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Real and imagined dangers in the elections in Gagauzia

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Igor Botan / March 16, 2015
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During the last week before the elections of the Governor of Gagauzia, some summary can be made about the conduct of the electoral campaign. Overall, the electoral campaign can be assessed as having been calm, without major deviations from normality. However, we should emphasize some peculiarities. In the sixth electoral competition for the office of governor of Gagauzia, it has become a trend for the candidates to call themselves promoters of especially close relations between the Gagauz autonomy and the Russian Federation. During previous campaigns, candidates had disputes among themselves about whose image is better in the eyes of the Russian elite, which implied the possibility to attract benefits for Gagauzia from Russia. Among the possible benefits were humanitarian aids during draughty seasons, delivery of some agricultural products or fuel, preferential economic and financial relations between Gagauzia and some regions in Russia. In the elections of 2006, the supporters Gheorghii Tabunscic, candidate from the Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova (PCRM), insisted that he was the one who enjoyed the support of Russian political circles, accusing his main opponent, Mihail Formuzal, of supporting some US circles through Baptist religious groups. Still, the PCRM candidate lost the competition due to lack of credibility, caused by the fact that in 2006 the State Duma of the Russian Federation adopted three resolutions against the Republic of Moldova, namely against the head of State and leader of the PCRM Vladimir Voronin, as a result of his refusal to sign the Kozak Memorandum.

In 2010, the same type of campaign resulted in a conflict between the main candidates — Mihail Formuzal and Nicolai Dudoglo. At that time, the competition for who was the most preferred by Moscow was also won by Mihail Formuzal, who, in his quality of candidate for and holder of the Governor seat, had a meeting with the Russian presidential administration, where he was presented with the Russian Federation Presidential Certificate of Honor for special contribution to the development and consolidation of cultural cooperation between Russia and Moldova. In his turn, Formuzal’s opponent Nicolai Dudoglo, who was also the mayor of Comrat, tried to compete with Mihail Formuzal, traveling to Moscow in order to sign a trade cooperation agreement between Comrat municipality and a district of Moscow. Since presidential administration is incomparable with a district of the capital city, Nicolai Dudoglo decided to explore the spiritual dimension, having had, with the aid of Bishop Anatolie of Comrat and Cahul, a meeting with the Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia. Gagauz mass media commented then the event as having had the goal of evoking religious differences between the two candidates. However, the latest factor did not benefit Nicolai Dudoglo, who felt it necessary to accuse his opponent of corruption, claiming that he had “bought” the certificate with the seal of the Russian presidential administration. It was followed by the response of Mihail Formuzal’s electoral staff, scandalized by insinuations and doubting the information about Nicola Dudoglo’s meeting with Patriarch Kirill and his blessing for victory in elections. To calm the situation, an explanatory note of the Patriarchy was needed, which confirmed that a short meeting of the Patriarch with visitors from Comrat had taken place, where they discussed some church-related issues and where visitors received blessings, but the note did not mention any electoral context.

It should be mentioned that the external factor in elections is characteristic not only for elections in Gagauzia, but also for national parliamentary elections. For example, before the parliamentary elections of February 2001, the leader of opposition at the time, Vladimir Voronin, had a discussion in the Kremlin with President Vladimir Putin on the issues concerning the pre-electoral situation and the post-electoral design of powers. Things became curious when the government was seized in 2009 by the so-called democratic and pro-European forces. Before the early parliamentary elections of November 2010, Moldova was visited by the delegations of 24 EU Member States, including 10 ministers of foreign affairs, who came to Chisinau to confirm that a “success story” happened in only one year of governing by the Alliance for European Integration (AEI). These examples are necessary to underline that Gagauz politicians use methods that they find efficient, after these methods are “tested” at national level.

Returning to the elections in Gagauzia, it is appropriate to examine the use of external factors in this campaign. The absolute champion in this regard has been candidate Irina Vlah — not only because several Russian world champions came during the electoral campaign to Comrat to support the most pro-Russian candidate of all those registered. Irina Vlah’s entire campaign has been conceptualized. She has been repeating step by step a way that had proved its efficiency for the Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova (PSRM), led by Igor Dodon, who supports her as an independent candidate in the elections of governor. Parallels between the two are eloquent:

It might seem that Russian support for Irina Vlah is excessive, but it is only at a first glance. Electoral legislation was modified before the elections allegedly to facilitate the registration of as many candidates as possible, so as to increase the probability of the need in the second round of elections, with all the intrigues accompanying it. And to make the second round less probable, Valentina Matviyenko expressed her conviction that Irina Vlah would win in the first round.

Another conceptual aspect that is worth mentioning is related to the meaning of Russian support for the Dodon-Vlah tandem. It appears that to become worthy of the status of the most pro-Russian politician, Igor Dodon had to become a promoter of the idea of federalization of the Republic of Moldova, offering Transnistria and Gagauzia the status of subjects of Moldovan federation. The open support of the Russian Federation for the successful tandem of Dodon-Vlah probably compels them to fulfill their promises. The above statements are not criticism against Igor Dodon and Irina Vlah — they do politics according to earlier established patterns. The problem is that Moldovan authorities, by way of political and corruption scandals, managed to defile the idea of European integration. Thus, a large segment of Moldovan citizens, especially in the Gagauz region, associate European integration with the EU support of a corrupt government for geopolitical reasons, involving a possible conflict with the Russian Federation, and not with the need to have prosperous neighbors that embrace European values. Consequences for Moldova might be bleak. The recent declaration of the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov is indicative of that: “The latest events in Moldova show that we will have to consider the interests of some of its regions, including Gagauzia, since some Moldovan politicians are being seduced by the idea of issuing ultimatums to some of the country’s regions after the signing of the Association Agreement with the EU.”

Given the above-mentioned peculiarities of elections in Gagauzia, we might conclude that the greatest danger for the security of Moldova emanates from the deeply corrupted political class, which gives reason for the regional elite to look for alternatives and offers pretexts for Russia to interfere. In this sense, a national political leader accused Irina Vlah of wearing a scarf with the colors of the Russian flag, implying that she thus sets herself up as a promoter of Russian interests. However, it is not the colors of the candidate’s scarf that poses danger to the security of Moldova, especially since the colors of the Gagauz flag coincide with those of the Russian flag, with only their sequence differing; the danger comes from a rampage of corruption, which impoverishes the country and condemns it to constant underdevelopment. A propos about the colors of the flags and the conclusions made as a result of their use. A very influential party in Moldova conducts its electoral campaigns under a green flag, so does it mean that the party represents, for example, Islamic danger for the country?

Gagauzia before the Elections of the Governor Governor of Gagauzia Elections in Figures