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
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:
- According to MID accounts, there are about 200,000 — 300,000 Moldovan nationals abroad. This number is credible, as it covers only Moldovans who leave the country via border stations at which Moldovan authorities check the passports. But many gastarbeiters who work in the CIS area (their number is estimated at 200,000–300,000 people) leave Moldova via crossing points in Transnistria and they are probably not included in the MID databases;
- Surveys reveal that approximately 45–50 percent of families in Moldova receive remittances from their relatives working abroad; so, WB and IMF estimates are right, if taking into consideration the number of families from Moldova;
- Finally, given the fact that there are approximately 2.4 million electors in Moldova and about 1.6 million attend the elections, the number of Moldovan nationals from other countries cannot exceed the difference between the two numbers that means 80,000 people. But let’s leave a credible margin for the absenteeism. If estimating the absenteeism in Moldova at the lowest European level of approximately 10–15 percent of the overall number of voters, the estimated number of Moldovan nationals working abroad which is approximately half a million is very pertinent.
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 / year||1994||1998||2001||2005|
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:
- At the November 2008 elections for the Romanian Parliament, Romania opened polling stations in its Embassy and Consulate only in Moldova, though the number of approximately 100,000 holders of Romanian citizenship is known and at least half of them are permanent residents of Moldova;
- The Russian Federation opened 25 polling stations in Transnistria for the December 2007 parliamentary elections and March 2008 presidential elections without demanding the consent of the Moldovan Government. This action raised protests by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration, but Russia ignored them. It explained that Moscow had agreed with Tiraspol authorities; that means that Russia does not recognise in fact the sovereignty of the Chisinau authorities on rayons from the left bank of the Dniester. In this case, it is important that Russia needed the consent of authorities it recognises, in order to open polling stations. In contrast with the way Russia has acted, Ukraine has refrained from opening polling stations in Transnistria during parliamentary elections in 2006 and 2007, though approximately 65,000 Ukrainian citizens reside this region. It did not do it because Chisinau authorities did not give green light;
- Examples of 2006 presidential elections in Mexico and Bulgaria reveal that governments of these states took extra-measures to ensure the voting by their nationals from other countries. The Bulgarian Government decided to open polling stations in all locations where at least 100 citizens of this country claimed the right to vote from other countries. For this purpose, Bulgarian nationals had to apply for their removal from voters’ rolls at home, being included into special lists for voting abroad. This action was necessary to prevent eventual accusations of manipulation and to know exactly how many ballot papers should be sent to locations of nationals etc.;
- The Polish Government opened 205 polling stations for approximately 175,000 nationals registered abroad, at the 2007 parliamentary elections. Polling stations opened in embassies and consulates, as well as at centres of Polish ethnic communities. Hence, rights of citizens may be ensured in various circumstances, if everything is coordinated beforehand;
- The recent parliamentary elections in Israel (10 February 2009) are very relevant for Moldova in terms of voting abroad. Nearly 650,000 out of approximately 5 million electors are in other countries. However, the Israeli Government opposed the opening of polling stations outside of embassies and consulates (approximately 100 around the world), which are appropriately secured. But representatives of Likud Party consider that the explanation rests in fact with the reticence of leftwing political forces to vote a long-dated draft law on opening polling stations outside of diplomatic missions as well. Leftwing forces are aware that majority of Israeli citizens from other countries elect rightwing parties. Thus, it is supposed that in a devoted democracy like Israel the political factor obstructs the plenary exercising of the right to vote.
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:
- How candidacies of electoral functionaries would be nominated to special stations;
- Who and how would train them;
- How many ballot papers would be delivered to these stations, on basis of which criteria, as gastarbeiters do not massively register with diplomatic missions of Moldova?
- Only Article 49(3) “Printed ballot papers are stored at the constituency electoral council and delivered prior to elections to the electoral office of the polling station under a delivery document. The Central Electoral Commission sends ballot papers to electoral offices of polling stations opened outside of Moldova with at least three days before the Election Day, by taking into account the number of electors included in updated electoral lists, with a supplement of at least 5 percent”;
- How eventual litigations would be settled;
- Who would ensure the security of polling stations, knowing that authorities want illegal migrants in their territories, as well as various nationalist groups;
- How and in what terms the electoral materials would be carried to Chisinau etc.
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
- The advocacy of some political parties to ensure the electoral right of nationals from other countries is absolutely legitimate and deserves all support. It is unfair to deprive those keeping Moldova afloat of the right to influence the configuration in this country.
- In conditions when opening polling stations outside of diplomatic missions is actually impossible, calling upon gastarbeiters to contact their relatives and consult them in connection with the April 5 elections is absolutely justified. That means more than 40 percent of families who receive remittances from abroad.
- Ensuring the electoral right to nationals from other countries should be the problem both of the opposition and of the ruling Party of Communists. Moldovan gastarbeiters are mainly workers who had to emigrate after becoming true proletarians in their country. It is strange that a party which became famous by promoting interests of proletarians has left this problem to the mercy of liberals and does not move a finger to ensure the people’s fundamental right.
- It is true that many Moldovan gastarbeiters do not like the exchange rate maintained artificially by Moldovan authorities, which confiscate 1/5 of their earnings, according to some estimates. As well, gastarbeiters have arguments to disagree with the way the public funds are spent. For example, it is difficult to explain why approximately 3 million Euros was spent for the office of the Prague-based Embassy, since no polling stations opened in the Czech Republic for the four electoral cycles? Lots of Moldovan polling stations for several electoral cycles could be opened around the world with these funds.
- The future Parliament and Government will have to find a solution to the voting by nationals from other countries. Financial arguments are not serious. There is no financial limit to ensure interests of those who decisively fill up the state budget. The Government should find even one million dollars (1/5 of the CEC budget) but to ensure the voting abroad. For example, the Government was obliged to pay damages worth about 10 million Euros in 2008 for violation of human rights. It means that funds would be available to open any polling stations abroad and introduce the electronic vote, should governors respect human rights.
- Acting opposition parties should not forget the electoral right of Moldovans from other countries, no matter if they succeed to the governing or keep their current condition. It happened so after the wave of good intentions before the 2005 parliamentary elections. This cannot happen again without killing confidence.
- Opposition parties which plead to the ECHR the cause of voting abroad outside of diplomatic missions should assure themselves that they will be awarded victory, otherwise they will advantage their political opponents which will speculate that they followed a propagandistic interest, not willingness to support interests of Moldovans from other countries.