Who will win elections in Gagauzia on June 30? Competition for highest post there is underway, OP-ED



It is easy to anticipate who the inhabitants of Gagauzia will vote for on June 30. Whether it will be necessary to defend this choice in court or not is another question. There is now unprecedented intrigue in the Bashkan elections...


Veaceslav Craciun

The campaign prior to the Bashkan (governor) elections set for June 30 started in the Autonomous Territorial Unit of Gagauzia (Gagauz-Yeri). Currently, the competition involves four contenders, among whom is the incumbent governor Irina Vlah, who is considered the favorite. The number of competitors could yet rise, but a harsh political confrontation typical of the region is not expected. The unpredictability is related to court proceedings rather than the election results.

Trump cards of Irina Vlah

Incumbent Irina Vlah is for now the only aspirant for the post of governor who was officially registered by the local Central Election Commission. The other contenders are yet to present the lists with 2,000 signatures from supporters and to take the Gagauz language test. The last condition is a novelty. If it had existed four years ago, the path to power of Irina Vlah would have been thornier as she improved her proficiency of the language during her tenure.

The parliamentary elections held in Moldova this February were like a warmup for Irina Vlah’s team and showed the solid position she enjoys in the region as the Socialist candidates she supported in two single-member constituencies scored an overwhelming victory. Now the Socialists and President Igor Dodon declare they will actively support Irina Vlah as a political ally. Nonetheless, even without the Party of Socialist, the current Bashkan has enough electoral trump cards. Even if her opponents challenge her government results, her successful contacts with the supreme administration of Turkey and Russia weigh a lot for many Gagauz voters. 

National patriots and a critic of the power

All the other three candidates – deputy of the People’s Assembly of Gagauzia (APG-Y) Sergey Cimpoeș and activists and entrepreneurs Mihail Vlah and Vasilii Aladov - are in opposition to Irina Vlah. They are to yet present their electoral proposals and their speeches for now consist mainly of criticism of Irina Vlah’s management.

It should be noted that the initiative group that proposed Mihail Vlah as a candidate for governor consisted of ex-Speaker of the APG-Y Dmitri Constantinov and activists of Gagauz patriotic movements that were active locally in the 1080s-1990s. Constantinov displayed his attitude to the incumbent when he refused to accept the jubilee medal handed over to him by her at the start of this years on the occasion of the ordinary anniversary of the “Gagauz referendum” of 2014 and accused her of “conceding the autonomous unit’s powers to Chisinau”.

The presence of Constantinov, who is one of the most important local businessmen, and of the so-called national patriots can secure an active and sonorous election campaign for Mihail Vlah. But their obsession with political matters from the start diminishes their audience that can accept such rhetoric in a pure form, without “social traps”.

For his part, candidate Cimpoeș does not stop at such issues as the powers of Gagauz-Yeri and bases his criticism of the regional power on the challenging of the accomplishments of the team of Irina Vlah in practically all the areas. Besides the absence of clear positive proposals, he also lacks a team that would enable the voters to form an opinion about the future power. In general, Sergey Cimpoeș’s profile could be preferred by the protesting voters who would appreciate the grade given to Irina Vlah’s management and would consider him a suitable alternative.

Democrats’ allies in a crisis

For the first time since 2006, the incumbent’s traditional opponent Nicolai Dudoglo will possibly not run in the elections. He promised he will announce his decision by May 20, but his supporters from the organization “New Gagauzia” already revealed the lack of such an intention.

Last week, the activists of “New Gagauzia” were busy with the collection of signatures in support of the dismemberment of the Central Election Commission of Gagauz-Yeri, which, according to them, serves Irina Vlah. Thus, it seems that Nicolai Dudoglo’s team, instead of taking part in elections, preferred to torpedo this procedure. It is hard to anticipate the chances of obtaining the dissolution of the Commission, but it is absolutely clear that the attempts to achieve this goal will end with image losses for Dudoglo’s team. When anorganization renounces the open confrontation and the struggle for voters in the election campaign and starts to destabilize the political situation, it is highly improbable that the voters will understand such moves, no matter how they regard the Bashkan’s work.

Voter rolls as a reason for not recognizing elections

The request to dismiss the CEC members is not the only factor that destabilizes the situation. They broadly discuss the lists based on which the Bashkan elections should take place in the region. The problem is that the lists for these elections were compiled not based on the registered citizens as in the case of the national register of voters, but according to the number of people who live in Gagauzia on a permanent basis.

The massive population decline witnessed in Moldova during tens of years requires corrections to the electoral procedures. At national level, the problem was solved by reducing the minimum voter turnout  from 50% to 30%. In Gagauz-Yeri, they corrected the voter rolls until recently. The mayor’s offices revised the lists and removed those who live permanently outside Gagauzia. In such a situation, the citizens with the place of residence in Gagauzia, who came to vote at home, could cast their ballots by being put on an additional list.

This is an ambiguous approach to the problem that necessitates balanced treatment and sensible discussions. However, even if the authorities of Gagauzia decide to lower the minimum voter turnout, this could be done after the Bashkan elections. Now this problem could be used to promote the idea that rigging is being prepared and that the election results cannot be trusted. A lawsuit over the election outcome filed by a candidate or a group of voters will not change the current ratio of forces, but could generate political instability.

It is easy to anticipate who the inhabitants of Gagauzia will vote for on June 30. Whether it will be necessary to defend this choice in court or not is another question. There is now unprecedented intrigue in the Bashkan elections.

Veaceslav Craciun, Comrat


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