21th November 2017
By Mette Gaardsvig
Once more, Silba gathered a team of election observers for Moldova. This time, for the first direct presidential election in Moldova since 1996.
“Moldova?” “Is that a place?” As a small country lodged between Romania and Ukraine, it didn’t come as a surprise, that the most common reactions from friends and family before leaving were: “Where?” or “Oh, they’ve participated in Eurovision, right?” Nevertheless, the promise when visiting Moldova is untouched nature and wine. Intriguing to almost everybody, however, Moldova has been deemed one of the least visited countries in the world, so it was rather difficult to know what to expect upon arrival.
The untouched nature, however, was scarcely to be found while leaving Chișinău airport. From here to the center of Chișinău, massive posters, with the presidential candidates depicted, made it clear, that the political landscape clearly dominated.
Politically, Moldova is a country divided. A political question that has split the country almost in two equal half’s is whether Moldova should expand their ties towards EU or Russia. As Moldova’s neighbor is Ukraine, the country is largely influenced by the power of Russia, one half of the people in Moldova believe, that the country should strive to strengthen the bonds with Russia.
The pro-Russian side is further strengthened by Moldova’s dependence on Russia in regards to both their economic and political future, as well as the presence of the self-proclaimed republic of Transnistria. During an outing to Transnitria, it became evident how strong the Russian influence is in this particular region, as the large sculpture of Lenin outside the parliament and the strong military presence of Russian forces support the general impression of how one would experience a soviet state 20 years ago. Since the country largely consists of people from either Romanian or Russian heritage, the dispute between Pro-Russian and Pro-European Union supporters was one of the more principal debates regarding the candidates. Furthermore, the country’s immense problem with corruption had the people in Moldova talking. After meeting with critical journalist Natalia Morari, we became aware of just how corrupt Moldova has become. In correspondence to the corruption in politics, she explained the issue with the media coverage in Moldova. She informed us that one guy owns the majority of the TV stations, and since he sides with the Pro-Russian party, he uses this influence to insure that the information communicated through his channels is predominantly Pro-Russian.
Through the presentations and meetings, that took place in the days leading up to the election, we had the privileged chance of educating ourselves about the different aspects of Moldova, like LGBTQ rights, the Swedish embassies effort in Moldova, the general political landscape, as well as issues regarding the possibilities for the youth in Moldova.
During the Election Day we did not discover any major issues in regards to the election process. In general there had been a clear and transparent election within our chosen polling stations near Chișinău. Minor irregularities were still present, like missing seals on polling boxes, missing check sheets, and poor privacy at the polling booths. However, these mistakes can’t be seen as an attempt of systematic fraud. While our observation was generally uneventful in regards to deliberate fraud, the significance of the presence of election observers in order to discover more major irregularities could be seen shortly after. The two presidential candidates with the most votes, Igor Dodon and Maia Sandu, had to compete for the final victory in a second round of election a few weeks following our mission. During this election process there has been reported many irregularities as people found their vote had already been casted by someone else, loss of ballots, insufficient number of ballots, all resulting in outrage for many Moldovians.
As for the wine, Moldova kept its promise. During our second evening in Moldova, we had the chance to experience the world’s biggest collection of wine, Mileștii Mici. While indulging in a decadent wine tasting during the end of the tour, the group had the chance to get to know each other better, contributing to the friendships formed on the trip. All in all, going on an election mission with Silba, is not something you will regret.