More than elections: Gagauz particularities of election campaign


Analysis: The electoral bustle engulfed the whole Moldova, but in Comrat it reached a special level. The local special features of the electoral process will result in a litmus test not only of the democratic system of Moldova, but also of state sovereignty.

For the residents and, especially, the political elites from the Territorial Autonomous Unit of Gagauzia, the future parliamentary elections are not only an exercise for forming the supreme legislative body of the state. In virtue of the local particularities, the launched election campaign takes place amid a wider range of problems. They refer to the region’s representation in the central bodies of the power, to the promotion of the interests of Gagauzia within the Moldovan politics and the use by external forces of the autonomous region as an instrument for exerting influence on the sociopolitical processes in Moldova.

Alliance of convenience

The key particularity of the parliamentary elections in Gagauzia is the existence of own marked political processes. Besides the campaign for the national elections, two more campaigns are held in the region – for the election of the Bashkan (Governor) of Gagauzia and for the election of the People’s Assembly. In the autonomous unit, there are regional political organizations and political leaders. Moreover, according to studies carried out in the region several years ago, the locals’ interest in the political processes in the region prevails over the interest in the events at central level, and the ‘own’ politicians enjoy greater trust than the national leaders.

Given all these features, the parties involved in the parliamentary elections find it easier to identify allies among the local political heavyweights to safeguard their interests than to promote their image by themselves. This is the scheme that the main political forces of the country used and continue to use. It should be noted that the leaders of the local branches of the national political organizations employ principles that run counter to the ‘official line of the party’. This ideological autonomy is included in the price that the Moldovan political parties are ready to pay for Gagauz votes.

For their part, by such cooperation the Gagauz politicians are able to achieve their own political goals – from a good place on the lists of candidates for the parliamentary elections to political or administrative support in the local campaigns.

 A ‘Gagauz party’ – not this time

Besides cooperating with the national parties, the Gagauz society also wants to have its own political organization that would run in the parliamentary elections not as a younger brother, but as a full-grown competitor. Initially, hopes were pinned on the Party of Regions of Moldova, founded by the team of the current Bashkan Mihail Formuzal. But the idea that enjoyed public consensus at theoretical level hasn’t been yet put into practice in the political sphere. As it is known, the Party of Regions created an electoral bloc with the Social Democratic Party of Victor Shelin, but the administration of the People’s Assembly, together with a group of deputies, threw support to another election runner – the Party of Socialists headed by Igor Dodon. Taking into account the political ambitions of the local politicians acting under the guise of the PCRM, PDM and PLDM, it is premature to talk about a ‘Gagauz party’. Maybe in the future campaigns the circumstances and political situation will allow implementing such a project, but not this time.

Bluff of boycott

Another peculiarity of the parliamentary election campaign that cannot exist in another region of the country is the existence of a permanent risk that the elections will be boycotted. More exactly, they will resort to boycotting if Chisinau does not solve a series of topical problems in the relations with Comrat. This summer for example, a number of deputies of the People’s Assembly of Gagauzia said they will urge the population to boycott the parliamentary elections if Gagauzia is not allotted five seats in Parliament. The appropriateness of such political blackmail was discussed not only by public activists from the region, but also by the senior administration. However, the election campaigns show that the closer the election date is, the paler such threats become. At a certain moment, it turns out that some of those who promoted the boycott are on the list of candidates of a party, while the others accept it that the idea of boycott is not achievable in the current conditions.

Entity existence test

They have talked a lot about the fact that Gagauzia is a specific element of the Moldova-Russian relations that can be used by Moscow to promote its influence in our country. After a referendum on the country’s external development course that was not recognized by the central authorities was held in the region on February 2, 2014 (where more than 98% of the participants voted for Moldova’s integration into the Customs Union), this idea was underpinned by a number of serious arguments. The main argument is the exclusive lifting of the ban for the Gagauz winemakers and the possible lifting of the restrictions on the export of fruit and vegetables also for the Gagauz producers.

It thus seems logical for Moscow to actively use the ‘Gagauz component’ in its strategy to influence the parliamentary elections. As it was said, the Gagauz politicians take part in the electoral race on behalf of different parties, even if under slogans that overlap each other. If these forces join at the end of the campaign, their Moscow partners will undoubtedly be behind such a decision.

Each of these ‘Gagauz features’ has a certain impact on the general character of the election campaign. Thus, the political alliances with local groups of influence create electoral advantages, but also make the Moldovan parties incur image costs. All kinds of threats to boycott the elections and political negotiations behind the scenes represent a litmus test of the democratic system. But the mobilization of the external forces leads to the appearance of an issue of another level, concerning the immunity of the state, its capacity to maintain sovereignity. In fact, if we analyze the political process in Moldova in general, these risks come from opposite geopolitical centers. This shows that Moldova, regretfully, became entity neither on its own territory.

Veaceslav Craciun, for IPN