Statement of Nadine Gogu,
Acting director of the Independent Journalism Center from the Republic of Moldova
the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission)
“Moldova’s Recent Elections: Prospects for Change
in Europe’s Poorest Country”
August 6, 2009
U.S. Congress, Washington, DC
I sincerely appreciate the opportunity to speak today in front of you on the state of democracy in Moldova and, on behalf of Moldovan civil society, I would like to express my gratitude for the interest the Commission expresses in the current situation in Moldova. Also I would like to thank the Moldova Foundation for making this possible.
I represent the Independent Journalism Center (IJC), one of the leading Moldovan NGOs that supports the independent press and promotes freedom of expression. IJC is a member of the Council of the Civic Coalition for Fair and Free Elections - Coalition 2009, which comprises over 70 domestic NGOs with the goal to contribute to ensuring transparent and democratic elections. Today, I would like to share with you the perspective IJC has gained as a member of the Coalition 2009 while monitoring the electoral process during two election campaigns this year.
Background: Despite the fact that during the last year the Moldovan government was asked repeatedly by a series of international institutions to ensure free and fair elections in 2009, the government did not take all the necessary actions to guarantee that the campaign for parliamentary elections of April 5 is conducted according to democratic principles and international standards. Moldovan authorities failed to ensure a fair environment for all electoral contestants; did not provide in full voters abroad the possibility to participate in April’s poll. Also, not all electoral contestants and civil society experts had access to public media outlets, which were biased towards the ruling party; central and local governments heavily misused administrative resources. The most significant irregularity however was the inaccuracy of voters’ lists that did include names of long ago deceased persons, names of unknown people who were registered at the same addresses with owners of properties.
All these reasons determined people to go into the streets and protest against the way parliamentary elections of April 5 were conducted; to protest against the results of elections, against alleged frauds. Unfortunately peaceful protests degenerated into violence and riots. After the three opposition parties that entered the Parliament decided not to cooperate with the Communist Party, the Parliament failed to elect the president. Consequently, new parliamentary elections had to be called.
Although so many irregularities were registered during the first campaign, the authorities did learn no lesson: the election campaign for early parliamentary elections of July 29 did not differ too much from the previous campaign. The main difference was that the later was more aggressive and the media did resort to manipulating the public opinion, in some cases serving as propaganda machine for promoting the electoral contestants’ platforms.
The pre-election period: The entire period from April 7 to July 29 was dominated by a climate of fear, anxiety and distrust, which was perpetuated by authorities. Tensions started with the Prime Minister appeal to parents to forbid their children to join protests, threatening that the police would have to use weapons if the protests would turn violent again, and continued with arrests of young people, mistreatment and even cases of torture while in custody; harassment of both domestic and foreign journalists as well as NGOs; intimidation of ordinary citizens by Intelligence Service officers; pressures on local businesses; discrediting the opposition leaders through the media. The main broadcasters, including the public TV and radio stations, which are the only source of information for many people in rural areas, presented only the authorities’ perspective on post-election events. All these reasons led to self-censorship among media, NGOs and business entities; led to increased confusion and tension among people and divided the nation into two antagonized camps.
Election campaign for early parliamentary elections: The Coalition for Fair and Free Election - Coalition 2009 did assess the last election campaign as being partly free and not fair. Why? Mainly because the Moldovan authorities did not comply with the Venice Commission’s standards and failed to ensure a fair environment for all candidates: dozens of cases of intimidation of contestants and voters, including by the police, were confirmed; candidates were discriminated by the state authorities; the separation between the state and the Communist/ ruling party was not fully ensured, dozens of cases of misuse of the administrative recourses and electoral gift-giving were confirmed. Like in the previous campaign, the authorities did not ensure the right of all citizens to vote. The decision to have the Election Day in the middle of vacation season and in the middle of the week could compromise the ability of students, voters from Transnistrian region and those working abroad to vote. Transnistrian voters were not well informed on electoral contestants’ strategies and some of them could not vote in Corjova (a locality under the Moldovan jurisdiction) because the access to the polling stations was blocked by an organized group of individuals.
Domestic, as well as OSCE’s and European Parliaments’ observers, reported again on inaccuracy of voters’ lists which included names of deceased and unknown persons, on the media bias and misuse of resources by public authorities. They noted that the main TV and radio channels failed to cover all candidates in a fair and balanced manner in their newscasts, favoring the Communist Party both in terms of time and tone of coverage, and discrediting the opposition parties; in many cases, the media did not comply with the Broadcasting Code, Electoral Code and Central Election Commission Regulation on media coverage during the election campaign; and the Broadcast Coordinating Council failed to enforce legislation requiring impartial and balanced coverage of the campaign.
Even under such circumstances, people showed increased interest to these elections and did vote actively, with about 60% of voters’ turnout. These results show that most people do realize that they are the ones to decide the future of the country, that they are the ones who can punish a political party by not voting for it or by voting for another party.
The post-election period: What do we have after July 29? Five parties did pass the threshold of 5% and did enter the new Parliament, the Communist Party leading with 48 seats and four opposition parties having 53 seats. Since no party succeeded to win the majority of seats in the Parliament, no one can form the government and elect the new president by itself. Negotiations among opposition parties have started earlier this week; hopefully they will manage to overcome tensions and will be able to create a coalition in order to elect a president, form a government and start working.
Priorities: First of all the new government should develop programs and take actions to ensure the respect for the rule of law and human rights. Judiciary reform in order to depoliticize the legal system is needed in this respect. Also, members of the new coalition should develop a platform oriented towards uniting the country; they should join their efforts to bring to an end the political crisis and, implicitly, to diminish the effects of the economic crisis. Programs that would enhance the investment climate and business environment in order to overcome the economic crisis should be developed, whereas re-establishing normal relations with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank should be a priority.
Also, the new coalition should focus on eliminating gaps that were mentioned in the country report on EU - Moldova Action Plan, such as ensuring independence of judiciary, freedom of the media and freedom of expression, fighting corruption and guaranteeing fairness in future elections. Programs oriented to support the media development, to create a fair environment for all media, not based on their loyalty towards the government, should be promoted. Only in this way the democratization of the country will be possible.
Evidently, it is the Moldovan authorities’ responsibility to ensure all these democratic reforms. But they will need support from governments with greater expertise. The United States and the EU have a significant role to play in this respect. The democracy support programs of the US and the EU, such as the Millennium Challenge Account and European Union's Neighborhood Policy, will assist Moldova in its efforts to strengthen the democratic institutions. Also, strengthening civil society and the press through a series of democracy-support activities will benefit not only those organizations, but the whole society in the long run.