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What’s at stakes in local elections

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Igor Botan / May 2, 2011
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Local elections with multiple impacts

Several things are at stake in the general local elections of 5 June. The outcome of these elections will secure whether:

Local elections provide the political parties with the best opportunity to:

Consolidation of parties’ territorial branches

In the past four years, during periods between the previous local elections and the ongoing ones, Moldovan political stage has undergone through major changes. Political instability and institutional crisis, caused by the inability to elect the head of state, have led to political assaults not only on national level, but also in the regions. Therefore, strengthening regional branches and their ramifications is of great importance for parliamentary and extra-parliamentary political parties. The test of local elections has a special meaning in the process of institutionalization of newly formed parties, as well as the reformed ones. In the last four years the parties’ territorial branches have witnessed shocks due to numerous: splits, mergers, conversions through proselytism, corruption, sinecure offering or promising them etc.

During local elections the parties strengthen their ramifications by anchoring them in local public administration. It is this anchor that feeds the parties’ branches , especially that after the last general local elections in June 2007 the local branches of major political parties have witnessed significant evolutions and involutions. Among the parliamentary parties only the Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova (PLDM) does not have yet local branches naturally anchored through elections in the local public administration. All anchorages of PLDM in local public administration was achieved using specific methods mentioned above, because the party has been established in about half a year after the previous local elections. For these reasons, but also for those designated as major stakes of local elections, PLDM is interested to mobilize all its resources and potential to establish the most powerful and ramified network of regional branches. In fact, the PLDM project can not be considered fulfilled unless the said territorial anchoring of local branches is successfully implemented. Although the PLDM party machinery, put into action by its leader, Prime Minister Vlad Filat, works very efficiently, the speeds of this machine made several very important parts to move out of it, such as first deputy chairman of the party Alexandru Tanase. Therefore, the results locales will answer the question about the effectiveness of PLDM machine depending on the presence or absence of major components on this mechanism.

PLDM’ coalition partners — the Democratic Party of Moldova (PLDM) and the Liberal Party (PL), will follow broadly similar tasks. The difference is the extent of aspiration, since in the last year the PDM’ rating stagnated, and that of PL even regressed, while that of PLDM has doubled. After the 2007 local elections, where PDM gathered at district level ~10% of votes, the party has undergone through the shock of split, then it merged with the Liberal Social Party (PSL), witnessing several flows and ebbs of accession and dissociation of territorial branches .The failure of PDM in parliamentary elections of 5 April 2009 (~3% of votes) was repaired in July 2009 when Marian Lupu came at the helm of PDM. In addition, PDM has undergone a reconfiguration after the arrival in 2010, at the party’s top, together with his team of trusted people, the businessman Vlad Plahotniuc. Therefore, reconfiguration of PDM is just going to be manifested also on the level of territorial branches, which makes the PDM stake in local elections very high. As for PL, which gathered in 2007 at district level less than 3% of votes, it is known that its leaders perceive political influence through the leverages with support points in administrative positions, therefore, the main task is the same — anchoring PL local organizations in administration.

Also for the parliamentary opposition that is the Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova (PCRM), which has the most powerful and ramified network of regional branches, it is key to strengthen this network and test its resistance against proselytism, corruption, etc., and of similar importance is to cling PCRM local organizations to local administration. Otherwise PCRM may dramatically lose its influence. Obviously, all things mentioned above are basically valid also for extra-parliamentary parties, which have the best opportunity to create little islands anchoring the frail local organizations in local government, so that later to aspire for an extension these parties’ influence, trying to compete with the parliamentary parties.

Political vote for district/municipal councils

The use of proportional system with closed party lists for electing district councils makes the elections at district level to be, practically, purely political ones. That is, it may be assumed that voting results at district level would be somewhat equivalent to the results of parliamentary elections, if the latter would be held at the same time with local elections. Thus, if the election results on 5 June 2011, at district level, will significantly differ from the results of parliamentary elections of 28 November 2010, then the likelihood of early parliamentary election will increase substantially.

So far, the opinion polls show that surprises could be served by PLDM, which maintains its upward trend. However, after the last sociological measurement some events took place that announce a possible entry of PLDM into an image crisis, which could favour the strengthening of PL positions on the right wing of political spectrum and of PCRM on the left. Since the quarrels in AEI contribute to withering of the enthusiasm about its ability to transform the “success story” into a reality more or less acceptable for the country’s development, it is not excluded that undecided voters might support the opposition by a massive protest vote. However, it seems that what’s at stake for PLDM in elections at district level is to win detached from all other AIE parties and PCRM. An indirect indicator in this regard is that PLDM has opposed the attempt to solve the problem of presidential elections by amending the Article 78 of the Constitution through a referendum held on election day. Thus, solving the problems of presidential election is left after the local elections, probably in the hope to show that PLDM has no equal rivals in the contrary any more.

In any case, after the local elections of June 5, 2011 only two parties — PLDM and PCRM might be interested in provoking early parliamentary elections. A possible victory of PLDM, with a significantly better result than that on 28 November 2010, which would threaten the PCRM positions, would make the first very interested, and the second a little more reluctant to the idea of ​​early parliamentary elections . The thing is that nobody can guarantee to PCRM a comfortable result in early parliamentary elections so as to further resort to deadlocks and, if necessary, to impose its influence. Under such circumstances, PCRM would rather abandon the hostile attitude towards the Democratic Party in order to stand with joint efforts against PLDM’ dangerous ascent. Indeed, the probability that PLDM would prefer a post-election alliance like AEI-3, where it would dictate the conditions, is something higher than the probability of a possible coalition with PCRM. Why advantage would PLDM have from a possible post-election coalition with PCRM, if this is possible even without resorting to early parliamentary elections, resolving all existing constitutional problems. Moreover, any coalition with PCRM entail a change in one of the main slogan of the Liberal Democratic Party into the contrary one such as “Moldova without Voronin, Moldova without communists” … is impossible. If this would happen, PLDM would no longer be able to claim any moral virtue. Additionally, PL took care to strengthen the water dividing line by convening parliamentary hearings on the events of April 7, 2009.In this respect, reiterated position of PCRM, that on April 7, 2009 what happened have been a coup, substantially reduces the likelihood of an alliance between one of the protagonists of the coup — Vlad Filat and its victim — Vladimir Voronin, while in Moldova everything is possible. However, it may be assumed that PLDM would have an interest to provoke early parliamentary elections only in the event of winning them in detached way, with the possibility of forming a mono-coloured Government or one that would dominate with no right to appeal. The results of elections on June 5, 2011, at the district level, are meant to indicate the likelihood of such a scenario.

On the other hand, in case if on 5 June PCRM would get a very good result at district level, and then would try to provoke early parliamentary elections with a perspective of winning them, then AIE, logically, will have to oppose such intentions, finding a solution to the presidential election. Thus, most probably even after the local elections of 5 June the fate of AEI-2, as well as the problem of solving the institutional crisis, will remain uncertain. The first signs of further intentions of the main political parties will become visible only in June-July in the process of constituting the majority coalitions in those 34 district and municipal councils.

Elections in Chisinau municipality

It’s something very specific that is at stake in the elections in Chisinau municipality. Economic groups, either merged with parties or behind them, financing them, will make their best to secure their control over the city council and city hall, where ~60% of Moldovan economy is concentrated and where the future economic-financial and commercial projects announce fabulous benefits.

The political stake is alike. For PL the party’s deputy chair, Dorin Chirtoaca, re-election as mayor is the supreme task. Otherwise, PL will turn into a pathetic substitute of the Christian Democratic People’s Party (PPCD) before the so-called betrayal of 4 April 2005, which actually PL replaced on political stage.

At the same time, for PCRM winning the elections for mayor of Chisinau will have multiple meanings. The victory of PCRM candidate in Chisinau will substantially strengthen the political influence of the party, especially the economic groups somewhat related to the party. Also, in the event of victory, the PCRM candidate, Igor Dodon, will become the most influential personality, with the highest public dignity, of all party comrades. The impact may be extremely beneficial for reformation and modernization of the party, getting rid of anachronisms and its transformation into a socialist or social-democratic party.

For PLDM stake is also huge. Although the official candidate of PLDM is the Secretary General of the Government, Victor Bodiu, what is actually involved in the game that’s the image of the party leader, Prime Minister Vlad Filat. By resorting to the stratagem of Filat-Bodiu tandem, PLDM turns Victor Bodiu’s victory into that of Vlad Filat, as well as the failure. The open animosity between PLDM and PL, as well as between Dorin Chirtoaca and Vlad Filat favour the PCRM candidate, Igor Dodon, who, according to opinion polls, has the best chance to pass in the second round with one of PL and PLDM candidates. Non-accession of one of the two candidates to the second round may cause absenteeism of their supporters. Additionally, recently the ability to mobilize the PCRM voters in Chisinau, especially the protest electorate, was over the capacity of other political parties.

Conclusions and expectations

EU — Moldova Forum Constitutional crisis: Responsibilities by consequences