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Not geopolitics alone. Why Socialists grabbed 83% of Gagauzia vote. OP-ED
Not geopolitics alone. Why Socialists grabbed 83% of Gagauzia vote. OP-ED
On February 24, with several hours still left before polling stations were to close, fireworks lit up the sky above the main squares in Comrat and Ceadir-Lunga. This is how local Socialists and their supporters decided to celebrate their victory in the parliamentary elections. And why not? Despite lowest than expected national results, in Gagauzia they managed to take not only both single-member constituencies, but also more than 83 percent on the national ballots.
In national elections, the Gagauz vote has been historically predictable and one-sided. In their heyday, the Communists would poll up to 80 percent here. In the expert community, a stereotype has appeared to explain everything on the “pro-Russian” tilt of the Gagauz voter and the manipulations of the left-wing parties that skillfully play the “geopolitical card”. Even so, the geopolitical factor alone would never produce such a powerful effect without a number of other circumstances and peculiarities specific to Gagauzia.
Judging by polls, almost half of Moldovan citizens could be considered “pro-Russian”. Still, the February 24 elections showed that this factor was not as decisive as that. More important proved to be the administrative factor, due to which the districts controlled by the Democratic Party basically became its voter base. This campaign strategy of the governing party however didn’t work in Gagauzia. And this is due to the relative financial autonomy of the region.
As the custom goes, the government in Chisinau, regardless of color, invariably conditions the size of the district budgets on the political support shown in return by the local authorities. This instrument is less effective in relation to Gagauzia, which collects almost half of its budget from its own revenues.
Besides various other taxes, Gagauzia gets to keep the full amounts of VAT, excises and income taxes it collects. The larger the autonomy’s revenues, the weaker Chisinau’s political carrot-and-stick is. For example, the autonomy’s 2019 budget is around 900 million lei, and only half of it comes from the central coffers. Other districts have much smaller budgets and they rely up to 80-90 percent on Chisinau’s subvention, with all the political consequences.
A grudge on Chisinau
Whatever their foreign preferences, the Gagauz people form their attitudes towards the authorities in Chisinau solely based on how these authorities treat them. The Democrats would have hardly had the excuse of blaming their total failure in Gagauzia on the pro-Russian sentiment if the Gagauz people didn’t feel their autonomy being constantly violated by the government. The unfair distribution of central funding and the reform that has “optimized” a number of governmental agencies in the autonomy didn’t give the Gagauz another choice but go with the opposition.
Notably, the Russian issue was not the spearhead of the Socialist campaign. Rather, the Socialists promised the autonomy to help it grow and take its curtailed powers back. As the Communist experience showed, the failure to deliver on such promises is a sure way to lose the Gagauz voters’ trust even despite a perfectly built pro-Russia message.
A united society
One particularity of the Gagauz people that explains the consolidated vote is the unity and solidarity on major issues. Unlike elsewhere across Moldova, the autonomy is not divided on history or language matters. The Gagauz also overwhelmingly agree that Moldova must be a sovereign and neutral state. In other words, the Gagauz lack the divisive lines existing elsewhere within Moldovan society. Even if there is ever any discord, voices are 99 to 1. This is why the Socialists were the undisputed favorite in the latest elections, compared to the Democrats and the electoral bloc NOW.
The incumbent governor Irina Vlah enjoys an approval rating of about 70 percent and her support contributed to the Socialists’ landslide win.
In addition to the above, the decisive factor was the Socialists’ very active campaign effort in the autonomy. Their sincerity and ability to provide solutions aside, we should give the Socialists credit for being familiar with the particularities of the local population and knowing their woes, needs, and expectations, and for shaping their campaign around them.
The Socialists were very present in the autonomy, with their representatives doing door-to-door, and handing out papers and leaflets. The Democrats also did a little bit of this, while NOW didn’t even try apparently. The attitude was reflected in the party lists: the Socialists had five Gagauz candidates on its national ticket, the Democrats fielded one, and NOW didn’t have a single Gagauz representative. The Gagauz people voted accordingly, with PSRM polling 83 percent, DPM 6 percent, and NOW under one percent.
By the way, during the 2016 presidential runoff NOW’s Maia Sandu also got around 1 percent in Gagauzia. Then, too, there were many interpretations offered about the Gagauz’s pro-Russian inclination. Well, it’s true. But it’s also true that Sandu didn’t bother to visit, let alone tour Gagauzia once in both the first and second round of the presidential election. If the right-wing parties have nothing to say to the people in the autonomy, if they are scared of the Gagauz voter’s “oddities”, then this is their problem.
Interese profesionale: regionalism, procesele politice din UTA Găgăuzia, relațiile autonomiei cu autoritățile centrale ale Republicii Moldova
IPN publishes in the Op-Ed rubric opinion pieces submitted by authors not affiliated with our editorial board. The opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily coincide with the opinions of our editorial board.
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