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Parliamentary elections in the Republic of Moldova: statement by pre-electoral delegation

Statement of the PACE pre-electoral delegation ahead of the Parliamentary elections in the Republic of Moldova

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 Parliamentary elections to be held on 24 February 2019.

With regard to the legal framework, the Assembly’s pre-electoral delegation noted that in July 2017 the Republic of Moldova adopted fundamental changes to the Electoral Code introducing a mixed electoral system with one national constituency electing 50 members of Parliament by proportional representation from closed party lists, together with 51 members elected from 51 new single-member constituencies on a first-past-the-post majority basis.

In this regard, the Council of Europe Venice Commission and OSCE/ODIHR, in their joint opinion, adopted in March 2018, pointed out that the new electoral system is contrary to prior recommendations. In particular, the election stakeholders in single-member constituencies could be vulnerable to undue influence and manipulation by well-resourced local business people. While it is the sovereign decision of Moldovan legislators to make such changes to the electoral system, nevertheless, the PACE pre-electoral delegation shares the Venice Commission’s concern, especially since in the past such recurring problems were observed in the country. In addition, the delegation was informed that the new electoral system may be too complicated for the understanding of many voters.

The election campaign just started and political parties and candidates are in general able to campaign freely. Nevertheless, the delegation was informed by different interlocutors about a number of long-standing concerns which still remain unaddressed. In particular, cases of intimidation and violence against candidates; cases of hate speech, including against women candidates; cases of misuse of administrative resources; allegations of vote buying; cases of involvement of public employees in the signature collection procedure; cases of distribution of electoral gifts during election campaign events involving charitable foundations associated with certain political parties. For some interlocutors, the use of video-cameras in polling stations can be perceived as a means of pressurizing voters.

The Assembly’s delegation condemns such practices in the election campaign and asks the relevant authorities to take all necessary measures to exclude them.

The delegation noted that the technical aspects of the elections are well managed by the Central Election Commission, even if the new electoral system and the referenda still require further clarification. The CEC informed the delegation that the registration of parties and candidates was inclusive. Concerning voter registration, a number of interlocutors raised concerns about the fact that voter numbers have consistently grown while the number of Moldovans emigrating abroad has increased.

Due to the high number of Moldovan citizens residing abroad, the criteria for the establishment of single-member constituencies is a significant issue. The revised Electoral Code provides for three such constituencies. The establishment of these constituencies also has a significant political impact as voters residing in different countries tend to support different political parties.

The Parliamentary Assembly, in its previous observation reports, expressed concern at the lack of transparency of the criteria to determine the number of polling stations abroad. For many stakeholders these criteria should ensure the voter’s right to participate effectively in the elections. The delegation believes that the increase in the number of ballot papers assigned to each polling station may not solve the problem, if the number and the location of polling stations is not in proportion to the voters living in different countries.

Many interlocutors mentioned the issue of a lack of confidence in state institutions resulting from multiple corruption scandals. This aspect is particularly worrying in a country with a high level of poverty. A considerable proportion of the general public is convinced that corruption is common in the Republic of Moldova and that the judiciary lack independence. With regard to campaign financing, while legal regulations on campaign and party finance have improved and the parties’ election expenditures reports are provided in due form, for many interlocutors, significant financial resources can still be used for electoral purposes without any efficient control by State authorities.

The Audiovisual Coordinating Council and the Public Broadcaster informed the delegation that equal access of parties and candidates is ensured according to the legislation. Nevertheless, the delegation was informed about increasingly frequent cases of pressure, threats and verbal and physical attacks on independent journalists during the months preceding the elections. Media pluralism can be considered as limited because most of the media are affiliated with the main political parties and the advertising media is under their control. A very high degree of ownership concentration, the monopolisation of many media outlets and a lack of transparency concerning their sources of funding were mentioned in previous PACE reports as a matter of serious concern.

The pre-electoral delegation recalls the Assembly’s Resolution 2254 adopted on 23 January 2019 on ”Media freedom as a condition for democratic elections”, which, in particular, recommends “to promote a free, independent and pluralist media environment as an essential precondition for combating discrimination and undue propaganda; to avoid media concentration, also paying attention to the problem of cross ownership; to ensure total transparency vis-à-vis the public when media are owned by political parties or politicians”. The delegation asks the public broadcaster in particular to ensure equal access and, most importantly, well-balanced and fair coverage for all registered political parties and candidates according to the legislation.

The PACE pre-electoral delegation recalls that the Assembly has observed all parliamentary and presidential elections in the Republic of Moldova since 1994. Unfortunately, some recurrent problems still remain unaddressed. Moreover, the upcoming elections will be held under the new electoral system which is contrary to the Venice Commission’s prior recommendations. Therefore, the delegation calls on the relevant authorities to take the necessary steps to ensure the right of citizens to free elections according to the international commitments of the Republic of Moldova.

The authorities of the Republic of Moldova stressed the importance of objective observation of elections; they assured the Assembly’s pre-electoral delegation that all appropriate measures will be taken to ensure equal conditions for all parties and candidates participating in the elections.

In November 2018, the Parliament of the Republic of Moldova decided to hold a consultative referendum on the same day as the parliamentary elections. It is not in the mandate of the Assembly’s delegation to observe the consultative referendum. The pre-electoral delegation recalls the Assembly’s Resolution 2251 (2019) on “Updating guidelines to ensure fair referendums in the Council of Europe member States” which does not recommend holding referendums at the same time as other elections.

The delegation had meetings with the Prime Minister, the Speaker of the Parliament, the leaders or the representatives of the parliamentary and extra-parliamentary political parties participating in the elections, the Chairperson of the Central Election Commission, the Chairperson of the Audiovisual Co-ordinating Council, the Chairperson of the National Integrity Agency, representatives of civil society and the media, and representatives of the international community.

The Parliamentary Assembly will send a 32-member delegation to observe the Parliamentary elections on 24 February 2019.

Members of the delegation:
Claude Kern (France, ALDE), Head of the delegation
Elisabeth Schneider-Schneiter (Switzerland, EPP/CD)
Stefan Schennach (Austria, SOC)
Christian Langballe (Denmark, EC)
Egidijus Vareikis (Lithuania, Co-rapporteur As/Mon)
Maryvonne Blondin (France, Co-rapporteur As/Mon)