Just over two weeks to go until the early parliamentary elections in Moldova and election observers find that several issues could affect the integrity of these elections: the contested process for establishing polling stations abroad, use of administrative resources, involvement of religious denominations in the election campaign, undeclared financial expenses, as well as intimidation/use of violence against candidates. EPDE’s Moldovan member organization Promo-LEX Association calls on the responsible authorities - the Central Electoral Commission (CEC), the Government of the Republic of Moldova and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration (MFAEI) - to urgently identify solutions to ensure the proper conduct of the election, both in the country and abroad. Promo LEX’s interim observation report is available below.
Achievements and shortfalls in the work of electoral bodies
During the observation period, the CEC registered the last six candidates. Thus, for the early Parliamentary Elections of 11 July 2021, a total of 23 candidates are registered, of which: two electoral blocs, 20 parties and other socio-political organizations and one independent candidate. Therefore, observers confirm a competitive nature of the elections.
In view of the difficulties reported by the law enforcement bodies, the CEC revised its previous decision to open 44 polling stations for voters in the Transnistrian region, closing 3 polling stations that should initially be established on the territory that are not controlled or are partially controlled by the Moldovan authorities.
As to the opening of polling stations abroad, we note that this process was contested, being examined and resolved within 11 days. The delay in this case seems to be justified, given the large number of participants in the process, the large number of appeals filed by parties, the rejection of the exception of unconstitutionality, as well as the complexity of the subject under consideration.
However, on 17 June 2021 the Chisinau Court of Appeal partially annulled the CEC Decisions of 5 June and 8 June 2021, for the establishment of 139 PSs and 146 PSs respectively. It should be noted that in the reasoning of its judgement, the Chisinau Court of Appeal considered several arguments, namely that the CEC and MFAEI had the obligation to cooperate effectively and efficiently, to identify the information required by the legislator and establish with maximum accuracy the required number of polling stations abroad (based on the legal criteria laid down in Articles 30 and 31 of the Electoral Code), thus contributing to the creation of real rather than illusory opportunities for the voters abroad to exercise their right to vote.
Afterwards, the judgement issued by Chisinau Court of Appeal was upheld by the Supreme Court of Justice as a result of the CEC appeal. On 23 June 2021, CEC met again and decided to set up 150 PSs abroad. We underline in this context that the deadline for setting up polling stations was 5 June 2021, hence the intense efforts made by CEC and MFAEI to ensure a good organization and conduct of overseas voting is praiseworthy.
Promo-LEX also found a higher number of accredited observers (+160), compared with the same stage of the Presidential Elections of 1 November 2020. There are 1,201 observers overall, of whom 1,019 are national observers and 182 are international experts.
Other problematic aspects related to the operation of electoral bureaus include partial compliance by PEBs with the working schedule (104 (29%) out of the 356 bureaus visited were closed), inaccessibility of PEB premises for persons with physical impairments (of the 233 PEBs assessed, only 98 (42%) are accessible), and a gender imbalance in the PEB membership, where 84% are women.
Worrying findings related to electoral contenders
With the advancement of the election campaign, the number of electoral activities recorded has literally doubled (1 111 activities), compared with the previous monitoring period. At the same time, there is a lack of campaign activities attended by candidates in the Transnistrian region. However, the contenders organized at least 11 electoral meetings abroad, that were attended by candidates.
The number of violations reported by Promo-LEX observers is increasing. During the reference period, at least 61 cases were reported that could be considered use of administrative resources for electoral purposes, by: Electoral Bloc of Communists and Socialists (BECS) – 28 cases, Democratic Party of Moldova (PDM) and Electoral Bloc "Renato Usatîi” (BERU) – 9 cases each, Dignity and Truth Platform Party (PPPDA) – 5 cases, Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS) – 4 cases, Șor Party (PPȘ) – 3 cases, Christian Democratic Party of Moldova (PDCM) – 2 cases and Alliance for the Union of Romanians (AUR) – one case.
Promo-LEX observers also reported a case that could be considered as bribery that targeted a PPPDA candidate. Five cases were reported as well (three – PAS and one case each – BECS and AUR) where images/state symbols of the Republic of Moldova or other states were used.
Observers point out at least six cases of campaign activities that targeted religious cults. Among them, four cases targeted BECS and one case each – AUR and PAS.
Unfortunately, the election campaign continues to be marked by intimidation and use of violence, with at least 7 such cases identified. AUR is involved in 5 cases – in 3 cases they were assaulted, and in 2 cases AUR was held responsible for intimidation or violence. BECS and PACE are targeted as intimidated parties in one case each.
The electoral contenders still do not report their actual expenses
From the beginning of the election campaign and until 18 June 2021, 15 electoral contenders declared a total revenue of MDL 19 140 890 (approx. 890 000 Euro). On the other hand, the declared expenses total at MDL 16 890 374 (approx. 785 400 Euro). Most of the reported expenses covered electoral advertising – 54% and promotional materials – 30%.
At the same time, Promo-LEX estimated at least MDL 4 114 217 (approx. 190 300 Euro) as non-reported expenses. Most of the estimated non-reported expenses referred to promotional materials (52%), secondment/detachment of persons (21%) and outdoor and mobile advertising (12%).
However, it is important to note here that the electoral contenders that have expenses not covered by the information they submitted to CEC (expenses estimated by Promo-LEX as not reported) are expected to report further expenses in next reports filed to CEC, and the total expenses during the election campaign will be included in the final report to be submitted to the electoral authority by 9 July 2021 (two days before the election day).
Other organizational activities in the context of the early parliamentary election
During the reference period, the Government passed two decisions relevant for this election. The first one ensures better access to the vote by obliging the Public Services Agency to issue the ID cards requested during the past month before the election no later than two days before the election date, regardless of the requested issuance period.
The second Decision (No 93) increased the appropriations to the Government’s reserve fund by over MDL 25 million (1 162 500 Euro). However, this Decision does not guarantee that the appropriated funds will be used to cover the costs of election. In this context, Promo-LEX reiterates its opinion that the Government must pass, as a matter of urgency, a decision providing additional funds for the organization of the election.
Unfortunately, observers still find drawbacks in the Local Public Authorities’ (LPAs’) performance related to their duty to ensure a transparent and correct electoral process, though these indicators have slightly improved, compared to the previous period.
At the same time, Promo-LEX regards as abusive the decision of Orhei Mayors Office of 21 June 2021 that prohibits meetings with voters by setting up temporary constructions (tents).
Election campaign with hate and discrimination messages
During 8-21 June 2021, the observers reportedly identified at least 30 cases of hate speech and incitement to discrimination in the public space, in the media and online in the Republic of Moldova. Thus, four electoral contenders used non-tolerant expressions: Igor Dodon – 2 cases (BECS), Vladimir Voronin – 2 cases (BECS) and Dorin Chirtoaca – 1 case (AUR).
Out of the 30 cases of non-tolerant messages identified by Promo-LEX, 12 targeted six electoral contenders: (Igor Dodon ( BECS) – 4 cases, Vladimir Voronin (BECS) – 4 cases; Igor Grosu (PAS), Marina Tauber (PPS), Marc Tkaciuk (PPCC) and Vlad Bilețchi (AUR) – one case each. Other two cases affected supporters of PAS and BECS. And the remaining 12 cases targeted LGBTI persons, women, migrants, Roma and other social groups.