L’Invité D&B: Diaspora’s power in the Moldovan Elections – Between Perceptions and Realities

The political struggle is extremely uneven for constituencies intended to represent Moldovans abroad in the February 24 election.

By Dionis Cenuşa° – initially published on IPN

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° Dionis Cenuşa is a political scientist from Moldova who works as Program Director on Energy Security at the Independent Economic Think-tank “Expert-Group”, based in Chisinau.

Mobilizing the diaspora in the West is essential for improving discourse and actions in local politics, seriously degraded after the 2014 elections …

The vote of 24 February 2019 puts the country in front of a crossroads whose character seems unfavorable. The main post-electoral scenarios are pessimistic because they indicate either the perpetuation of oligarchic governance headed by the Democratic Party, or the transfer of the epicenter of power to the Socialists. In any of these situations, the conditions of the opposition could at least be normalized. Faced with its now marginalized position, the political forces forming the electoral bloc “NOW” will be integrated into the process of influencing political decisions in the aftermath of elections. They will be able to oversee the governance from within of the formal institutions and make a qualitative leap in exercising pressure on governance, compared to street protests whose impact has been uncertain and often temporary.

In the competition for the regaining of the institutions from oligarchic forces, the opposition considerably depends on the legitimacy granted by the votes of the Moldovan diaspora in the West. The opposition’s ability to dominate the electoral preferences of Moldovan migrants in the West disturbs the Democratic Party, which can not conquer or permanently block the electoral will of the diaspora. That is why, by installing the mixed voting system in the summer of 2017, the government not only doubled its electoral prospects, but also dispersed the vote of the diaspora. Thus, instead of deciding on the full composition of the parliament, both the diaspora and opposition’s supporters in the country can influence predominantly the names of 50 deputies elected on party lists and also the candidate for Western Europe (voted under the principle of uninominal voting system). For the other 51 mandates voted in uninominal constituencies, including the constituencies intended to represent the Moldovans established in Eastern Europe and North America, the political struggle is extremely uneven.

The use of administrative resources, coupled with abundant financial resources, as well as the media, bureaucratic and legal manipulation of the electoral process by the Democratic Party’s exponents, complicate the current election campaign for the opposition. The governing party tightened the rules of the game even for Socialists, who assisted them in arranging a totally uncompetitive electoral environment – the one round mixed voting system. Thus, the Socialists have already received warnings not to use the administrative resources of President Igor Dodon (CEC, 9 February 2019), which happens to be very often in the company of Vladimir Putin. On the other hand, enjoying a delayed justice, the Political Party “Shor” is helped to undertake the electorate of the Socialists, whose weakness suits the Democratic Party.

The unpredictable nature of the results of the current parliamentary elections goes beyond the limits of what was observed in the presidential election of 2016. Then Maia Sandu would have won if Igor Dodon did not benefit from the Democratic Party’s propaganda, the enormous transfer of image from Russia and the involvement of the church as well. At that time, Maia Sandu’s electoral asset was the linkage with the diaspora, which demonstrated a historic political activism, stimulated by Maia Sandu’s integral picture and Igor Dodon’s pro-Russian appeals. The same advantage was to be put in action for 2019 elections, if PDM did not intervene, by introducing the mixed system in 2017, and more recently, by prohibiting voting on the expired passport (Constitutional Court, January 14, 2019).

The non-assurance of the right to vote contradicts the constitutional provisions (Article 38 of the Constitution) and breaks with the permissive and inclusive practice towards the Moldovan migrants with expired acts manifested by the electoral body in the elections of 2010, 2014 and 2016. According to the opposition’s calculations, about 500 thousand Moldovan migrants will be excluded from voting (ACUM, January 15, 2019), a figure that contrasts about 10 times with the data provided by the authorities. The highest voting power demonstrated so far by the diaspora is 138,720 voters in the second round of the 2016 poll (OSCE, 15 February 2017).In the February 2019 elections, the announced priority of the opposition is to absorb the highest votes in the diaspora from the West. Thus, the opposition could accumulate the minimum of 22%, attributed by the polls (IRI, 4 February 2019), out of the 50 mandates voted on party lists. Even though the diaspora’s electoral disposition is clearly visible on the opposition’s agenda, it is making efforts to engage with the voters in the country, particularly outside the capital.

Voting in the diaspora

Voting abroad is to take place in 125 polling stations, or 25 sections more than in presidential elections of 2016. But both the Socialists and the opposition challenged this decision and ruled for increasing the number of polling stations in Russia (another 22 sections) and Italy and other European countries (another 26 sections), respectively. These claims were considered unfounded by the Constitutional Court (January 29, 2019), which again joined the position of the authorities as well as in the decision to refuse to pass the expired passport.

The voting outcomes in the uninominal constituencies for the candidates representing the diaspora (3 out of 101 seats in Parliament) can be anticipated based on their profiles. In CIS and Asian states where 7 people are running in 27 polling stations, the chances of the Socialist candidate – Gheorghi Para – are the most pronounced. Due to his professional profile, it is certain that his stake is to attract Moldovans in the construction sector. Another advantage of this candidate comes from the extensive negotiations of President Igor Dodon on the conditions of legalization of Moldovan migrants who work in Russia (IPN, 28 January 2019).

In the EU states, the most powerful candidate of the 13 registered members is Maia Sandu, the co-president of the Bloc “NOW”, which counts on the experience of the presidential election of 2016, when she won against Igor Dodon among the Moldovan migrants who live in the EU. The launch of Maia Sandu for this constituency was motivated by the pro-opposition media as a necessity to mobilize over 100,000 votes of the Moldovan diaspora in Europe. In addition, this strategy can increase the presence of opposition in Parliament with one person. Thus, the eventual victory of Maia Sandu on the uninominal constituency automatically offers a place for another person on the party list of the Bloc “NOW”.

The most uncertain predictions are related to voting in North America, where Valeriu Ghileţchi, leader of the Baptist Church in the country and an active exponent of the government (vice-speaker of the Parliament), participates in the election as an independent candidate. The government favors him compared to the other 12 candidates. Therefore, the Moldovan authorities have positively endorsed the opening of 8 polling stations out of the 12 established for the USA in the premises of some Baptist churches (NewsMaker, February 8, 2019) and also contributed with administrative resources to facilitate the renewal of expired passports for Moldovans settled in North America (ACUM, January 30, 2019).

Table. Data on uninominal constituencies for the diaspora

Uninominal district for diaspora Number of polling stations / number of countries Number of candidates Number of candidates declared as independent Number of women
Eastern Europe (Nr. 49) 27 section/11 countries 7 2 1
Western Europe (nr. 50) 83 sections/23 countries 13 6 6
North America (nr. 51) 15 sections/2 countries 13 9 2

Sourse: Alegeri.md


Diaspora’s role and limitations

The Moldovan political parties associate the diaspora as an important source for strengthening the political power and of increasing of internal and external legitimacy. Migration ensures that the dimensions of the diaspora grow, and its proportions reach a critical moment characterized by two dimensions. The first concerns the speed at which the diaspora is expanding and the fact that it could outweigh the electoral power of the remaining population. The second dimension involves positive discrimination in the electoral field of the diaspora settled in the West compared to Moldovan migrants employed in seasonal work or long-term residence in Russia.

Demographic problems and migration trends among Moldovans are approaching the moment when political actors in the country will debate the political rights of the diaspora or the need to treat migrants fairly, irrespective of their geographic and geopolitical positioning. The results of the 2019 parliamentary elections could play a decisive role in the subsequent revision of the degree of diaspora’s participation in the political life of the country. For the most part, the balance of power in the Parliament could be influenced by the diaspora from Europe. The dynamism of this vote will create political opportunities for the opposition, which will not be able to govern because it will not have a majority and will refuse any coalition with the PDM, but which instead can become a robust parliamentary opposition.

The expectations of opposition to the mobilization of the diaspora face a complex reality. On the one hand, the authorities subordinated to the Democratic Party are applying preventive measures to discourage the diaspora from voting – excluding voters with expired passports and maintaining the number of polling stations at a relatively small number compared to the diaspora (about 1 million). And, on the other hand, the diaspora’s political activism at these elections seems to be inferior to that of the 2016 presidential elections. The introduction of the mixed vote objectively diminished the influence the diaspora began to assume and to assimilate since the presidential elections. As a result of the deliberate complication of rules of the game by the government, involving the diaspora in the electoral race requires renewed arguments and identifying creative measures of engagement with diaspora before and after the elections.

An additional incentive to mobilize the diaspora vote in the 2019 elections may be to raise the awareness of diaspora about the eventual geopolitical risks. In fact, both the distortion of European integration or the reorientation of the country towards the East as very probable scenarios will generate losers, which can include the Moldovan migrants as well. That is why the diaspora must use the election philosophy and platforms of 2016 year to maximize the voting abroad and inspire the voters at home.

Instead of conclusions …

The Moldovan diaspora is part of the electoral calculations of the opposition and the government, but with opposing approaches. The opposition seeks ways to amplify votes from the diaspora, while the actions of the ruling party denote the interest in limiting the electoral participation of Moldovan migrants.

The main blow to the electoral potential of the diaspora was made in 2017 by the introduction of the mixed vote. Consequently, Moldovan migrants can only influence half of the 101 seats in the Parliament, which may have a discouraging effect.

Even if all polls show that the opposition has no chances to win the elections, it has real possibilities to turn into a strong opposition within Parliament, imposing the pro-reform and anti-corruption agenda. That is why mobilizing the Diaspora in the West is essential for improving the discourse and actions in local politics, strongly degraded after the 2014 elections.

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