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Deja Vu All Over Again

  • Louis O'Neill

Checking voter lists early on election day

Checking voter lists early on election day

Yogi Berra is hard to translate. You have to understand America. And baseball. And Yogi himself. Viktor Chernomyrdin, who understands none of these things, nonetheless coined a Russian equivalent of Yogi's famous remark that "this is deja vu all over again."

The equally malapropistic Russian statesman, explaining in 1993 why Russians' savings would be wiped out, elucidated that "we wanted to do better, but it turned out like always."

As the dust settles, these two pieces of worldly wisdom will likely sum up Moldova's controversial repeat elections. Twitter-driven suspicion that thousands of "dead souls" had voted from the grave in April to extend Communist rule resulted in massive street protests. Things turned ugly and rioting led to a torched parliament, torture of detained protesters, at least three deaths, and a political stalemate.

Today's vote is part of a continuing contest for the broad strokes of Moldova's future: accelerated reform and EU integration or a place in Russia's coveted "privileged sphere of influence." Clean elections and political reconciliation are needed to put Moldovan society back together after April's trauma.

Regrettably, the process may once again be flawed and the outcome challenged, either on the streets or in the courts. Many have alleged that the Communists widely used harassment, biased state media, selective prosecution, and "administrative resources" to limit the opposition's chances. Perhaps most importantly, three well-regarded Moldovan NGOs each verified the voter rolls and found their quality and accuracy troublingly unchanged from last time.

These groups report that only 11 percent of the lists checked were fully correct; the rest contained either dead or duplicate souls, ineligible voters, incorrect information, or had not been published for public review.

One group said the Central Election Committee had "obstructed the monitors' work" and "ignored its legal obligations" by denying them access to the lists. Another uncovered serious problems that "place in doubt the quality of the voter rolls" -- including extensive, unexplainable increases in the number of voters from just three months earlier.

Pre-election polling suggests that this time around it will be the Communists who garner a sufficient bloc of seats to stonewall the coalition needed to elect the country's president and move ahead with the nation's business.

If so, Yogi and Viktor's sagacity will once again, sadly, mark Moldovan political life.

Louis O'Neill was OSCE ambassador and head of mission to Moldova from 2006-08
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