Electoral publicity interpreted honestly: PSRM. Series of IPN analyses. Elections-2014

Most of the election runners entered the campaign preceding the November 30 parliamentary elections with electoral TV videos, posters, slogans and advertisements. By definition, the publicity is biased, but in the election campaign it represents the type of information that the voters accept most often. That’s why IPN decided to launch a series of analyses entitled “Electoral publicity interpreted honestly” by which to contribute to developing the political culture, analyzing neutrally the subtleties of the electoral advertisements. The election runners are analyzed in accordance with their position in ballots.

Not only another piece torn off PCRM

The Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova (PSRM) has one of the most active and aggressive campaigns. With video clips, posters, advertisements and activists going from door to door, it is the only extraparliamentary party campaigning so intensely. Such a tactic seems necessary if we take into account the fact that the current leader of the PSRM Igor Dodon lost the mayoral elections in Chisinau to the limit, being then the candidate of the Communist Party (PCRM). The image that he gained then made many think, including Dodon, that he has the potential needed to form his own successful party. However, the expectations weren’t met. Dodon didn’t manage to make the best use of the electoral gains. He only managed to attract a small part of the people who voted for him in 2011. Therefore, the Socialists planned such an intensive campaign so as not to become part of the cohort of small left parties that are pieces torn off the PCRM with no chances of entering Parliament.

According to the last IMAS poll, commissioned by IPN, the PSRM would win 3.9% of the votes of the decided voters, a considerable increase compared with the results of the September poll, according to which only 2.8% of the voters would support the PSRM. It’s true that the Socialists do not yet pass the election threshold, but they have real chances if they keep this growth rate owing inclusively to their aggressive election campaign.

Only the Customs Union, only PSRM

The Socialists attack on two fronts. On the one hand, the struggle hand in hand with the PCRM for the radical left-wing voters: it has another Soviet symbol as emblem – the red star that promotes Moldovenism and anti-Romanism – and has a trenchant pro-Russian, pro-Customs Union and anti-EU position. On the other hand, it wants to attract those who are for joining the Customs Union and to convince the voters that the Eurasian alternative of the European Union is better for Moldova. Not accidentally, one of their slogans is “For Moldova in the Customs Union”. As in the case of the National Liberal Party (PNL), the Socialists do not have a clear message that could be considered the main slogan. Instead, they have a series of messages with the same meaning and of the same ideological orientation.

For example, a part of the posters of the PSRM tell the passersby that “We should better live in welfare alongside Russia than to be poor and indebted to Europe”. This message tries to dispel the pro-European myth of prosperity and development, underlining an important aspect: the loans represent a large part of the money received by Moldova from abroad and they will have to be repaid. On the other hand, it is an attempt to manipulate the people as it ignores the numerous grants and donations from which Moldova benefitted. This message also exploits the hurt vainglory of the Moldovans: everyone knows that Moldova is a poor country, but this does not mean that the Moldovans do not have pride. The PSRM tells them that in the EU they will be poorer, compared with the people from the other European states, which is humiliating. The party follows the logic “better ahead in the village than at the back in the town”, which, despite the contradictions it contains – what kind of welfare it is when hundreds of thousands of Moldovans build and maintain palaces and villas for Russian businessmen – works in the case of some social categories.  

Radicalism and simplification

The Socialists probably realized the fact that the Customs Union, though it is supported by about half of the population, does not have the necessary sonority and mobilizing effect so that they simplified and radicalized things even more: “The Party of Socialists – alongside Russia” – a message written under a picture showing Zinaida Grecheanyi and Igor Dodon discussing with the President of Russia Vladimir Putin. The PSRM banks on a plain massage without disguise and content: Russia. It is a message designed to attract the Russian and pro-Russian voters from Moldova, who are significant in number, in the conditions in which the PCRM adopted recently a more moderate position, making thus the pro-Russian voters uncertain: who promotes their interests? A parallel can be drawn between the PSRM and PNL: they both count on a radicalized foreign policy option – Russia at the Socialists and Romania at the National-Liberals.

A lot of video clips

So far the Socialists have launched 14 video clips in the same aggressive and intensive manner that characterizes their campaign. The videos of most of the parties transmit a general or a concrete, but key message, but the Socialists have by a video for all their messages. In the first video spot , the PSRM’s top candidate for MP in the list Zinaida Grechenyi, former Prime Minister, presents figures showing the close relations between Moldova and Russia and underlining the necessity of integrating with the Customs Union. The figures are manipulating: for example, the 700,000 Moldovan migrants in Russia at a time when the highest figure estimated by experts is 400,000, or the export of 98% of the apple production to Russia at a time when the EU absorbs over half of Moldova’s exports (not only of apples or agrifood products). Real or not, the figures target a vulnerable public – the apple producers, the migrants and their relatives. Zinaida Grechenyi, who emerges on the stage unexpectedly, is probably used to make the voters associate the Socialists with their former Communist colleagues and to remind about the Communist government, whose sins were forgotten meanwhile, given that the sins of the current government are fresher and more painful. This fact is confirmed towards the end of the video, where there are shown fragments of the official meetings of Dodon and Grecheanyi, when they formed part of the Communist Cabinet.

The second video  became famous owing to the graphic error “RepubliK of Moldova”. The video is produced in an interesting way, with a rather mobile camera presenting politologist Bogdan Tirdea in a dynamic manner, designed to energize and mobilize. His message is rather popular in this campaign – ‘the war of the oligarchs’. But this shows that there is a demand and a context that allows propagating such messages. The explanation by which Tirdea justifies his position is natural or even banal and simplistic: “I’m politologist and know very well the Moldovan politics”. The fact that he wastes time in the video arguing his competence is already a minus and the argument is not fully convincing. However, the title ‘politologist’ was chosen well as the meaning of its synonym ‘political analyst’ was distorted by a group of individuals arrogating it.

Igor Dodon appears in the third video clip that starts with five tragic seconds: “Economic crisis. Industry does not work. There are now no export markets. Schools are being closed”. The apocalyptical picture descried by the Socialists is true to a certain extent and large enough to gain credibility at least among some of the social sections. Afterward, Igor Dodon mixes the socialism with populism in his speech and employs an essential thing that many election runners miss: government experience. The leader of the PSRM speaks about how he opened hospitals and schools and paid the historical pension and salary arrears. The correctness of this information can be questioned, but not many voters will make effort to verify it and those who were affected by the reforms of the current government will tend to believe the assertions of the Socialist leader.

The next video has a farmer growing apples as the protagonist. A part of the wine makers were able to identify other export markets following the ban on the import of Moldovan products imposed by Russia, but the apple growers didn’t manage to and the Socialists exploit this thing. Dodon also reminds about a number of good measures taken during the Communist government, which in the video is named the ‘Dodon and Grecheanyi government’, such as the 0% tax on reinvested profit that was attractive for many entrepreneurs from different areas.

Advertising duos

As the party has many video clips, I will not stop at all of them, especially because a part of them are only electoral promises presented as text and figures, without persons. But two pairs of videos deserve to be mentioned: video No. 6  and video No.9 have practically the same message – interest-free loans for apartments and higher benefits for young parents. In the first video, the message is delivered by a pregnant young woman, who later appears with a baby carriage. This video is intended to generate emotional resonance and, simultaneously, to address a real problem faced by the country – the demographic crisis. The second video presents the same promises in another visual style: a red background with stylized elements and text with thick fonts. Emphasis here is put on the visual impact of figures: 15,000, 30,000 etc. that are designed to have a great effect on the voters’ mind. These two videos solve one more problem: too many videos broadcast makes them less memorable. When there are two videos approaching one problem in two different styles, the promises are remembered easier and two categories of voters with different aesthetic preferences can be targeted.

The videos No. 7 and 8 are also similar. They both refer to the negotiations with the Federal Migration Service of Russia that will allow the Moldovan migrants to return home until November 30 and then to freely go back to Russia after December 1, with all their violations being forgiven and with a new migration history. Here the PSRM does something impressive: it boasts of a national accomplishment achieved while not being in power. Not many parties can attain something like this. It is a powerful move in a good context: Dodon assures that now that he solved this problem, he will also deal with the problem of exports to Russia. A good goal.

The authenticity of these promises and accomplishments is yet doubtful. The negotiations themselves and the Russians’ decision are in fact suspicious. It is like the PNL, which is not in power, would negotiate the union with Romania in the name of the Moldovans. It is a confirmation of the fact that Russia openly supports the PSRM, while the accusations of the Liberal leader Mihai Ghimpu that this move is a kind of electoral blackmail – the Moldovan workers are sent home to vote for the PSRM or other pro-Russian parties so as to be able to return to work in Russia – seem more credible.

More Russia, more Putin

Besides these ‘accomplishments’ concerning the Moldovan migrants in Russia, another element of the same series is the poser with Putin – a clear signal from the Kremlin that the PSRM is their candidate. This signal can have a powerful electoral impact, given the composition of the Moldovan electorate. This type of electoral propaganda, with the indirect, but visible and evident involvement of a foreign state, is alarming and is at the limit of legality and the competent authorities (the Central Election Commission and the Security and Information Service or the Prosecutor’s Office) should better not neglect it.

Note: This analysis refers strictly to the publicity of the election runners and does not aim to assess their quality. The bad products can have good publicity and vice versa, as the good products can have good publicity. Earlier, IPN made an analysis of the electoral publicity of the Democratic Party, which was published on November 6, of the Christian Democratic People’s Party, which was published on November 7, of the Liberal Democratic Party, which was published on November 10, of the Liberal Reformist Party, which was published on November 11, of the People’s Force Party, which was published on November 12, and of the People’s Movement Antimafie”, which was published on November 13. and of the National Liberal Party, which was published on November 17.

Eugen Muravschi, IPN

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