“This election campaign represents a challenge for NGOs” - Info-Prim Neo interview with Nicolae Panfil, Civic Coalition for Free and Fair Elections secretary

[ - As the political organizations and political players, the Civic Coalition for Free and Fair Elections is again on duty as the representative of civil society. What role will the Coalition play in the campaign for the June 5 local elections and are there any new elements in its work, compared with the previous election campaigns?] - Indeed, the Civic Coalition for Free and Fair Elections has already become involved in the current election campaign. Its role derives from its mission – to promote free and fair elections in Moldova. In practical terms, the Coalition will observe the elections, monitor the behavior of the mass media in the election campaign and carry out informational and voter education activities. These three objectives are traditionally dealt with by the Coalition’s members - Promo-LEX Association, the Independent Journalism Center, the Association of Independent Press, the Partnership for Development Center, Contact Center, the Association for Participative Democracy and many other organizations, including local and regional. This year we have local elections, which have local/regional specific features. The Coalition will adapt itself to them and this is the novelty of this campaign. Furthermore, for the first time the Coalition will active cooperate with the Central Election Commission in the organization of awareness-raising and voter education campaigns. [ - As we did not have a special occasion until now, let’s sum up the main lessons learnt by civil society, society in general, and, eventually, the political players in the previous election campaign, which preceded the November 2010 early legislative elections... Will these lessons be taken into account in the current campaign?] - To my mind, the main lesson learnt in the previous election campaigns, including the one for the November 2010 parliamentary elections, is that we need to continuously develop the civic spirit and political culture in society. I convinced myself of this, including after comparing the sociopolitical climate in the March 2011 legislative elections in Estonia and the last election campaigns in Moldova. That’s why I would like to reassert that the electoral education is a priority and the responsibility of the whole society. In this connection, I call on the political class and election runners to discuss in the campaign for the local elections the real problems faced by society and communities and to efficiently use their mobilization potential. Another lesson learnt is that the state institutions play an important role in the smooth running of the elections. I hope such issues as the accuracy of the electoral rolls and efficient monitoring of the broadcasters by the Broadcasting Coordination Council will be addressed much more responsibly than in the previous election campaigns. I’m convinced that the mass media in Moldova will continue to actively cover real subjects that are of major importance to the people. This election campaign is a challenge for the civil society organizations, including the members of the Coalition, as significant effort will be needed to organize electoral education activities. Thus, I hope that more local and regional organizations will get involved in these activities. The NGOs and civil society should not yield to the intimidation and pressure exerted by the election contenders who would aim to thwart the plans to inform the people about the importance of taking part in elections, knowing the candidates and freely making one’s choice. [ - How experienced are the NGOs that will monitor the electoral process? Is it true that the unaccomplished writers are the best literary critics?] - The Civic Coalition for Free and Fair Elections has a rich experience in monitoring the elections. Since 2005, it has taken part in all the elections campaigns held in the country. The members of the Coalition involved in election observation and mass media monitoring activities are competent organizations that are members of different international organizations or employ monitoring methodologies devised and tested by well-known specialized institutions. These organizations have nothing to do with literary critics and unaccomplished writers. The election observation and mass media monitoring reports presented by the Coalition were approved of by the relevant authorities, election runners, mass media and the international community. After the election campaign, the Coalition used these reports to improve the electoral legislation and promote positive practices in the field. [ - What distinct features as regards political competition and the political education of voters can the current election campaign have? I assume the components of the Coalition made certain predictions in this respect when working out their strategies.] - Unfortunately, the electoral authorities have not yet registered election contenders officially, but we already witness an active election campaign where some of the election runners do not hesitate to use the public posts to launch electoral messages, use a populist and inappropriate vocabulary. I advise the people not to believe the populist, sometimes aggressive messages of the election runners, but to pay attention to their proposals and solutions to the problems faced by the communities. [ - What is the level of political culture now and what risks is the electoral process exposed to in this respect?] - Not much was done to develop the political culture in Moldova. In general, the people’s level of political culture is directly proportional to that of the political class. I hope that the people will be more active in these local elections and will have a more responsible behavior as they are directly affected by the socioeconomic problems encountering their communities, and the candidates promise to solve these problems. The main risks to which the electoral process is exposed are related to the way in which the election campaign will be conducted, the correct or incorrect, civilized or less civilized behavior of the election runners, the mass media and the electoral authorities. [ - Where did you get money from to implement projects in the current election campaign? How will you respond to the almost inevitable accusations of election runners that civil society fulfils the orders of the backers?] - As the Coalition is a union of public organizations, each of them planned differently the activities that they will implement in the near future. Some of the members of the Coalition received confirmation from the donors that they will support the voter education, election observation and mass media monitoring projects, while others are still waiting for answers from potential backers. However, many of the organizations already started to prepare for the implementation of the given projects and we are convinced that we will manage to assert ourselves in this campaign. As to the permanent accusations, I can say that the civil society organizations have missions and objectives that they should accomplish for Moldova’s benefit and the foreign donor’s support contributes essentially to the improvement of the situation in different areas. I can also say that the forces that do not want civil society in Moldova to be active and the people to be informed and make a conscious choice on the election day are actually afraid of the activities carried out by the NGOs. [ - Where do the Moldovan parties and independent candidates raise the financing necessary for the election campaign from? What the Coalition can do to shed light on this and make things transparent?] - If you want a complete and sincere answer to this question, only the election runners that honestly declare their sources of financing and the real costs incurred in the campaign can tell you. But I doubt that there are many such contenders. I think that the Central Election Commission can significantly contribute to a better situation by improving the electoral legislation and the forms of reporting on the costs and sources of financing, by not accepting incomplete financial reports, etc. The Coalition can help by monitoring the electoral process and the sources of financing and spending of the election contenders in the campaigns and by sharing its experience in improving the electoral legislation. [ - Is election monitoring by civil society an inevitable and irreversible process in Moldova? Why do we need this second facet of the electoral process?] - Until the political class and election runners have an uncivilized behavior in the election campaigns, the election results are endlessly disputed by the election runners, the people do not actively take part in the elections and the mass media covers the election campaigns depending on the financial possibilities of the election runners, we will need civil society organizations that will monitor the elections. I want to believe that the June 5 local elections will confirm the positive trends and improved climate of the electoral processes in Moldova. [Valeriu Vasilica, Info-Prim Neo]

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