Modification of electoral legislation shortly before local elections

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Igor Botan / April 29, 2015
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On 9 April 2015, the Parliament approved, by Law no. 36 and Law no. 61, amendments to the Electoral Code and to other five codes and laws referring to elections and electoral subjects. The majority of amendments are welcome, but some of them are confusing and inopportune. Also, it should be mentioned that the amendments were made after 3 April, when the Parliament set the date of general local elections. Specialized international institutions recommend that electoral legislation be modified at least six months before the electoral campaign, so that legislative changes do not affect the planning of parties’ campaigns. Obviously, ad-hoc modifications should be allowed, if they improve the electoral process and are not challenged by potential electoral contestants. The modifications of 9 April broadly meet these criteria, but there still are negative aspects that should be mentioned.

The main amendments refer to extension of competences of the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) and to the funding of electoral contestants’ electoral campaigns. In fact, the extension of CEC competences derives from the need to detail the funding of electoral contestants’ campaigns and to establish strict control of the origin of parties’ funds. Clearly, it is inexplicable that governing parties and their supporters proceeded to settling this problem only after the emerging opposition parties proved at the parliamentary elections in November 2014 and at the recent regional elections in Gagauzia that they have access to sufficient financial resources to beat the governing “rich parties”, which have, along with excessive financial resources, administrative and media advantages. Therefore, intervention into electoral legislation after the announcement of the election date is not accidental.

Extension of CEC competences in the verification of the funding of parties and their electoral campaigns is undoubtedly a positive thing, but it raises a number of conceptual problems. When the Electoral Code was adopted in 1997, its provisions divided CEC members into two categories — three permanent members and six members convoked for the period of electoral campaigns. This approach was motivated by the lack of funding and the need to save public money. In recent years, the CEC has become a real institution, with sufficient funding from the budget and with impressive resources provided by international aid. As a result, both the members’ professionalism and the institution’s internal structure grew and developed. The legitimate conceptual question is why the law cannot be modified so that all nine members of the CEC work permanently. If the CEC has 6 departments and several subdivisions, why cannot they be run by nominal members of the CEC? Basic calculations show that such a normal approach would lead to optimization of the CEC activities and to saving public money. There would be no need in the 35% increase of salaries for non-permanent members of the CEC during electoral periods, and no discomfort caused to this category of the CEC members by relief from their permanent jobs.

In terms of the modifications concerning the funding of electoral campaigns, it should be mentioned that chapter four of the Electoral Code, which previously referred to only the material support of electoral campaigns, has been substantially reviewed. The main modifications refer to the following:

The law on modifying the Electoral Code also introduced modifications to the Criminal Code, the Contraventions Code, the Broadcasting Code, the law on the Court of Accounts and the law on political parties. All these modifications may be considered welcome, except the ones to the law on political parties, which need separate examination.

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