Stake of free and fair elections. Who ensures them, who respects them? IPN debate

The free and fair elections are an indicator of the healthy state of the nation given that such elections ensure and guarantee the proper, transparent and equitable management of state affairs, society and everything that is related to peoples’ lives. At the same time, all the foreign development partners transmitted messages showing that they expect free and fair elections in Moldova. The U.S. Ambassador in Chisinau delivered the most recent message, saying the parliamentary elections mark a critical moment for the U.S. – Moldova bilateral relations. Respectively, the quality of elections will greatly determine both the internal situation in Moldova and the external one. The issues were discussed in the public debate “Stake of free and fair elections. Who ensures them, who respects them?” that was the 97th instalment of the series of debates “Developing political culture through public debates” organized by IPN Agency and Radio Moldova.

The standing expert of IPN’s project Igor Boțan said Article 38 of the Constitution stipulates that the people’s will is the basis of the state power. This will is expressed at free regular elections, through universal, equal, direct, secret and free suffrage. The phrase “free and fair elections” can also be found in the Declaration on Criteria for Free and Fair Elections adopted at the 154th session of the Inter-Parliamentary Council associated with the UN in 1994. This document describes in detail the criteria for holding free and fair elections. “It says succinctly – the elections are free when the citizens with the right to vote, based on the national legislation, in the case of the Republic of Moldova from the age of 18, can all vote,” stated the expert.

As regards the fair elections, the document describes a series of measures that the legislation should provide and the public authorities should implement. These refer to the creation of an atmosphere of confidence in society, where the citizens trust the electoral authorities that organize the process. Igor Boțan said in the case of fair elections, the state offers all the election runners favorable conditions and equal opportunities for distinguishing themselves and for having access to the voters and the mass media. The citizens and the political parties have the right to monitor all the electoral operations, can challenge any action if they consider it necessary and are sure that they can be issued with a court decision in a limited period of time. The elections are fair also when the electoral bodies count the votes in a transparent way and make the results public swiftly. The legal procedures for validating the elections are then performed.

Promo-LEX programs director Pavel Postica said everyone should contribute to the organization and holding of free and fair elections, mainly the voters, who take part in the process and decide each of them apart who will enter the future Parliament. But the main role in this process is played by Parliament that manages and models the legal framework. The next parliamentary elections will be based on a new electoral system for Moldova and this is discussed and criticized by many players. But there is a law passed by the legislature and the elections will be held based on the new, mixed system either they like it or not. “Parliament voted and modeled the system and the main dominant parties that are now in the legislature, both in the government and in the opposition, supported this bill. They are the main players that will benefit from this electoral system,” he stated.

Pavel Postica noted the Central Election Commission also plays an important role in ensuring free and fair elections by enforcing the electoral legislation. A separate role is played by the electoral contenders and political parties that already started to prepare for the upcoming political struggle and the mass media that should contribute to free and fair elections by presenting the information about the elections neutrally, objectively and impartially. The courts of law should acts as referees so as to prevent the repeat of the situation concerning the invalidation of the Chisinau mayoral elections. The observers also play a significant role in all the stages of the electoral process, either they represent NGOs or parties.

Political analyst Cornel Ciurea noted particular concerns about the future elections appeared after the Chisinau mayoral elections of June 2018. Such concerns existed earlier too as they are related not particularly to the invalidation of the elections in the municipality, these being an additional pretext only. The main concerns are yet related to the replacement of the electoral system that wasn’t accepted by the opposition and later by Brussels and the Venice Commission that gave a somehow unjust verdict, according to him. At the beginning of this summer, the EU agreed that the main test of democracy will be taken after the elections of next February despite the electoral system that apparently serves the interests of the government. This opinion wasn’t shared by the opposition.

According to the analyst, the European Parliament  and the Venice Commission ultimately accepted the idea of holding the elections based on the mixed system. But local elections took place later in Chisinau and that unhappy invalidation of the elections generated concern inside the EU and the opposition and the latter fueled further the concerns about the possible unfair elections. “However, we should admit that the decision was taken following violations committed by the candidate who won the elections and Brussels and the opposition forget to say this. I can describe this punishment disproportionate, not yet arbitrary,” stated Cornel Ciurea, noting the government is apparently to blame for what is going on and for the fears that the elections could be free, but not fair or neither free nor fair. There are cardinal political elements that determine a possible unhappy denouement of these elections. These include the predisposition of all the payers, including the power and the opposition, to violate the rules of the game. The ostensible inability of the players to accept the final and decisive result of the elections, if this is unfavorable to them, is another element.

Political analyst Veaceslav Berbeca said concerns appeared when the electoral system was replaced as this amendment was produced according to a particular logic. They speak about the interest to create single-member constituencies to support particular parties. It is hard to say if this system advantages or not, but the situation could be explained after the elections, when the results of parties based on lists and in single-member constituencies  could be compared. The concerns are directly related to the invalidation of the Chisinau mayoral elections, when an unordinary situation for the whole Europe was witnessed. There were particular cases in Belarus, for example, but these concerned the non-admission of candidates in elections.

“It is evident that when we speak about other existing risks or concerns, the government’s behavior in relation to the opposition counts a lot. “We could exemplify here and could refer to a number of concerns. I mean the way in which the administrative resources could be used as every time elections were held the government in the Republic of Moldova tried to use administrative resources to obtain more votes. And we can expect such situations in this case too. We should also not omit the fact that in the period before the elections, financial resources were allocated from the state budget for particular projects and there are studies showing that particular mayor’s offices of localities were particular candidates of parties can win in constituencies were supported,” stated Veaceslav Berbeca.

Doctor of Law Sergei Mishin said that when it is about risks, fears and dangers of falsification or even annulment of the future elections, things should be looked at from another angle. “During the past two years, we could see that the legislation, in particular the electoral one, has not been respected. Under the legislation, the seats will be validated by the Constitutional Court, but we can ascertain today that the CC has passed a number of political rather than juridical judgements. The Court is the body that should make sure that the Constitution is obeyed. Respectively, the first risk is related to the Court’s interference in constitutional matters by different methods. This can lead to the invalidation or non-recognition of the elections,” he stated.  

Sergei Mishin noted the invalidation of the Chisinau mayoral elections generates concerns. Such situations happened not only in Chisinau. Immediately after them, serious violations were identified in the electoral process in Vulcănești, but this case was probably not covered too much by the media. Things became more worrisome when the mixed electoral system was introduced. “The fact that the Republic of Moldova is a captured state and the judicial system does not work, and the European Union admitted this, and these conditions generate dangers and could result in the invalidation of elections, is also a reason for concern. There are risks that the elections in some of the constituencies will be falsified or invalidated because the ruling parliamentary majority does not want to and will not concede power by itself,” stated the doctor of law. According to him, several months before the elections, attempts to limit a part of the population’s right to be elected are already being made. A bill proposed by the Liberal Party suggested supplementing the Election Code so that each candidate is obliged to know the Romanian language. “First of all, under the Constitution, Moldovan is the official language. Secondly, if they demand that the people should know the Romanian language, what about the Gagauzians, Bulgarians, Ukrainians, Russians?” he asked.

The debate “Stake of free and fair elections. Who ensures them, who respects them?” forms part of the series of public debates staged by IPN News Agency and Radio Moldova as part of the project “Developing political culture through public debates” that is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation of Germany.

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