New legislative elections in Moldova will take place July 29, following the collapse of the old parliament that deadlocked over the election of a new president. That parliament was elected in a highly contentious poll in April that the opposition denounced as fraudulent. But Moldova’s Electoral Code gives parties ample rights and tools to ensure that the electoral machinery operates correctly so that next month’s elections will be widely seen as a genuine expression of the popular will.
Parties must act quickly, however, to exercise their rights.
The voter lists present the first challenge, especially since alleged irregularities in the lists for the April 5 elections were a primary basis for opposition claims that those elections were fraudulent. According to the Electoral Code, local government officials are responsible for drawing up the voter list corresponding to each polling station and checking its accuracy by visiting the people on the list at their homes. The lists must be made public 15 days before the election. Prospective voters may then review the list for their precinct to determine its accuracy and appeal, not later than four days before the election, for the rectification of errors regarding themselves or others.
Working from these legal provisions in anticipation of new elections, the Central Election Commission (CEC) adopted a decision on June 9 instructing local governments to draw up by July 3 a new voter lists for each polling station established for the April 5 elections. The list is to include all individuals currently resident in the area covered by the polling station, and the decision draws special attention to the necessity of excluding persons who are deceased. After the lists are verified by calls at the registrants’ homes, they are to be transmitted electronically to the CEC on July 6 and made public locally.
Prospective electoral contestants, acting singly or in alliances, now have the possibility to monitor the development of the voter lists to ensure that local governments follow the CEC’s instructions.Difficult, To Say The Least
First, it should be comparatively easy to determine whether a local government is verifying the accuracy of its voter lists by visiting registrants at their homes; any failure to do so should be protested officially and publicized.
Second, the prospective electoral contestants should request copies of the voter lists from local governments as soon as they are sent to the CEC on or before July 6. Where the lists are not provided, there should be an immediate, determined, and well-publicized protest.
The third step, a review of the lists for accuracy, would be the most demanding, given the fact that Moldova will have almost 2,000 polling stations. It would be difficult, to say the least, for prospective electoral contestants, even working in alliances, to muster enough people with adequate training and local expertise to conduct the kind of door-to-door canvassing necessary to verify the accuracy of a every list or challenge its shortcomings.
Ambassador Louis O’Neill recently proposed
that the European Union support, both financially and technically, an updating of the voter lists, perhaps working with the nonpartisan NGO Coalition 2009. Such a program might well obviate the need for electoral contestants to mount their own verification efforts.
In addition, electoral contestants would be well advised to take advantage of the provisions of the Electoral Code that entitle them to representation on the administrative bodies responsible for conducting the election -- the CEC, the district electoral councils, and the precinct electoral bureaus responsible for the polling stations.Special Provisions
At all three levels, each contestant has the right to appoint to each administrative body a member-representative who will serve for the duration of the campaign in a consultative capacity. Moreover, the code makes special provisions for additional party representation on the district electoral councils and the precinct electoral bureaus.
According to the Electoral Code, the CEC must soon establish electoral districts corresponding to Moldova’s 35 administrative-territorial units and a district electoral council for each district. Each council will probably have 11 voting members, two selected by the district court, two by the district council, and the remaining seven by the parties represented in the outgoing parliament in proportion to their representation there. In the event parties do not nominate their candidates in a timely manner, the vacancies will be filled by the district council.
Each district electoral council must then establish precincts, probably identical to those established for the April 5 election, and an electoral bureau for each precinct. Depending on the number of registered voters there, each bureau will have between five and eleven voting members. Three members are chosen by the local council with the remainder named by the parties represented in the outgoing parliament in proportion to the number of seats they hold there. If parties do not nominate their candidates in a timely manner, the missing members will be selected by the local council.
It is exceedingly important for the political parties represented in the outgoing parliament -- the Communist Party, the Liberal Party, the Liberal Democratic Party, and the Our Moldova Alliance -- to avail themselves of the opportunity to select members for the district electoral councils and precinct electoral bureaus, for their nominees will then be in a position to help direct the operations of these bodies and protest any irregularities they may find.Not Easy To Find Candidates
With its superior countrywide organization the Communist Party is best situated to put forward its share, approximately three-fifths, of the party candidates. The three opposition parties would be well advised to collaborate in selecting and training nominees to fill the remaining positions. Even with such collaboration, however, it will not be easy to field qualified candidates for almost 2,000 precinct electoral bureaus.
The Electoral Code empowers any electoral contestant to request the accreditation of a representative to observe the election at any precinct. Accredited observers have the right to be present at all electoral operations, including all sessions of the precinct bureau. They also have the right to inform the chairperson of the electoral bureau of any observed irregularities.
Again, given the large number of electoral precincts, it would be extremely difficult for every contestant to assign an observer to each precinct electoral bureau. To the extent two or more parties feel their interests are aligned, they may find it advisable to form alliances to provide coverage in more precincts. Training is essential for all accredited observers, for they must be thoroughly familiar with the Electoral Code and the CEC decisions so they can identify irregularities and know what steps to take in response.
It is not clear to what extent the parties availed themselves of these rights before and during the April 5 elections. In view of the charges of fraud leveled in their aftermath, it is now incumbent on all parties to move as quickly and broadly as possible, citing these provisions of the Electoral Code, to ensure that the electoral machinery operates properly in the forthcoming contest.John Todd Stewart was the U.S. ambassador to Moldova from 1995 to 1998 and an OSCE/ODIHR observer for the parliamentary elections of 2005 and April 2009. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL