Moldova's parliamentary election has come and gone, with the highly unpopular Communist Party winning an impossibly high number of votes and seats in Parliament (61 - exactly the number they need to elect a new President unopposed). Here's how they did it; note that while most of what follows is hard fact, some items are anecdotal and need to be investigated further. It should also be noted that the comments below are not exhaustive.
The information space outside of Chisinau was secured by shutting down independent and Romanian-language television channels, leaving the state television channel and Russia's main channel as the only sources of information. The state television channel acts as a propaganda machine for the Communists, always praising and never criticising them. Opposition politicians are largely ignored or covered in a negative light.
Opposition newspapers (such as Accente, Journal de Chisinau and Timpul) have been repeatedly harassed. This has taken the form of aggressive tax inspections, spurious legal actions and occasional physical abuse of journalists.
In Chisinau a degree of media pluralism was allowed to persist (possibly to impress western donors), however Chisinau represents only 700,000 of right-bank Moldova's 3.5m people.
The Communists have ensured that the judicial system is under their control, rather than being separate as required by the constitution. Judges deliver rulings on the basis of directives from the party rather than on the basis of law. This is evidenced by the extremely high number of successful challenges to Moldovan court rulings obtained through the ECHR.
The government has used their control over the judiciary to instigate largely spurious charges against the opposition in order to scare them and distract their focus. As examples of this we have the corruption charges against S Urechanu (the 'ambulance case'), V Passat (the 'Mig' case) and E Musuc.
The communist government has re-written electoral law in its favour. Having observed that the opposition was fragmented into a number of small parties, they lifted the threshold for a party to enter Parliament, thus ensuring that more Moldovans who vote for opposition parties will be disenfranchised. They also outlawed the creation of electoral blocs designed to overcome the threshold.
Moldova has a highly competent department of Information Technology, with many services to citizens available on-line. The Communists have declined to use this competence in the electoral process, failing to establish either an internet voting system or a postal voting system and requiring citizens to vote at the nearest Moldovan embassy. This effectively disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of Moldovans living and working in other countries, as Moldova's diplomatic network abroad is very weak.
DURING THE CAMPAIGN
Mis-use of Position
The governing party made ample use of the resources of government in executing its campaign. The prime-minister, Zenaida Grecianei, explicitly acknowledged that she had used administrative resources for campaign activity. Her defence was that electoral law (written by the communists!) did not explicitly forbid this. Apparently morality and democratic values have nothing to do with it.
Also, under electoral law, any government official or functionary is required to temporarily recuse himself or herself from their official position during the period of the campaign. A leading opposition figure, Dorin Chirtoaca, who is also the Mayor of Chisinau, complied with the law and stepped aside temporarily in favour of his deputy. None of the senior communist politicians - President Voronin, Speaker Lupu, PM Grecianei - complied with the law; all continued in their functions.
An ominous sign at the start of the campaign was the re-appointment of Gheoghe Papuc as Internal Affairs Minister (in charge of the police). Mr Papuc is well know from former times due to his use of repressive policing techniques.
During the campaign plain clothes policemen were in evidence at many opposition campaign events, infiltrating the crowds and provoking them. Police were frequently used to try to sew dissent between opposition parties, e.g. by daubing the members of one party in paint of the colour of another.
Due to their media domination, the Communists were able to send false messages to that part of the electorate that was indifferent or undecided. The major one of these was a message typically delivered in person to the elderly - "If the opposition come to power, you will lose your pension". In the week prior to the election the Communist government had the temerity to announce increases in pensions. This move would be unaffordable even in good economic times.
The communists continued to use their control of the media to their advantage. One example of this was the smear campaigns against opposition politicians conducted by EU TV, a channel run by the Communist party's political allies, the Christian democrats. Starved of access to the media, the smeared politicians were unable to defend themselves adequately.
A further example of abuse of media power was the debate schedule established by the state television channel. In a normal country, the four major parties would have been given the opportunity to seriously debate the issues of the day. Unfortunately the debate schedule gave equal time to the minor fringe parties, in a further attempt to dilute the opposition vote and confuse voters. It also pitted parties of similar persuasions against each other (rather than against the Communists), in an attempt to get the opposition to undermine itself. Unfortunately the people were given very few opportunities to see the policies of the Communist government seriously challenged live on television.
In the lead-up to the election, major discrepancies were discovered in the databases essential to its conduct. These are the identification number database of the Ministry of Information Technology and the electoral roll managed by the Electoral Commission. the first database is important because voters were require to present ID documentation at polling stations. The second actually governs who can vote.
The first discrepancy uncovered was a difference of 300,000 entries between the two databases (more than 10% of the 2.5m voters thought to be eligible).
It was also discovered that the ID database had not been updated since November 2008, meaning that 4 months' worth of dead souls were still active in the system.
The electoral roll was in even worse shape, with some instances reported of people who had died as long ago as 2001 still appearing on the roll.
THE VOTING PROCESS
Electoral propaganda is prohibited by law on the day of the election and on the day preceding it. Nonetheless, on Saturday, EU TV was shamelessly promoting its leader (and the Communist's ally), Iurie Rosca. In some communist controlled localities, pictures of President Voronin were seen hanging on the wall.
Vote rigging methods used on the day of the poll and in the count afterwards appear to have been many and varied. Here are some of the issues reported:
1. Vote buying. Communist Party representatives standing outside polling stations and / or going door to door offering monetary incentives or bottles of vodca to people who promised to vote Communist
2. The un-born. Many voters were surprised to find that, according to the electoral rolls, they had gained new family members who were living in their apartment but whom they had never met.
3. The dead. See comments above.
4. The lazy. In one case the Mayor of a village just outside Chisinau is reported to have voted communist on behalf of 3,000 of his citizens who failed to exercise their right to vote by the end of polling on Sunday.
5. Electoral tourism. An amendment to electoral law brought in during the week prior to the election allowed multiple forms of identity to be used to gain access to ballot papers (rather than the single ID document previously prescribed). This not surprisingly resulted in people registering multiple votes
6. Abuse of power. There are reports of patients at psychiatric institutions, prison inmates etc. being rounded up and ordered to vote Communist.
7. Process failure. This is another form of electoral tourism in which people can vote multiple times because local officials failed to place a 'voted' stamp on the ID document.
As mentioned earlier, some of these abuses are anecdotal and need further investigation. Others, however, are hard fact, and in themselves render the election result false and determine the illegitimacy of the Communist government.
It is to the EU and the OSCE's shame that both organisations issued statements describing the election as 'largely free and fair' or 'positive' without first investigating the alleged abuses outlined above. I would recommend that both organisations conduct internal investigations into why and how these statements, which have done enormous damage to Moldovan democracy, came to be released so early in the vote counting process.