarding a series of issues:

All these problems are resoluble, but they require very clear and verifiable procedures to avoid further conflicts. There is no time to elaborate and coordinate them with main political forces. This formula answers in fact the question why Moldovan nationals from other countries cannot vote outside of diplomatic missions, as well as why Moldova does not practice the remote vote. But the emphasis was laid on procedures of printing and disseminating ballot papers when the Election Code was adopted in November 1997. Therefore, printing ballot papers long before the Election Day and sending them to electors by post is a very delicate problem. Then, the voting by post is recommended only to countries where citizens trust the post. Confidence towards the post in Moldova, which had many cases when the correspondence was illegally opened, is a problem completed by the problem of confidence towards posts from other states. Let’s remember speculations about the 2005 parliamentary scrutiny that authorities of some CIS member states were interested to influence the results of Moldovan elections.

Finally, the perspective of electronic voting for Moldovans from other countries is very far because of reciprocal distrust between governing and opposition as well. For example, the composition of the electronic register of voters has raised the aversion of some influent opposition parties. What else to say about confidence towards software for electronic voting, when parties, both those ruling and in opposition, flow the example of blocked computers at the 1999 municipal elections as a electoral fraud, as reports by approximately 300 polling stations were available to everybody to make the necessary checking. Finally, the electronic voting will be available when Moldovan citizens will understand the procedures and the “electronic signature”. Perhaps more than one electoral cycle will be over until then.

For this reason, the problem of voting from other countries will be present at the next parliamentary elections in 2013 as well. It is worth to mention this fact because current talks on this issue produce a “live” effect. These problems were discussed before the 2005 parliamentary elections as well. However, the situation did not change at all meanwhile. All arguments invoked four years ago are reiterated in this article almost unchanged. Just examples of international experience were updated.

Conclusions and recommendations

Ballots of Moldovan citizens from Transnistrian region Common lists of candidates