Chisinau, 26 October 2020 - The legal framework for elections ensures the conditions for holding of democratic elections, despite several, yet to be addressed, shortcomings that leave space for discretion and can be misused. Most aspects of the electoral process are managed efficiently and within the legal deadlines, but concerns can be raised on potential uneven application of rules aimed at protecting public health on election day. ENEMO assesses the overall campaign environment as competitive and calm; however, electoral messages that aim to discredit the opponents, or go beyond the powers of the presidency can be observed. Elements of a functioners’ campaign are also observed, as numerous public officials openly campaign, or support candidates, - this was stated in the Interim report for the period 1 September - 22 October 2020, published by ENEMO International Election Observation Mission (IEOM) to Moldova.
Upon invitation from the Central Election Commission of the Republic of Moldova, the European Network of Election Monitoring Organizations (ENEMO) deployed an International Election Observation Mission (IEOM) to observe the upcoming Presidential Elections, to be held on 1 November 2020.
„The conduct of a credible, inclusive and transparent electoral process, in compliance with international standards for democratic elections, and in respect of the will of the Moldovan voters is a crucial test for democracy and rule of law in Moldova. The Moldovan authorities are faced with the challenge of finding the balance between protection of public health and respecting the rights of Moldovan citizens to be able to form an opinion and express their will freely”, said Dritan TAULLA, Head of the ENEMO Mission, at the Press Conference launching the Report.
According to ENEMO observers, the legal framework is mostly in line with international standards and good practices. However, the electoral legal framework contains shortcomings and lacks clarity on various matters, which leaves space for different interpretations that can be misused, if not undertaken in good faith.
„Most aspects of the election are managed in line with legal requirements and deadlines, at the central level. The CEC published the agenda of the upcoming sessions in advance and provided draft decisions before each session. The requirement of posting decisions on the website within 24 hours of their adoption is overall respected. A voter information campaign, including in languages of minorities, is being conducted. The CEC established 139 out-of-country polling stations in 36 countries and 42 polling stations for the voters residing on the left bank of the River Nistru”, continues Dritan TAULLA.
It should be noted that the State Register of Voters included 3,287,140 voters as of 8 October. Of these 256,203 reside in Transnistria and 232,631 do not have a registered domicile, nor residence. „The last two categories will be able to vote on Election Day, either in polling stations designated specifically for them (voters residing in Transnistria) or in any polling station (voters lacking an official domicile or residence) upon presentation of identity documents, and will be included in the supplementary voter list”, ENEMO experts explain.
Also, the Central Electoral Commission was responsible for managing the online pre-registration for polling stations established abroad and for voters residing in Transnistria, a process that was concluded by 16 September. „Still, allegations of fake pre-registration for voters registering to vote in the polling stations established in the Russian Federation have emerged and investigations are ongoing. Given the sensitivity of the matter and the negative effect it might have on the overall trust of voters in the election process, ENEMO urges the authorities to conduct these investigations swiftly and professionally”, mention ENEMO Observers.
Observers also drew attention to requirements for candidates, in particular as regards the collection of signatures for the registration of candidates.
„A citizen can sign in support of only one candidate, which could be considered a restriction that challenges political pluralism. The required number of signatures is in line with best practice. However, these requirements proved to be burdensome, especially for independent candidates, as three of the four candidates that could not gather the required number of signatures were independent.
The CEC has registered eight candidates and rejected one. The signature lists of two more candidates were challenged, but they were registered after showing that a number of signatures, initially deemed invalid, were instead valid. This has once again brought into attention previous concerns of ENEMO about the signature verification process, showing it to be open to discretion and human error, resulting in possible unjustified prevention of candidates to stand for election”, as shown in the Report.
However, the electoral campaign can be assessed as peaceful and calm, although instances of negative campaign tactics and offensive language were noticed. „ENEMO EOM noticed instances of use of the advantages of the incumbency or office, possible pressure on employees to attend campaign events, or ecclesiastical authorities involved in campaigning. Main candidates’ messages focused on social and economic issues, the country’s geopolitical orientation, infrastructure projects, and corruption. However, many campaign topics do not fall under the direct jurisdiction of the President. Issues related to gender equality and women’s rights remained marginal in the campaign”, communicates Oleg REUT, Election Analyst.
It should be noted the conduct of broadcasters is supervised by the Audiovisual Council, which is monitoring the conduct of 15 broadcasters during prime time newscasts and will be submitting bi-weekly reports to the CEC on the findings. „ENEMO deems that a bi-weekly schedule, combined with non-dissuasive sanctions provided by the law, and monitoring only of prime-time newscasts considerably curtails the efficacy of the monitoring mechanism, reducing it to a mere formality”, REUT also stated.
Also, the deadlines for resolving election disputes are short, in line with best practice. Complaints must first be subject to administrative review by a higher-level governing body, after which they can be submitted to a court.
„Most of the complaints filed with the courts concerned candidate registration and establishment of polling stations, and were dismissed on procedural grounds. Until now, the judicial review has shown to be mostly formal and ineffective, which raises concerns on lack of effective remedy for complaints”, mention the Observers.
During election day and potential run-off election day, the IEOM will deploy up to 52 short-term observers (STOs) in total to follow the voting, counting, and tabulation of results.
„The mission will issue its preliminary statement on findings and conclusions after Election Day and will remain in the country to also follow the potential run-off election and issue the second preliminary statement after the run-off election day. The final report will be issued within sixty days from the certification of results”, mentioned Ana MIHAJLOVIC, STO Coordinator.
Disclaimer: ENEMO’s international observation mission for the November 1 Presidential Elections in Moldova is financially supported by the Delegation of the European Union, Government Offices of Sweden, the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and the National Democratic Institute. The content of the document is the sole responsibility of ENEMO and does not necessarily represent the position of the donors.