Personal account from Moldova
By Kresten Andersen and Gloria Funcheon
From the 20th to the 25th of February, Silba conducted its third election observation in Moldova having participated in the presidential election in 2016, and the parliamentary election of 2014. This time Silba observed the parliamentary election, two referendums, and a uninominal vote.
A dedicated and excited team of 25 Silba members, consisting of eleven different nationalities, made its way to the capital of Chișinău. It is rarity that a city looks its best in the gloomy winter months, and Chișinău was no exception. Soviet architecture, political campaign posters, and a shivering -8 degree C° set the framework for what was to be a thrilling insight into the political landscape of one of the least visited countries in the world.
The post-Soviet country is squeezed in between its two larger neighbours, Romania and Ukraine. Moldova has roughly 3 million inhabitants, but the population is one of the fastest declining in the world, often attributed to the fact that Moldova is Europe’s poorest country and that virtually the entire population is eligible for Romanian citizenship.
The geographic position of the country, nestled between the east and the west, has corresponding implications for its political landscape. The country is sharply divided into pro-Russian and a pro-European camps. We got to learn a lot more about this the first three days of the trip from interesting talks and presentations with locals, NGOs and individuals who had, in one way or another, devoted their lives to Moldovan politics. The presentations covered the political landscape, ethnic and linguistic divisions across the territory, and the general status of human rights. The opportunity to learn allowed us to gain a more thorough understanding of the country and the problems it has been riddled by, more or less, since it gained its independence in 1991.
The European Union has recognized Moldova as a “state captured by oligarchic interests” (European Parliament, “Implementation of the EU-Moldova Association Agreement, 14 november 2018) and the judicial, executive, and legislative branches have in recent years become intertwined in a way, that to most people would not resemble the constitutional setup of a free democracy. Starring in a leading role in this deterioration is the Democratic Party of Moldova controlled by oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc, and the Socialist Party, which is the party of the president. Both parties have been involved in numerous corruption scandals. On the parliamentary ballots, the Moldovan voter could also find the Communist party and the centre-right Șor Party ruled by Ilan Șor who is currently under house arrest for his alleged involvement in the 2015 billion-dollar bank fraud scandal extracting roughly 12% of the poor country’s GDP. The right-wing of the Moldovan political spectrum is made up of the pro-European ACUM bloc.
After engaging with representatives from Amnesty International and, Transparency International regardingthe struggles with corruption, bribery, and attempted assassinations, it was a much needed relief to go to the biggest wine cellar in the world Mileștii Mici where we were introduced to the great wines of Moldova while enjoying some of the local cuisine.
The day before the election, the team left early in the morning for the northern city of Bălți, mainly inhabited by the Russian speaking minority. In Bălți we listened to an inspiring group of youth council members from the local schools who, with the help of Silbas’ STUDEM-project in the city, had had the chance to learn about the benefits of democracy from an early age. Half of the mission stayed in Bălți for election observation on the following day, while the rest of us made the bumpy two-hour trip back to the capital.
Election day was a thrilling but long day (a full 24 hours for my team) for all of us. We, with our local interpreter, made up a team that was assigned two polling stations in Chișinău, as well as a trip to Varniţa, located in the security-zone between Moldova and the formally unrecognized breakaway-state of Transnistria.
The election was the first of its kind with a new parliamentary structure, meaning that half of the delegates for the parliament were chosen locally while the rest on the national level. Furthermore, the voters were also voting on two referendums; the first on whether the number of parliament members should be reduced from 101 to 61, and the second on whether or not it should be possible to withdraw the mandate of an elected parliament member. Thus, every voter was offered 4 different ballots.
We witnessed quite a few problems on election day. In Chișinău we saw a lot of people entering the voting booths together, violating the secrecy of the vote. In Varniţa we saw a lot of voters being bussed in to vote, some with expired Moldovan passports, and even those with passports issued by the USSR. Thanks to our interpreter, we learned that the people in line for the polling stations were discussing how much they were paid to vote for the Socialists as well as the Democrats. The offered amounts ranged from 12 to 20€.
At our second of the two polling stations in Varniţa we had to give up on entering the polling station as there was quite a bit of unrest and frustration among the voters - a few of whom seemed confused, and perhaps anxious, about our presence. Given that we knew people had been waiting for hours to enter the polling station, and that we did not want to be mistakenly perceived as queue jumpers, we left the area.
Back in Chișinău, we went to observe the counting of votes at a local polling station. Here there seemed to be a genuine wish to do things by the book, but there were a few problematic instances which could be explained by inexperience rather than bad intentions. This seemed to emerge as a pattern after speaking with other teams observing in Chișinău and Bălți.
We had a great time observing in Moldova with Silba. Going on a EOM is a unique way of gaining first-hand insight into a country’s political landscape and a great chance to see a country off the typical path.
The coordination team prepared an interesting trip that gave a phenomenal insight in a country with a lot of issues regarding democracy, but an equal amount of inspiring people trying to work for a better and more democratic future.