Photos: Sadak Souici
At 7 pm local time on 24th August, the Central Election Commission states that over 1,370 million citizens of Moldova casted their ballots in the ongoing general election. The turnout is 46,77%. There are two hours to go until polls close. Statistics are updated live on the Commission’s website: https://pv.cec.md/cec-template-proportionale-prezenta.html
Voters from Transnistria make up a little bit over 1,19% of the total turnout, that is to say some 34,000 voters. Although it is a small share of the total turnout, this specific vote is the focus of intense media scrutiny. It is the first time they have the right to have representatives in the Parliament since the 1992 war. No polling station is open on the territory of the Russia-backed secessionist region. Moldovan authorities set up a few polling stations close to the crossing points between Chisinau-controlled territories and Transnistria, as well as in the capital city. Voters are packed in buses to cross the demarcation line and take part in the vote.
In Varnitsa, a village next to Transnistrian-controlled Bender, two polling stations are dedicated to the sole voters from Transnistria. The placed is crowded with over 1,000 people. At the polling station 48/25, head of the election commission Lyudmila Karakatcha states that 736 voters had casted their ballots by 12.15 pm. “It is really a lot”, she says. A man at the head of the queue asserts he has been waiting for 4 hours. “And it’s not over yet”, he sighs.
Are Transnistrian voters that eager to travel and to wait in the cold so they may leave their mark onto Moldovan politics? A man claims he is interested to do it as he holds passports from both Transnistria and Moldova. Another man claims he just came out of jail. He is obviously drunk. Yet he insists that he has come as a citizen to express his opinions. “The guys who loaded us into the bus wanted to give us some instructions as to who to vote for. I already knew I wanted to vote for the ‘pro-American’ party, so I didn’t listen to them. By the way, I am very displeased with the organisation here. It’s a big mess”. Not so many people queuing seem as convinced as he is. A woman gives it away: “it’s for money”.
According to various reports from journalists and observers, political parties compete for the votes from Transnistrian residents with payments from 300 to 600 lei, that is to say from 17 to 35 dollars each. The Democratic party and the Socialists are said to be the main purchasers of votes. The Shor party is believed to organise vote buying too, although on a smaller scale. The electoral trick is a tradition in Moldova and post-Soviet countries in general. The practice of “carrousel”, that is carrying voters from one polling station to another for them to cast their ballots several times, is also a common habit. At the entrance to the city of Chisinau on the road from Bender, a large poster welcomes “Transnistrians who come to vote for Socialists”. There are addresses to two polling stations.
“Election agitation” is still very accurate, despite the legal prohibition of party activities on the election day.The NewsMaker website reports the organisation of a barbecue party in the village of Săseni. In Varnitsa, some young men give out flyers on behalf of the Democratic party. The flyers give instructions on how to fill in ballots. Some Socialist flyers give the same kind of instructions. Transnistrian voters prove also interested in the distribution of #ProtestPermanent newspapers. It provides them with information on the electoral process yet does not advertise for any party.
ACUM leaders Maia Sandu and Andrei Nastase already warned in a press conference that they would not acknowledge the results coming from the Transnistrian constituencies. As it represents some 1% of the total turnout, it may not affect the results on the national level though. Constituencies for Moldovans abroad are also the focus of intense scrutiny. A high turnout is reported in both London, Istanbul and Moscow.