A pre-electoral delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) visited Chisinau to assess the election campaign and the preparations for the Presidential election to be held on 30 October 2016.
The election campaign environment is mostly characterised by a geopolitical division between “pro-Europe” and “pro-Russia” orientations. It is not in the mandate of the Assembly’s pre-electoral delegation to assess the geopolitical preferences in Moldovan society. The delegation noted that, no matter the geopolitical sensibilities, a number of long-standing serious concerns, identified in the Parliamentary Assembly’s resolutions and election observation reports, still remain unaddressed. In particular, the lack of results in the fight against corruption; the obscure system of funding of political parties and election campaigns including external funding; the monopolisation of many media outlets and lack of transparency concerning their sources of funding; and the role played by oligarchic structures in the country’s political life, especially in the electoral process. The pre-electoral delegation was also informed about the involvement of the Orthodox churches in the election campaigns of some candidates. In this regard, the delegation recalls that the principle of separation between state and religious institutions must be respected.
With regard to the election legislation, the PACE pre-electoral delegation noted that the recent amendments to the election legislation in 2016, if properly implemented, should enable the presidential election to take place in conformity with Council of Europe standards. Nevertheless, despite the adoption of a law limiting the concentration of media ownership, this law will not be fully effective until current licenses have expired.
The Central Election Commission informed the delegation that the registration of presidential candidates was inclusive. Concerning the procedure for collecting signatures, the pre-electoral delegation was informed by different interlocutors about misuse of administrative resources, mostly in favour of the Democratic Party’s candidate. In particular, there were allegations that administrations of some state institutions, such as Moldova’s Post Office, Mold telecom, Moldovagaz, as well as schools and hospitals, put pressure on their own employees to sign the lists. Cases were also reported of misuse of administrative resources in favour of some other potential candidates at the level of local authorities. The Assembly’s delegation strongly condemns such practices, which must be excluded from the election campaign, and recalls the need to de-politicise state institutions, as previously requested by the Assembly. Independent candidates or those from small political parties complained about the high number of signatures required and the regulations concerning their geographical distribution, as well as the short campaign period.
Concerning voter registration, the Central Election Commission expressed confidence in the integrity of the voter registration system. Nevertheless, a number of interlocutors raised concerns about the fact that voter numbers have consistently grown since 2005 while the number of Moldovans emigrating abroad has increased. The Parliamentary Assembly, in its previous observation reports, and the Venice Commission, in its opinions, expressed concern at the lack of transparency over the criteria to determine the number of polling stations abroad. In response to these concerns, recent amendments to the law established two criteria for determining the number of polling stations abroad: the number of voters who participated in previous elections and the result of voluntary online pre-registration of voters abroad. For many stakeholders these criteria seem to be insufficient to ensure the voter’s right to participate effectively to the election. And the resulting number of polling stations does not represent proportionally the voters living in different countries.
Concerning media coverage of the election campaign environment, despite a large number of media outlets with dozens of television channels, according to many interlocutors, media pluralism can be considered as limited because of the dominant role of one media holding group affiliated to one of the political parties. In this regard the Assembly’s delegation recalls that the Audiovisual Code of Moldova obliges all broadcasters to ensure equal, fair and impartial media coverage for all presidential candidates. Unbalanced media coverage and a very high degree of ownership concentration were mentioned in previous PACE reports as a matter of serious concern. The Assembly delegation regrets that, despite its invitation to different media, including the public broadcasters, most of them were not able to meet with the delegation. The delegation asks in particular the public broadcaster to ensure equal access and fair coverage for all registered presidential candidates.
One of the main reasons for the long-standing political crisis in Moldova is the lack of confidence in the state institutions resulting from multiple corruption scandals, including one major bank scandal which had a political impact. This aspect is particularly worrying in a country that faces serious economic and social problems and a high level of poverty. A considerable proportion of the general public is convinced that corruption is common in the Republic of Moldova. With regard to campaign financing, substantial legal amendments were adopted in 2015 addressing some recommendations of the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO). While campaign and party finance legal regulations have improved, for many interlocutors, significant financial resources can still be used for electoral purposes without any control.
The Assembly’s delegation calls on the relevant authorities to take the necessary steps to ensure equal campaign conditions for all registered presidential candidates.
The delegation had meetings with the Prime Minister, with eleven potential presidential candidates or their representatives, the Molodvan parliamentary delegation to PACE, the Chairperson and members of the Central Election Commission, the Chairperson and members of the Audiovisual Co-ordinating Council, representatives of civil society and the media, and representatives of the international community.
The Parliamentary Assembly will send a 22-member delegation to observe the Presidential elections on 30 October 2016.
Members of the delegation:
Elisabeth Schneider-Schneiter (Switzerland, EPP/CD), head of the delegation
Stefan Schennach (Austria, SOC)
Meritxell Mateu (Andorra, ALDE)
Suat Önal (Turkey, EC)
Lotta Johnsson Fornave (Sweden, UEL)