Declarația preliminară a misiunii „Piligrim-Demo” privind observarea alegerilor pentru Adunarea Populară din Găgăuzia din 19 septembrie 2021

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The 19 September elections to the People’s Assembly of Gagauzia were conducted with respect of fundamental rights and freedoms but the perceived lack of independence of the election administration and the poor quality of the voter lists undermined the trust in the electoral process. The electoral legal framework is conducive for conduct of democratic elections, but differences in sizes of the single mandate constituencies distort the principle of equality of vote. The turnout requirement, combined with the problem of Autonomy’s depopulation, made some of the institutions responsible for voter registration applying criteria beyond the legal framework to reflect the number of voters de facto living the constituencies. Changes of residence by hundreds of voters shortly before elections raised concerns about possible manipulation of voter lists for electoral gains. The candidates, registered in an inclusive manner, campaigned peacefully but focussed rather on personal achievements and values than on programmatic platforms. The CEC capacity to act as campaign finance oversight body proved insufficient. The election day was calm and the process was assessed overwhelmingly positively but widely used mobile voting compromised the integrity of elections.

The People’s Assembly of Gagauzia (PAG) elections are regulated by the Electoral Code of Gagauzia, which provides legal framework that is generally conducive for the conduct of democratic elections. The Electoral Code was last amended less than two months before elections, against the electoral good practice. The changes include a substantial reform of the electoral administration, decreasing the number of the District Election Commissions (DEC) from 35 to 3. The PAG deputies are elected in 35 single mandates constituencies, which size from 418 to 5,648 voters, which distorts the principle of equality of vote.

The elections to the PAG were managed by the Central Election Commission of Gagauzia (CEC), 3 DECs and 66 Precinct Election Bureaus (PEB). The current CEC was appointed on 26 January 2021 and met legal deadlines in preparation for these elections. The sessions of the CEC were open to observers and most of the decisions were published. The DEC sessions were not always announced in advance and in some cases it was not clear whether the DEC decisions were taken in a collegial manner. The overall trust in election administration is low, due to lack of a clear separation between the local authorities and election administration, as well as low level of professionalism and lack of experience. The CEC lacks sufficient human resources to fulfil its duties.

The CEC of Gagauzia is in charge of compiling the Registry of Voters of Gagauzia but the process of building the registry has been complicated with the lack of access to the State Registry of Voters maintained by the CEC of the Republic of Moldova. The voters’ lists are
compiled for each precinct by local public authorities and consequently presented by PEBs for public scrutiny. The process of voter lists compilation as well their handover from the local authorities to the election administration was not uniform, revealing institutional discretion, the lack of knowledge of procedures as well as lack of resources. Changes of residence to Budgeac constituency by hundreds of voters shortly before elections were perceived as a tool for manipulation of voter lists to secure the electoral victory of a candidate. Candidates can nominate themselves or be nominated by a political party, a civic organization, an electoral block or an initiative group. In an inclusive process, the CEC registered 123 candidates, of whom 18 were women. 21 candidates represent the electoral bloc of Communists and Socialists (BeCS) and 2 candidates represent the Party “Build Europe at Home” (PACE); the rest of the candidates registered as independent. Some of independent candidates reportedly formed different coalitions which were not formally announced, impeding the voters’ possibility to make a well-informed choice. The election campaign initially subdued gained momentum closer to the elections day. Some of the candidates raised in their programs issues of strengthening the status of ATU Gagauzia and division of power between the Moldovan and Gagauz government as well outlined plans of infrastructure development projects, improvements in the sphere of education, healthcare and social assistance. Yet, generally little emphasis was put on electoral programs, and more on former accomplishments and personal values. Not all candidates used the opportunity to present themselves in the debates organized by local media outlets. A case of alleged vote buying in Chok-Maidan was reported to the prosecutor’s office, but the investigation has not been completed before the election day. The observers received a number of reports of alleged coercion to vote the dependent on social assistance.

Candidates can finance their campaign with donations from private persons and legal entities from the territory of ATU Gagauzia as well as use their own funds. The law provides for the ceiling on total amount of received donations, which the CEC established for these elections at the level of 40 MDL per number of voters in a constituency. All the financial transactions need to be processed through a dedicated bank account. 79 of 123 candidates opened the bank accounts and submitted their reports on weekly basis as required. The candidates used predominantly their own funds, with the committed amounts not exceeding 10,000 MDL The CEC is the campaign finance oversight body, yet due to its limited capacities it did not scrutinize the weekly reports and only verified the submitted information at the stage of preparing the final campaign finance reports.

The submission and adjudication of electoral complaints and appeals are subject to expedited timelines, in line with international good practice. Yet, the cases referred to prosecutor’s office and police for investigation, were examined within regular administrative framework
endangering/compromising the right to effective remedy. The Election Code does not provide for a clear demarcation of the respective jurisdictions of the courts and the electoral bodies regarding complaints on election administration, which can undermine the development of reasoned decisions and stable administrative and court practice for protection of electoral rights.

The election day was calm, with no major instances reported. The opening, voting, and counting were assessed positively in over 90 per cent of the 66 PEBs. The Short Term Observers (STO) reported instances of unauthorized persons presence at the polling stations, overcrowding and four cases of attempts to influence voters by PEB members and candidates. The process of tabulation of the results at the DECs started less orderly, with long queues and poor organization, and improved at a later stage. The mobile voting was used widely, in some polling stations amounting to 11 per cent of the cast votes, at odds with electoral good practice. The EOM received numerous reports of alleged vote buying, yet none of them were confirmed.

The full report can be viewed here: PRELIMINARY FINDINGS

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