On February 24, 2019 the parliamentary elections and a republican consultative referendum took place in the Republic of Moldova. The Parliament is unicameral and consists of 101 members. The elections were organized for the first time after a mixed electoral system, which involved the creation of 51 uninominal constituencies and 50 members elected on national lists.
The introduction of the mixed electoral system did not benefit from the unanimous support of political and social actors. In 2017, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE / ODIHR) and the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission) issued a Joint Opinion on the Republic of Moldova on draft laws amending and completing some legislative acts who said that the introduction of this system is not advisable for the moment.
The Republican referendum had two questions: “Do you agree reducing the number of members in Parliament from 101 to 61?” and “Are you for the people to be able to dismiss Members of office if they do not properly fulfil their obligations?” Each voter received up to four ballots, two for the parliament representing the uninominal constituency and the national list, respectively one for the aforementioned referendum questions. Voting on the referendum was optional, so voters could refuse to sign to receive bulletins.
Expert Forum has accredited a number of 12 international observers to observe the parliamentary and referendum elections. Three observers were present in Chisinau and observed the electoral process from the 18th of February until the 25th of February, as well as the procedures for organising the elections and centralise the results. On election day and the day before, they observed the electoral process in 17 polling stations in the districts of Călăraşi, Orhei, Rezina, Nisporeni and Străşeni. In Romania, five polling stations from Bucharest (2), Iasi, Cluj Napoca and Constanta were covered.
EFOR observers did not identify serious violations of the law during the observation mission, but we acknowledged information about the pressures and acts of violence made against representatives of competitive political parties, the abuse of public resources and the unbalanced access to the media. On election day, we noted potential irregularities related to the use of cameras, the way in which the provisions regarding the continuation of electoral agitation were regulated and applied, as well as the poor organisation overall, more specifically the congestion in the sections for voters in Transnistria.
The electoral campaign and the elections took place on a complicated background, with public accusations made by opposition competitors that pressures are being on leaders and members of the campaign, violations of electoral legislation on political party funding, unequal access to resources for promotion and the media, polarised media space and abuse of public resources. These subjects were presented during the meetings of the EFOR mission members with the electoral competitors.
Pressures and threats have also been reported by national organizations (in this case Promolex) monitoring the elections.
In the polling stations observed on the day of voting no violations were found which would have significantly disrupt the process of voting. Representatives of the local electoral administration have carried out their duties according to law and professional. They communicated all the information requested by international observers. However, there have been issues raised by EFOR representatives that may create election vulnerabilities, related to continued electoral disturbance, use of video cameras, organised voter transport at polling stations, or knowledge of the rules by participants in the electoral process.
We believe that in most of the sections visited, the process took place under normal circumstances. In the 3 sections visited, the voting process was hampered by the large number of voters. A special case was the section opened in Rezina, where voters from the 47th district (Transnistria) exercised the right to vote. At the time of the observation team’s visit, more than 1,500 voters expressed their right to vote, and the waiting line numbered about 100 people, the atmosphere being tensed. Following the discussions with the polling station staff, we found that the station opened in Rezina had been crowded throughout the whole day and some of the voters had been transported in an organised manner since the early hours of the polling day. A similar flow was found at the polling station opened at Orhei for voters in Transnistria. We were informed about some cases of bribing of the votes, but this information could not be verified or confirmed.
At the national level, other issues have also been identified, which include both recent legislative changes and the manner in which the elections were organised.
Concerning the manner in which the elections were organised, the polling stations were adequately equipped. However, in some of them the flow of voters was inadequate, which generated congestion and the overlapping of some people who had received the ballot papers and the stamp with those who were expecting in turn to check their identity papers. At least three of the visited sections were not heated, causing discomfort to the members of the electoral bureaus and voters.
For the first time, according to the Electoral Code, electoral agitation was also allowed during the voting day. Electoral competitors had the right to promote electoral campaign themes and interact with voters outside polling stations; the continuation of the electoral agitation in the polling stations was forbidden and sanctioned according to the law. In this context, electoral materials and representatives of political parties who continued the propaganda activities were identified around the polling stations visited from Nisporeni (2), Straseni (2) and Rezina (1) districts. We have not identified cases of electoral agitation inside polling stations.
Election legislation included for the first time the placement of a video camera in polling stations. According to the procedures, the cameras were fixed on the stands and had to be directed to the ballot boxes, without allowing the identity of the people voting to be disclosed. The rooms did not transmit live, but the recording was saved on the internal memory. In the visited sections, the chambers were positioned differently, and in some of the sections the angle they were placed in, framed voters’ faces as well.
Regarding the referendum, we found very different voting practices. If in some sections almost all voters had signed for referendum, in others, the number of those who refused the ballots was higher. In two polling stations in the Republic of Moldova and in an open one on the territory of Romania, the voters took the ballot papers, but did not put them in the polls, leaving them in the voting booths. In some polling stations, ballot papers have been cancelled, but others have created problematic situations as they have tangled with the closure of control keys.
According to a recent decision by the Constitutional Court, voters abroad could not vote with their ID if they were expired. Thus, although there was the practice of voting with the expired passport, this was not possible in the 2019 parliamentary elections. However, citizens presented these documents to the polling stations. At the polling station opened at the Romanian Embassy in Bucharest, this case occurred for about 1/3 of the total number of those who voted, as estimated by the representatives of the electoral administration. Similar situations have also been reported to other polling stations in Romania, monitored by the EFOR observers. Against this background, we believe that a more intensive information campaigns is needed on the documents that can be used, especially given that this decision was taken shortly before the date of the elections.
Regarding the counting of votes, the polling stations in Iasi and the Bucharest Consulate went several hours because of the fact that the members of the electoral bureaus had unsealed too many ballots and had to cancel them individually.
- Delivering an extensive information campaign on the documents that can be used for voting and setting it up in a timely manner to allow voters to know the full list well in advance of election day
- While the provision on allowing political agitation on Election Day is reflected in the Electoral Code, we believe it may be a disturbing factor for the electoral process, as the presence of a large number of representatives of political parties around polling stations can become an intimidating mechanism. Thus, we consider it necessary to reformulate these provisions in order to avoid any pressure on voters in the immediate vicinity of the polling stations
- While we believe that introducing video cameras can facilitate the transparency of the process and can generate evidence in violation complaints, the unfortunate placement can intimidate voters and may distort their role. Thus, we recommend a more effective preparation of electoral bureaux members for the use of the cameras so as to avoid directing towards the voters, thus intimidating them
- The modification of the electoral legislation should be made well in advance of the electoral period and amendments in a short period before the election should be avoided.
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