CG/Bur (10) 89
Report on the regional elections in Gagauzia, Moldova (16 & 30 November 2003)

Rapporteur: Mr Christopher NEWBURY (United Kingdom)

Document adopted by the Bureau of the Congress on 13 February 2004


A – SUMMARY OF THE REPORT

1 – THE CONTEXT

The Region of Gagauzia was established as an autonomous territorial entity by an organic law enacted by the Moldovan Parliament on 23 December 1994. The Law provides for the establishment of an elected regional legislature (the People’s Assembly) with powers to adopt legal Acts within the limit of its competences and an executive (the Governor of Gagauzia, known as the Bashkan). The region’s executive power is embodied in the Executive Committee, which is chaired by the Bashkan.

Elections were held on 16 and 30 November 2003 to elect thirty-five members of the People’s Assembly of Gagauzia

2 – THE ELECTORAL CAMPAIGN

The nomination of candidates and their registration generally went smoothly. One case of refusal to register a candidate was settled by a court decision in favour of the person making complaint.

The electoral campaign was low-key with very limited coverage in the mass media. On the streets of Comrat and other cities, there were practically no signs of an election campaign in progress, except for some Communist Party posters. Candidates preferred in the main house-to-house canvassing.

Major complaints lodged with the Congress observation mission concerned:

· the pressure on a number of candidates to withdraw their candidacy from the lists of opposition parties
· biased coverage and unequal access to the mass media
· intervention of the state apparatus in the campaign
· use of public resources for the benefit of candidates of the majority in power.

3 – ELECTION DAY

On the whole, voting was conducted smoothly in a calm atmosphere. Most electoral administrators worked in a commendably professional manner. The staff in the polling stations, among them a large number of women, performed well despite difficult weather conditions.

Among major concerns noted were:

· the procedure did not guarantee the secrecy of vote
· police were present inside many polling stations and very near to others
· family voting was widespread
· many polling stations had an excessive number of voters on their lists
· there were very long supplementary electoral registers
· the results of voting at each polling station were not displayed.

4 – THE SECOND ROUND

The runoff election which took place on 30 November 2003 marked an improvement over the first round, in particular with regard to the election administration, which was generally in line with international standards for transparency and accountability. The electoral authorities should be commended on the improved quality of ballot papers.

The major shortcomings observed were almost identical to those observed during the first round: the secrecy of the vote not respected, police were again present inside many polling stations, and family voting was again observed, though the latter was somewhat less widespread. Significant shortcomings in the implementation of the Election Law with regard to the order of stamping ballot papers were also observed in a number of polling stations.

The electoral campaigning between the first and second rounds was reported to have been calm, and the turnout on election day was again low.

The Central Electoral Committee declared the results in good time.

5 – CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

The overall impression of the Congress observation mission was that while the electoral administration was generally good, the elections fell short of international standards in some regards. The second round of the election showed an improvement over the first, in particular with regard to the electoral administration, which was generally in line with international standards for transparency and accountability. The count and declaration of results were conducted efficiently and in a democratic spirit.

Among the major concerns noted were persistent problems with the secrecy of the vote, the presence of police inside many polling stations, and widespread family voting. The accuracy of voter lists was still a problem in some places.

Such problems have become recurrent at a number of elections. In this context, the Congress delegation wishes to draw the attention of the Moldovan authorities to the lack of real progress in implementing its previous recommendations in such regards and to stress the importance of modifying the legislative framework of Gagauzia to bring it fully into line with the Electoral Code of the Republic of Moldova. It is also very important that the government and all responsible should ensure full implementation of existing laws and values, to create the necessary conditions for free and fair elections.

The Congress delegation regrets to report that the electoral campaign was not conducted neutrally and impartially, in line with European standards.

The delegation makes the following recommendations to the Bureau of the Congress in particular:

    · continued monitoring of the electoral situation in the Autonomous Region of Gagauzia and of the aftermath of these elections (with regard to appeals to law, the declarations of results, and any other consequences);

    · the provision of training for newly elected regional representatives;

    · the provision of assistance in the implementation of the regional legislation and democratic development programmes.

The delegation also requests that this report be transmitted to the Council for Democratic Elections, as well as to the usual address list.

B - REPORT

1 – INTRODUCTION

Following an invitation from the President of the national delegation of Moldova, Mr Serafim URECHEAN, the Council of Europe’s Congress of Local and Regional Authorities observed the parliamentary elections held in the Autonomous Region of Gagauzia (Moldova) on 16 and 30 November 2003.

The Congress delegation included four elected members from the Congress, an expert and two members of the Secretariat (see Annex I).

The head of delegation was Mr Yavuz MILDON (Turkey), Vice-President of the Congress and Rapporteur for regional democracy in Moldova, while Mr Christopher NEWBURY (United Kingdom) acted as Rapporteur for the mission.

The delegation received the support of the Secretary General’s Special Representative in Chisinau, Mr Vladimir FILIPOV, and his colleagues. The delegation would like to thank them for their valuable and efficient assistance.

For a timetable of the delegation’s meetings and work, see Annexe II.

2 - THE CONTEXT

a) The Republic of Moldova in the Council of Europe

The Republic of Moldova has been a member of the Council of Europe since 13 July 1995 and ratified the European Charter of Local Self-Government on 2 October 1997. The situation in Moldova in general, and in the region of Gagauzia in particular, has been the subject of close scrutiny by the Congress over a number of years, in the form of monitoring and information reports as well as the observation of elections.

b) The Autonomous Region of Gagauzia

The Region of Gagauzia was established as an autonomous territorial entity by an organic law enacted by the Moldovan Parliament on 23 December 1994. The Law provides for the establishment of an elected regional legislature (the People’s Assembly) with powers to adopt legal Acts within the limit of its competences and an executive (the Governor of Gagauzia, known as the Bashkan). The region’s executive power is embodied in the Executive Committee, which is chaired by the Bashkan.

A constitutional amendment passed by the national parliament in March 2002 stipulates that Gagauzia is a territorial autonomy enjoying special status within the Republic of Moldova.

With aim of settling the long-standing conflict with Transnistria, President VORONIN of Moldova has recently launched a new initiative which proposes a federation in which Gagauzia’s status is to be strengthened.

c) the legal framework

The legal system of Gagauzia is determined, in order of priority, by:

    1. the Moldovan Constitution
    2. the Moldovan Law on the Special Status of Gagauzia (23 December 1994)
    3. the Legal Code of Gagauzia (1998).

A Central Electoral Committee based in Comrat is responsible for conducting legislative elections in Gagauzia. It has nine members, three from the People’s Assembly of Gagauzia, three from the regional Executive Committee, and three judges. The Central Electoral Committee of Moldova, based in Chisinau, has only a consultative and co-ordinating role in the conduct of such elections.

The administration of elections in Moldova is conducted on the basis of the Electoral Code of Moldova, modified in 1999, 2000, 2002 and 2003. However, as Gagauzia is an autonomous region, it has its own Law on Elections to the People’s Assembly, which was adopted in 1999. Consequently, this law provided the legal basis for the elections held on 16 and 30 November 2003.

The Gagauzian Law contains two major divergences from the Electoral Code of Moldova:

      - the former stipulates that voters shall mark their choice on ballot papers by marking a cross inside a circle, whereas the latter provides for the use of a special rubber stamp with the inscription “votat”.
      - in the law, a ballot paper issued in Gagauzia shall be stamped just before it is handed to a voter, whereas the Electoral Code stipulates that this shall be done after the voter has made his or her choice and before the ballot paper is put into the ballot box.

These divergences were addressed by the Central Electoral Committee of Gagauzia in instructing polling stations that a rubber stamp be provided to voters and that ballot papers be stamped after voters had made their choice.

In accordance with the legislation, in order to be elected in the first round, a candidate needs to receive a ‘qualified majority’ of the votes cast, namely, 50 per cent plus one. If no candidate achieves such a majority, a second round of the election must be held within two weeks. Only the two candidates who have received the greatest number of votes in the first round are on the ballot in the second round, a relative majority of the votes cast suffices for election. In the case of an equality of votes between the two remaining candidates, the one who received the most votes in the first round is elected, provided one third of the registered voters took part in the election.

The previous parliamentary elections in Gagauzia were held on 22 August 1999. The Congress also observed the election of a Bashkan held on 6 and 22 October 2002.

d) the regional elections of 17 and 30 November 2003

The elections were held for the purpose of electing thirty-five members to the People’s Assembly of Gagauzia, in accordance with the law of December 1994.

3 – THE ELECTORAL CAMPAIGN

a) nomination and registration of candidates

185 candidates stood for election, namely:

- 68 independent candidates (though 22 of them were supporters of the Communist Party, according to its newspaper)
- 28 candidates formally representing the Communist Party
- 21 representing the ‘Ravnopravia’ movement for equal rights
- 20 representing the “Our Moldova” bloc
- 14 representing the Party of Socialists
- 13 representing the Democratic Party
- 7 representing the Socialist Party
- 7 representing the Centrist Party
- 6 representing the Republican Party
- 1 representing the Agrarian Party

The nomination of candidates and their registration by the Central Electoral Commission went generally smoothly, despite fears that a number of candidates would be removed from the lists on the charge of providing false income declarations. This did not happen. One case of refusal to register a candidate was settled by a court decision in favour of the person complaining.

By comparison with the election for Bashkan in October 2002, the CEC of Gagauzia is considered to have acted more transparently and efficiently, in particular with regard to the timetable for the elections.

The electoral campaign was low-key, with little attention by the mass media. In the streets of Comrat and other cities, there were almost no signs of an election campaign apart from some Communist Party posters. Candidates preferred in the main house-to-house canvassing. Public television and radio stations were obliged to provide two minutes of air time to each candidate without charge. Each candidate was also allowed a total of up to 75 minutes of paid broadcast time on television and radio stations, but no more than two minutes a day on any one broadcast media outlet.

The delegation received a number of complaints which referred alleged violations of the standards for electoral campaigns, such as those contained in the Venice Commission’s code of good practice in electoral matters1.

b) intimidation of candidates

A number of cases were reported to the Congress delegation of pressure being put on candidates of opposition parties to withdraw from the elections. Several candidates with public service occupations alleged that they had been threatened with the loss of their jobs after the elections, or that they had been forced to leave under pressure, as in the case of a social services counsellor of the Regional Administration.

Such intimidation created an atmosphere of fear among candidates. As a result, it appears that a number of candidates decided not to stand for election in the name of an opposition party and stood instead as independents.

c) Biased coverage and unequal access to the mass media

It emerged from a number of reports received by the delegation that the provisions on electoral campaigns in the media, and especially in the publicly-owned media, had been disregarded. Opposition candidates did not have equal access to the publicly-owned media, while its coverage was often biased in favour of the party in power.

One specific case of refusal to publish campaign material in the publicly-owned newspaper of Gagauzia was reported to the delegation.

d) State intervention in the electoral campaign

There was clear indication of the state authorities’ intervention in the election campaign. The personal involvement of the President’s office and of the President himself in the campaign should be noted. On the eve of the elections, President VORONIN of Moldova made a visit to Comrat and gave assurances that the government will support the idea of Gagauzia being a self-governing region within an eventual federation, the project for which is being elaborated by a Constitutional working group.

e) The use of administrative resources in the campaign

The delegation received allegations concerning the use of state radio and television, and also of the state’s ministries, prefectures, and other enterprises and their staff in campaigns for the benefit of certain candidates .

The delegation also received a copy of an official complaint lodged with the CEC concerning the use of vehicles of the Comrat District Administration for transporting the Communist Party’s election material from Chisinau to Comrat. Following this complaint, the CEC issued a warning to the Gagauzian State Authorities against such actions in the future.

f) Overall conclusions on the electoral campaign

The delegation considers that although the electoral campaign in Gagauzia was an improvement over that preceding the local elections of May and June 2003, it nevertheless fell short in some regards of European standards, most notably in that the fundamental principle of the equality of opportunity for candidates (as set out the Venice Commission’s Code of good practice) was not respected.

4 – ELECTION DAY

Voting began at 7 a.m. and ended at 9 p.m. It was conducted in 64 polling stations.

The Congress’s three teams of observers visited some thirty polling stations, around all three districts of Gagauzia. The Congress delegation coordinated its observation with an OSCE/ODIHR monitoring mission and made use of the document drawn up by the Venice Commission’s Council for Democratic Elections entitled “Guidelines for the evaluation of elections”.

The Congress mission’s main conclusions with respect to polling day are set out below.

Positive aspects

· On the whole, voting was conducted smoothly
· polling stations were well-organised, electoral committee members were almost all present and were generally well-informed about tasks and procedures.
· The atmosphere in polling stations was calm.
· In the polling stations where it was observed, the count was well conducted.
· A large number of observers from different parties and representatives of candidates were present in all polling stations visited.
· Apart from widespread family voting, the observers did not see flagrant irregularities in the way voting was conducted, nor any obvious pressure on voters.
· The electoral administrators worked mostly in a commendably professional manner. The staff in the polling stations, among them a large number of women, performed well despite difficult weather conditions.

Problems

a) the polling stations

According to the Electoral Code, the number of voters allowed by law to be registered at each polling station is between a minimum of 30 and a maximum of 3000.

A large number of the sixty-four polling stations had 2000 or more registered voters. This was a very high number, in view of the length of the procedure, including identity checks, and considering that in many instances only two polling booths were provided. However, this problem was offset by the relatively low turnout at the elections as well as by voting being conducted over fourteen hours (from 7 am to 9 pm).

Voting conditions in many polling stations were inadequate. Some of them were situated on a second floor, and access to these made great difficulties for older and handicapped people.

b) the secrecy of the ballot

The voting procedure provided for in the Gagauzian Election Law includes the ballot paper being stamped to “validate” it once the voter has made his or her choice.

The delegation noted that in many cases this procedure enabled the member of the electoral committee responsible for stamping the paper, or one of the observers or candidates’ representatives, or even the policeman present to see how electors had voted.

This is a flagrant violation of the secrecy of the ballot, and the procedure should be changed in one of two ways:

- by stamping the ballot paper before the individual has voted (preferred); or

- by using envelopes which would be sealed and stamped

c) the presence of the police

The observers noted the presence of police officers inside many polling stations or very near to others. One police officer was even observed to be present during the counting.

Their presence was often stated to be required by the need for “maintaining order” at polling stations. The Election Law, however, makes it clear that the police may only be summoned to a polling station at the specific request of its chairman to “re-establish order” (Article 65 (10)), which implies that incidents have taken place justifying the entrance of the police into a polling station.

This practice, which has already been criticised several times at previous elections, constitutes a violation of the Code of good practice in electoral matters.

d) family voting

This was widespread, not least in rural areas. Some precinct committees seemed to take it even for granted. This practice is a clear violation of the secrecy of the vote and should be combated vigorously by the strict application of the election law, which is quite explicit on the issue.

e) the supplementary electoral registers

Citizens not enrolled on the electoral register are able to enrol on “supplementary” electoral registers compiled by the polling station electoral committee, upon presentation of documents proving the voter’s place of residence. This is on the whole favourable to voters, who are thus able to exercise their right to vote even where an error has been made in the electoral register.

However, the number of people enrolled on such lists was sometimes far too high, in some cases accounting for twenty per cent of those voting at the election. The same was observed during the local elections held in May and June 2003, which seems to suggest that no significant progress has been made in this regard.

It should be admitted, nevertheless, that the members of precinct committees the delegation observed strictly checked the identity of the voter and his or her place of residence before adding his or her name to the electoral register.

f) the count

The count generally took place without incident.

It should be noted, however, that the procedure is a cumbersome one. The requirement that all unused ballot papers be cancelled by stamping is a tiresome operation (only one cancellation stamp was provided to each polling station) and its usefulness is open to question.

g) the declaration of results

Results are to be declared at each polling station. However, failure to post results outside the polling stations makes it difficult to cross-check with information received from the higher levels. This problem seems to be all the greater since the current law stipulates that copies of the election results be provided to observers at their own expense. Such charges should be deleted in the election law, and the results should be posted outside each polling station.

According to the Central Electoral Committee of Gagauzia, only 14 out of 185 candidates standing for the 35 seats in the Assembly were elected in the first round, garnering at least 50 per cent of the poll. Eight of them represented the Communist Party of Moldova and another six were independents.

5 – THE SECOND ROUND

A second round of the election was held on 30 November 2003 in 21 electoral divisions.

a) the electoral campaign

Campaigning between the first and second round of the elections was reported to have been calm and the voter turnout was again low.

b) election day

On 30 November, the Congress monitoring mission was deployed in two districts (Comrat and Chadir-Lunga) and visited 23 polling stations out of 46.

The overall impression of the Congress mission was that the run-off elections marked an improvement over the first round, in particular with regard to the election administration, which was generally in line with international standards for transparency and accountability. The electoral authorities should be commended on the improved quality of the ballot papers.

c) second round conclusions

On the whole, the Congress observers found the second round similar to the first:

    · the elections were generally well-administered

    · procedures in the polling stations generally ran smoothly

The delegation noted the same significant problems with respect to:

    · the secrecy of the ballot

    · the police presence in many polling stations seemed to be routine

    · family voting persisted, though it was observed less frequently

The inaccuracy of the voter lists was still a problem.

The mission found significant divergences in the implementation of the Election Law with regard to the order of stamping ballot papers.

d) the declaration of results

The Central Electoral Committee announced the preliminary results of the second round of the elections without delay.

The elections were considered valid in all but one polling station.

6 - CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

a) Conclusions

The overall impression of the Congress observation mission is that voting was administered quite satisfactorily, although the elections fell short of international standards in some regards. The second round marked an improvement over the first, in particular with regard to the election administration, which was generally in line with international standards for transparency and accountability. The delegation noted the improvement in the quality of ballot papers in the second round.

Nevertheless, the Congress mission observed during both rounds the same shortcomings and deficiencies relating to the secrecy of the vote, the presence of the police inside some polling station buildings or very near to others, and family voting. The inaccuracy of the voter lists is still a problem. The mission found important divergences in the implementation of the Election Law with regard to the order of stamping the ballot papers. The parallel application of the regional electoral law and the Moldovan Election Code also needs to be addressed

The Congress delegation received a number of complaints relating to the intimidation of opposition candidates, misuse of administrative resources and unequal treatment by the state media. The delegation regrets the fact that the election campaign, although on the whole very low-key, was not conducted neutrally and impartially as required by European standards (in particular, the Venice Commission’s code of good practice in electoral matters).

These problems have become recurrent at a number of elections. In this context, the Congress delegation wishes to draw the attention of the Moldovan authorities to the lack of real progress in implementing its previous recommendations in such regards and to stress the importance of modifying the legislative framework of Gagauzia to bring it fully into line with the Electoral Code of the Republic of Moldova. It is also very important that the government and all others responsible should ensure full implementation of the existing laws and values to create the necessary conditions for free and fair elections.

b) Recommendations

On the basis of these observations, the delegation suggests the following lines of action to the Bureau:

1 – to follow closely the development of regional democracy in Gagauzia

Taking into account Recommendation 110 and Resolution 132, as well as the conclusions and recommendations contained in the adopted reports on previous local and regional elections, the delegation proposes that the Congress continue to follow the situation of local democracy in Moldova in general and in Gagauzia in particular from the perspective of their implementation.

2 – to make an assessment of the Law on Elections to the People’s Assembly of Gagauzia and its compatibility with the Electoral Code of Moldova

The delegation points out important divergences of the Gagausian Election Law from the Electoral Code that should be addressed without delay. Furthermore, the latter itself, having been amended many times in recent years, needs to be re-examined. Renewed analysis, as suggested by the rapporteurs on the local elections held in May and June 2003, might make it possible to suggest improvements to the authorities in order to bring it better into line with the Code of good practice in electoral matters, particularly with respect to preserving the secrecy of the ballot

3 – training for newly elected regional representatives

In view of the number of new members elected to the People’s Assembly of Gagauzia, the delegation suggests that training for newly elected representatives should be provided urgently, in particular in the principles of the European Charter of Local Self-Government and in the questions of regional planning and development. Such action could be assisted by the Congress’s European Network of Training Organisations for Local and Regional Authorities (ENTO) which possesses a wealth of expertise in this field.

Such actions might, for example, be developed in co-operation with donor organisations.

4 - raising awareness of local and regional democracy, generating consensus on decentralisation and developing co-operation between different spheres

There is still a very marked “old” mentality, whereby orders come down from above and at the local level people obey them. Like the population at large, many officials do not really understand what local self-government means. Awareness-building must be an important element of the government’s actions and the Council of Europe’s assistance programmes.

5 - developing leadership and enhancing the capabilities of regional and local politicians and staff

This is an important issue, as some local and regional government officials in Moldova have limited professional qualifications and fail to provide services at the appropriate level. This is also true of politicians, many of whom fail to provide suitable leadership to their communities.

6 – disseminating the conclusions of this report

In view of the importance of its observations and conclusions, the delegation suggests that the Bureau disseminate this report widely in order to maintain pressure on the Moldovan authorities to bring about an improvement in the situation.

The report might be distributed:

    · to the following Council of Europe bodies: the Committee of Ministers, the Secretary General, the Parliamentary Assembly, and the Venice Commission’s Council for Democratic Elections

    · to the Moldovan news agencies and media

    · by publication on the Congress’s web site

C – ANNEXES

Annexe I

Members of the Delegation (First Round)

Mr Yavuz MILDON, Turkey, R, Head of Delegation
Vice-President of the CLRAE

Mr Christopher NEWBURY, United Kingdom, L, Rapporteur
Chairman of the Institutional Committee of the Local Chamber

Mr Mykola FEDORUK, Ukraine, L

Mr Joseph BORG, Malta, R

Mr Dan MEDREA, Romania, expert

Mr Vyacheslav TOLKOVANOV, CLRAE Secretariat

Mr Ivan VOLODIN, CLRAE Secretariat

Mr Vladimir FILIPOV, Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary General to Moldova Str. Bonulescu Bodoni bl.57/1

Members of the Delegation (Second Round)

Mr Joseph BORG, Malta, R

Mr Dan MEDREA, Romania, expert

Mr Ivan VOLODIN, CLRAE Secretariat

Annexe II

Congress Monitoring Mission for the First Round of
Regional Elections in Gagauzia (Republic of Moldova)

Programme for 14–17 November 2003

Congress Monitoring Mission for the Second Round of
Regional Elections in Gagauzia (Republic of Moldova)

Programme for 28–30 November 2003

Annexe III

PRESS RELEASE

By the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe observation mission for elections to the People’s Assembly of Gagauzia, Republic of Moldova

Chisinau, 17 November 2003

Voting at the elections to the People’s Assembly of the Autonomous Region of Gagauzia held on 16 November 2003 was conducted smoothly, although falling short of international standards in some regards, concluded the observation mission of the Council of Europe’s Congress of Local and Regional Authorities.

Among major concerns noted were persistent problems with the secrecy of the vote, the presence of police inside many polling stations and very near to others, and widespread family voting. These problems have become recurrent at a number of elections. In this context, the Congress delegation wishes to draw the attention of the Moldovan authorities to the lack of real progress in implementing its previous recommendations in such regards and to stress the importance of modifying the legislative framework of Gagauzia to bring it fully into line with the Electoral Code of the Republic of Moldova. It is also crucial that the government and all stakeholders should ensure full implementation of existing laws and values to create the necessary conditions for free and fair elections.

On the eve of election day, the Congress delegation received a number of complaints relating to the intimidation of opposition candidates, misuse of administrative resources and unequal treatment by the state media.

The Head of the Congress observation mission Mr Yavuz Mildon, commented: “The electoral administrators worked mostly in a commendably professional manner. The staff in the polling stations, among them a large number of women, performed well despite difficult weather conditions. Their contribution strengthens confidence in the electoral process in Gagauzia.”

The Council of Europe observation mission was deployed in all three districts of Gagauzia and visited some 30 polling stations. The delegation consisted of Mr Yavuz Mildon (Turkey, Head of Delegation), Mr Christopher Newbury (United Kingdom, Rapporteur), Mr Mykola Fedoruk (Ukraine), Mr Dan P. Medrea (expert) and Mr Ivan Volodin and Mr Vycheslav Tolkovanov (Congress Secretariat).

1 “Code of good practice in electoral matters” adopted by the Venice Commission, the Parliamentary Assembly and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe (Resolution 148 – 2003).

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