At the end of the electoral campaign for the elections of the governor of Gagauzia, it would be useful to see the results of opinion polls in order to understand how candidates’ activities are perceived by voters and what factors have a maximum impact on the citizens’ votes.
On 16 March 2015, the CBS-AXA Center of Sociological Investigations and Marketing published the results of an opinion poll conducted between 22 February and 4 March 2015 on a representative sample, with oversampling in Gagauzia, with a ±3% margin of error. The investigation revealed the main factors that motivate Gagauz voters to cast their votes for one of the candidates that remained in the electoral race after two of the 12 candidates registered by the Central Electoral Commission of Gagauzia (CECG) decided to withdraw from the competition. It should be noted that the current electoral campaign differs from the five previous campaigns by the relatively large number of candidates. In the elections of 2015, 10 candidates appear in the electoral list, in contrast with not more than six and not less than three candidates in previous elections. The large number of candidates somewhat increases the number of factors that might have an impact on the final results of elections. According to Gagauz respondents (see Table 1), the following factors have priority:
We shall mention that in a traditional society, such as Gagauzia, the factors of gender and territorial origin of candidates are important, but not determining. A first conclusion would be that, according to the weight factor (in Table 1), Irina Vlah and Nicolai Dudoglo are the most favored candidates. Both are MPs in the Parliament of Moldova and had previously competed for the governor office. The administrative experience of Nicolai Dudoglo, holder of two terms as the mayor of Comrat, cannot balance the factor of absolute support of Irina Vlah by Russian authorities.
The contestants’ preference of being registered as independent candidates in the elections of members for the People’s Assembly or of the governor of Gagauzia has become a tradition. This trend has consolidated after the Moldovan Parliament modified the law on political parties in 1998, making the registration of regional parties impossible. However, we should not neglect the influence of national and regional political entities and their support for the independent candidates in the elections in Gagauzia. In the above-mentioned circumstances, civic organizations have been created at the regional level, such as the “United Gagauzia” Movement (Miscarea “Gagauzia Unita”, MGU), created by Governor Mihail Formuzal, or the “New Gagauzia” Movement (Miscarea “Gagauzia Noua”, MGN), created by Mayor of Comrat Nicolai Dudoglo (the two organizations worked as actual regional political parties). Under this aspect, the poll has measured the rating of trust in the national and regional political entities that have been directly or indirectly involved in supporting candidates for governor (see Table 2 and 3).
PSRM — Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova
PRM — Party of Regions of Moldova
MGU — “United Gagauzia” Movement
MGN — “New Gagauzia” Movement
PDM — Democratic Party of Moldova
So, according to Table 2, Irina Vlah has a net advantage over her opponents, being supported by the PSRM. Considering that both the “United Gagauzia” Movement and the Party of Regions have been created by current Governor Mihail Formuzal, who has declared his support for Irina Vlah, we might conclude that he aims at ensuring the continuity of his policies of the past eight years. Irina Vlah’s main opponent Nicolai Dudoglo has the support of the “New Gagauzia” Movement, but the fact that he is MP in the Parliament of Moldova from the Democratic Party (PDM) is a strong disadvantage in the eyes of Gagauz voters. In fact, the PDM, as the richest party in Moldova, is associated by most citizens with a generator of devastating corruption in the country. Besides the two above-mentioned candidates, Valerii Ianioglo enjoys some support of the MGU as one of its founders and members.
We should also note the factor of support from national and regional politicians for the candidates for governor (see Table 4 and 5). Here, Irina Vlah has again an advantage before her opponents. As it has already been mentioned, she has the support of current Governor Mihail Formuzal, and she has recently been in a long-aiming political tandem with the PSRM Chairman Igor Dodon. We should also mention the unrealized factor, Renato Usatii, who, despite having left Moldova in November 2014, continues having an enviable weight in Gagauzia and probably in other mostly Russian-speaking regions of Moldova.
Table 5 clearly shows why Irina Vlah decided to leave the Party of Communists (PCRM) in December 2014, before the announcement of elections of the governor of Gagauzia, despite being pampered by the PCRM just like Igor Dodon. Vladimir Voronin and his party, the PCRM, absolutely dominated the political preferences of Gagauz citizens over the past 20 years, having dropped severely in the parliamentary elections of 2014 because of the equivocal attitude towards the integrationist dilemma of the EU and the Eurasian Union and towards the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Igor Dodon’s PSRM owes its political ascension to the unequivocal attitude in favor of Russia. The tables also show that the influence of the People’s Assembly of Gagauzia Chairman Dmitrii Constantinov, who supports Dmitrii Croitor in elections, is rather weak, although it should not be neglected. The examination of the above factors is useful in order to understand the general attitude of Gagauz voters towards candidates for governor (see Table 6 and 7). It is due to the above-mentioned factors that Irina Vlah, Nicolai Dudoglo, Valerii Ianioglo, and Dmitrii Croitor are in the top of the Gagauz voters’ trust.
Accordingly, the negative rating can also be explained by the influence of the above-mentioned factors.
Finally, the Gagauz voters’ intention to vote approximately three weeks before the day of elections is shown in Table 8.
In conclusion, we can say that Irina Vlah is the one with the highest chances for victory in the elections in Gagauzia. If the about 25% of voters who were undecided on the day of the poll distribute their preferences proportionally with those who expressed a preference, then Irina Vlah might win the elections in the first round.