1st observation mission report of pre-election period
Political context. The Republic of Moldova is a parliamentary republic, but the President of the state is elected by universal suffrage. Even if the powers of the President of the Republic of Moldova are limited, the competition for this position has a high potential to mobilize the electorate.
The pre-election period has been marked by the following socio-political trends: party switching, especially within parliamentary parties, continues to be a feature of a weakly institutionalized party system; lack of a stable and constant parliamentary majority; impact of the pandemic on the effectiveness of governmental policies; bringing geopolitical issues back on the electoral agenda.
Legal framework. In the year before the election, only three amendments, mostly technical, have been made to the Electoral Code. Promo-LEX considers that due to a faulty public consultation process, the CEC missed the chances to approve, until the beginning of election period, the amendments that would respond, albeit partially, to the referrals of the Constitutional Court submitted in 2016. It should be emphasized that these changes were initiated immediately before the start of the preparations for the presidential elections of November 1, 2020. In addition, Promo-LEX considers that the Parliament failed to respond adequately to the pandemic challenges and to identify alternative voting mechanisms that would ensure an acceptable turnout (for example, providing for at least two days of voting for citizens residing abroad).
Regarding the election date, the Promo-LEX OM considers that the date set by the Parliament – November 1, 2020 – complies with the legal provisions of the Electoral Code and does not contravene the constitutional norms providing for setting the date for the presidential elections in the Republic of Moldova. At the same time, we are bewildered by the CEC’s decision to start the election period on August 25, 2020. Starting from the concept of election period, set out in the Electoral Code, it started on May 26, 2020 (the day when the public is informed of the election date) and, contrary to the maximum ceiling set by the same rule, it would by far exceed the term of 90 days, specified in the Electoral Code.
It should be pointed out that of the 45 recommendations to improve the legal framework for the presidential elections in the Republic of Moldova, developed by the Promo-LEX Observation Mission following the presidential elections of October 30, 2016, only 15 were fully or partially implemented. At the same time, the approval of the draft law no. 263 of 19.01.2020 could have contributed to the full or partial implementation of five other recommendations made by the Promo-LEX Association. In particular, we emphasize the relevance of the recommendations that remained unsettled, and that are also reflected in the referrals of the Constitutional Court.
In this context, Promo-LEX brings to the attention of the CEC the fact that in its capacity of a body responsible for the organization of elections and issuance of mandatory normative acts, the electoral authority could solve, within the limits of its own competence, the referrals of the Constitutional Court.
Electoral bodies. In the monitored period, the Central Electoral Commission convened a total of 13 meetings, both in online and mixed format, of which 10 ordinary and 3 extraordinary. The CEC managed to ensure its functionality amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The CEC accredited, at the request of Promo-LEX, the first 69 national observers for the presidential election.
With regard to the manner the CEC managed the pre-registration procedure, Promo-LEX OM concludes that the importance and value of the procedure is greatly affected by the following factors: lack of certainty that all prior registrations submitted will be taken into account; the difference in numbers of prior registrations submitted in the previous elections by voters from the Transnistrian region and those from abroad; the lack of explicit regulation of pre-registrations in paper format, including collective claims.
State register of voters (SRV). The number of voters in the SRV continues to grow, but at a slower rate compared to the previous years. We remind the reader that since 1999, the Republic of Moldova has been registering a negative rate of natural increase of population (RNI). According to the SRV, as of August 1, 2020, the number of voters was 3,286,304, which is by 410 more compared to the same period in 2019.
The increase in the total number of voters is mainly due to the growth of the number of voters with no domicile or residence and of those registered in the Transnistrian region, given that the number of voters in the other ATUs of the Republic of Moldova, as a whole, is declining.
Potential electoral competitors. In the case of presidential elections, the status of electoral competitors is held by the candidates for the position of President of the Republic of Moldova registered by the CEC. All candidates for the presidential office, be it supported by political parties, or independent candidates, shall submit to the CEC subscription lists, containing signatures of at least 15,000 and no more than 25,000 voters.
Promo-LEX observers found that the PPPDA, PAS, PUN and MPU performed activities that can be qualified as early nomination of candidates. Additionally, observers reported political campaigns with a potential electoral impact in the case of at least five political players – PRO Moldova, the PN, PAS, PUN, MPU, while in the case of the current President and two parties – the PSRM and the PPS – activities that can be qualified as taking credit for actions performed at public expense have been reported.
Financing of electoral activities will be monitored both during the period preceding the campaign, and during the election campaign itself. In the pre-election period (2 September – 1 October), the OM will monitor the spending of initiative groups, set up to collect signatures in support of presidential candidates, while during the election campaign (2 – 30 October, and possibly 2 – 12 November) the expenses of electoral competitors will be surveyed.
Regarding the normative aspects that required attention, the OM mentioned funding of election campaign and initiative groups which, according to the Promo-LEX OM, were not settled in the previous presidential elections, in particular, the need to adjust the normative framework of the CEC to the changes made in electoral legislation; the need to include Initiative Groups (IGs) in the Criminal and Contravention Codes as subjects to sanction, as well as the need to harmonize the sanctions described in the Contravention Code with those of the Criminal Code, in accordance with the guidelines of the Venice Commission.
Hate speech. Starting with the new local elections and the local referendum held in Chisinau in November 2017, Promo-LEX has been monitoring the public performances of electoral competitors to identify cases of hate speech.
Monitoring has revealed that the phenomenon of hate speech is increasingly popular in public and mediatic space of the Republic of Moldova and it intensifies in the electoral context. Currently, there is no relevant legal framework or mechanisms to combat this phenomenon, and the authorities do not have a response to hate speech in an electoral context.
Voter information and voter education campaigns. In the context of Presidential Elections of November 1, 2020, the Promo-LEX Association will carry out a voter information and voter education campaign to raise the awareness of Moldovan citizens entitled to vote. The campaign will include 25 debates broadcast by TV and radio stations; creation and dissemination of a video spot; an online apolitical information and voter mobilization campaign, as well as grants for projects to promote participation in election.
The CICDE and CEC carried out training activities (for registrars and other representatives of LPAs) and voter information activities (online conferences, publication of periodicals, presentation of training courses, etc.) about the preparation for the presidential election and the specifics of election in pandemic conditions. However, we believe that some issues that are crucial for the monitored period, such as promoting the pre-registration, require a more nuanced and systematic approach from the CEC.
Full interim report available below