This autumn’s presidential election brings to the fore one of the major problems for the electoral process in the Republic of Moldova – the organization of free and fair elections in the Transnistrian region. The organized transportation during the previous elections is a well-known phenomenon for Moldovan authorities and policy makers, repeatedly reported by national and international observers. This phenomenon poses imminent risks of circumventing the correctness of the results of the presidential elections at the polling stations open for voters from the Transnistrian region.
On 20th October, 2020, the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) issued a decision which announced that during the time allotted for the vote on November 1st, only vehicles transporting 8 people or less and the transporting companies working on regular routes will be allowed to travel on the territory of the country. Through this decision, CEC regulated the issue of organized transportation to the polling stations, a phenomenon visible especially in the localities from the Security Zone. Moreover, the given provisions are not discriminatory, and will be applied uniformly throughout the Republic of Moldova, not only in the Transnistrian region and localities from the Security Zone.
The regrettable experience of the last national elections
The 2016 presidential elections and the 2019 parliamentary elections revealed the presence of the mass electoral corruption phenomenon, especially common for the voters residing in the Transnistrian region of the Republic of Moldova. In 2016, 30 polling stations were opened for voters on the left bank of the Dniester, while for the 2019 parliamentary elections their number was 47, distributed for uninominal constituencies no. 47 and 48. Between 2016 and 2019, the number of voters in the Transnistrian region going to the polls practically doubled, reaching the threshold of over 37,000 people during the last parliamentary elections. According to monitoring reports from national and international observers, the massive increase in turnout was mainly due to reported cases of organized transport of residents on the left bank of the Dniester with hundreds of buses and the payment of money in exchange for votes. However, this information was not properly investigated by law enforcement bodies, and the actions of persons or political actors alleged to be behind this phenomenon were not punished.
What to expect during the 1st and 15th November 2020?
On September 26, 2020, the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) decided to open 42 polling stations for the presidential elections on November 1, 2020. Ten days later, the Central Electoral Commission issued an appeal requesting law enforcement agencies“to counteract any action meant to organize / carry out the illicit transportation of voters”, mentioning at the same time the need to counteract, document and punish acts of electoral bribing. In practice, the CEC warned the competent law enforcement bodies not only to ensure the proper functioning of the elections in the Transnistrian region, but also to effectively prevent possible frauds actually admitted and undocumented in previous elections.
Although the so-called Tiraspol authorities recently announced that they were extending the self-isolation regime in the Transnistrian region until December 1, 2020, a subsequent decision by the Tiraspol separatist regime announced that unrestricted movement of persons would be ensured between the two banks of the Dniester for 1 November 2020. It is unclear whether this measure will be valid for a possible second round of elections. What is certain is that both the electoral observers and the competent law enforcement bodies should monitor and prevent cases of fraud, such as those registred during the previous elections. In any case, these “exceptional measures” offered by Vadim Krasnoselski could be used by the candidate Igor Dodon to repeat and even substantially increase his electoral score in the region, relevant to his victory in the previous 2016 elections.
Short, medium and long term solutions
For the current elections, law enforcement agencies should actively monitor and ensure the effective documentation of all possible cases of illicit transportation and electoral corruption of voters on the left bank of the Dniester. In the absence of contraventional or criminal sanctions for violating the rules on the organized transportation, established by the CEC, the law enforcement bodies will have to restrict at least the potential movement of buses with voters. Unfortunately, the short period remaining until the election date will not allow the amendment of the Contraventional Code and /or the Criminal Code, in order to ensure the application of other punitive measures by the law enforcement agencies.
In the medium and long term, legislative interventions are needed to provide more effective measures for preventing and sanctioning organized voter transportation. First of all, the CEC Decision of October 20th, 2020, should be reflected in the provisions of the Electoral Code, by amending it. Secondly, sanctions and criminal penalties should be introduced for the organized transportation of voters on election day, which would clearly indicate the penalties applied for non-compliance with the rules in force.
In addition, national and international observers should be provided, with the support of the OSCE Mission to the Republic of Moldova, access to the territory of the Transnistrian region on the election day. Moreover, meetings in the format of the Unified Control Commission (JCC) should be used to discuss and resolve obstacles, incidents and documented violations in the process of holding national elections in the Security Zone with the participation of voters residing in the Transnistrian region.
Instead of conclusions…
The decision of the Central Electoral Commission not to allow the organized transportation of voters to the polls is an important step in counteracting this key issue for the electoral process in the Republic of Moldova. Under these conditions, the attention of observers and the general public will be focused on the actions ofthe law enforcement agencies, which will have to ensure the implementation of the provision introduced by this decision. The impact and sustainability of the measures approved by the CEC will depend on their actions.
By restricting the organized transportation of voters, it is confirmed inter alia that this phenomenon covers an important segment of electoral corruption in the Republic of Moldova and can no longer be tolerated and investigated “on the surface”. This element of novelty can improve on the medium and long term the electoral practices in the Republic of Moldova and facilitate the organization of free and fair elections in the Republic of Moldova.
Mihai Mogildea is the Team Leader of Europeanization program at the Institute for European Policies and Reforms (IPRE). He holds a Master of Arts in European Political and Administrative Studies from the College of Europe (Bruges).
This commentary was published in the project “We and Europe – Analysis of Moldovan-European relations through innovative media and analytical products”, implemented by the Institute for European Policies and Reforms (IPRE), in partnership with IPN and Radio Chisinau, with the support of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation. The opinions presented in this commentary do not necessarily correspond with the position of the donor.