General local elections will take place in the Republic of Moldova on November 5, according to a new Electoral Code that was adopted in December 2022. The new edition of the Electoral Code comes with a number of changes that regulate the electoral process and that will be applied in the current elections. As many as 898 mayors and 11,058 local councilors (district, municipal, town, commune and village ones) are to be ultimately elected. More than 3,900 registered candidates will contend for posts of mayor, while over 56,000 persons will compete for posts of local councilors. For the elections to be validated, the voter turnout should be at least 1/4 of the persons put on electoral registers in each constituency.
General conditions compromised from the start
As at the previous seven electoral exercises of the kind held in the Republic of Moldova since the proclaiming of Independence, legal local elections in the localities situated on the left side of the Nistru and in the municipality of Bender will not take place. This confirms again the impaired territorial integrity of the Moldovan state. The upcoming eighth edition of the local elections in the Republic of Moldova will take place in the conditions of a postponed territorial-administrative reform, when the structure of the local administration is pronouncedly fragmented, including, according to the data of 2018, 896 local public authorities of the first level (towns, villages, communes and municipalities) and 35 local public authorities of the second level (32 districts, the municipalities of Chisinau and Balti, the autonomous territorial unit of Gagauzia), the average number of inhabitants of the units of the first level being practically the lowest in the region. Approximately one third of the total number of territorial-administrative units of the first level have under 1,500 inhabitants, which is the minimum lowest level set by law for forming a territorial-administrative unit of the first level.
The most summary analysis shows a pronounced dependence between the fiscal capacity and the administrative costs of territorial-administrative units. The small localities generally collect fewer incomes from local sources for financing own costs, being characterized by more pronounced fiscal imbalances. At the same time, these allocate larger resources as share of local budgets for financing administrative costs. Moreover, it is known that only 10% of the administrative units of the first level can cover their administrative costs on account of the own incomes.
Polarization of political arena
In such conditions, the overwhelming majority of future local mayors of all level in their capacity as elected officials in the local administrative bodies will find themselves in a position of critical dependence on allocations from the centralized state budget. This way, their decisional autonomy will be drastically limited by this budget dependence. Therefore, the democratization level of local self-government in the Republic of Moldova is extremely low. This fact is reflected in the process of holding local elections, the registers of voters of the holders of budgetary instruments being the favorite ones for the aspirants for administrative posts at local elections. All these challenges underline the importance of a complex territorial-administrative reform that hasn’t been yet done by all the declared European governments so far.
As the system of local self-government hasn’t been reformed, the election campaign in the Republic of Moldova this year is generally marred by the polarization of the political arena according to the principle of “one against all the others”. The clear-cut electoral victory scored by the PAS in 2021 stimulated the ruling party’s evident refusal to form political alliances, forcing all the other political players from the right to the left, pro-Russian or pro-European, to become active opponents of the PAS. The whole political spectrum in the Republic of Moldova in this campaign takes the position of a rival to the current government. This polarization of the electoral arena occurs against the indexes of the declining popularity of the government, which is confronted with the effects of the war in Ukraine – a high rate of inflation following the rise in prices of fuels, gas and food – at a time when the justice sector reform and the fight against corruption make annoyingly slow progress.
Fragmentation into several political camps: camp No. 1
At the same time, this general line of division of the Moldovan electorate is supplemented with a principled fragmentation of the electoral contenders into political camps. The main division is geopoltiical in characrter, with content of choice of civilization for the further development of the Republic of Moldova.
The first camp is represented by pro-European political parties and independent candidates, including the ruling party PAS. This agglomeration, on the one hand, consists of political subjects with electoral biography spoiled by the bitter defeat in the previous parliamentary elections to the PAS, which are eager to take revenge. On the other hand, the competition includes recently created parties with ambitious leaders who aim to assert themselves, but with local bodies in the process of constitution and for now without much electoral support. All these desire to corner the non-cooperating PAS so as to build a united pro-European political pole on the Moldovan political arena. All the opponents of the PAS from the pro-European camp criticize the government for low efficiency of the European integration policies, saying that their contribution on this dimension will be categorically more productive.
The unionist parties by definition form part of the pro-European camp, but these parties in the current election campaign show incapacity to learn the lessons failed at the previous elections, remaining split and with defective leadership.
Camp No. 2
On the other side of the geopolitical electoral barricade, there are the pro-Moscow political parties for which the local elections are a possibility of starting the legal process of returning to power with the imminent change of the European development course of the Republic of Moldova. These political forces avoid to openly condemn the Russian aggression against Ukraine and accuse the government of compromising the bilateral relations with Russia to the detriment of the Moldovan economic relations. The stake of this electoral message matches the traditional attachment of particular electoral sections of Moldovan society to Russophile sympathies, such as those typical of the area populated by Gagauz ethnics.
Camp No. 3
The Moldovan electoral landscape comprises one more camp of political players which in time detached themselves formally from the former mates of the pro-Russian left and that currently avoid open association with Moscow’s interests, using pro-European rhetoric in their electoral message. These forces feel particularly strong in Chisinau where the electoral battle implies extremely important stakes for the future presidential and parliamentary elections. The fact that the pro-Russian parties avoided fielding famous candidates in the competition for mayor of Chisinau gives reasons for reasonable suspicions about the existence of hidden cooperation between the pro-Russian camp and the grouping of the fresh renegades of the Russophile left disguised now as pro-European. As reasonable are the suspicions that this cooperation between the two camps is coordinated and even guided from outside.
Possible serious consequences and illusion of a solution
Against this electoral cooperation of the pro-Russian forces in the current campaign prior to the local elections, the lack of cooperation between the pro-European forces, especially for the elections in Chisinau, is inexplicable from political viewpoint. The lack of vision on the local elections shown by the PAS, especially in Chisinau, where the positions of the ruling party are particularly problematic, can have serious consequences not only for the PAS team, but also for the European course of the Republic of Moldova in general. A poor result of the pro-Europeans in the local elections this year can pave the way for pro-Russian revenge taking in the Republic of Moldova at the future presidential and parliamentary elections. The outcome of the election in Chisinau, where the pro-European forces are split and even antagonized, will be particularly relevant in this regard. It is important that the fratricide electoral war of the pro-Europeans should at least not compromise the prospects of the runoff vote in Chisinau if the battle is not lost in the first round already.
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