Ukraine’s President gets what he wants out of Parliamentary polls but wants more

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A polling station in the Kherson region set up for voting in the Parliamentary elections

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky got exactly what he wanted out of last weekend’s parliamentary elections – an overall majority for his Servant of the People party (Sluha Narodu), a good showing for other newcomers Holos (led by rock star Svyatoslav Vakarchuk) and the ousting of many of the oligarchs who have occupied seats in the Verkhovna Rada seemingly as of right for many years. Now he wants more and is seeking to bring forward local elections to this autumn.

Zelensky won the Presidency in April with 73% of the vote in the run-off against incumbent Petro Poroshenko. In his inauguration speech he immediately called for early elections to the country’s parliament. As a newcomer to the political scene – his experience until then had been as a comedian, TV producer and star of the Servant of the People show in which he played a school teacher who unexpectedly becomes President – he had no official support in the Rada and had no means of getting legislation through or enforcing his choices for many of the key positions running the country.

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A poster showing the party list and manifesto for Petro Poroshenko’s European Solidarity party on display at a polling station in the Kherson region

The challenge for Zelensky going into these elections was exactly how popular was he? Winning 73% of the vote in the run-off would indicate considerable popularity, but he only gained 30% in the first round and it was widely expected that he would need to form a coalition in order to govern. Most commentators assumed that the bulk of the second round votes came from those voting against the incumbent rather than positively for Zelensky. 

The Ukrainian electoral system was also stacked against him. Roughly half the seats are awarded on the basis of a national party list system – where Servant of the People could be assumed to do quite well. But the remainder would be awarded to the winners of first past the post single member constituencies. And many of the incumbents were well entrenched local oligarchs including factory and media owners and other local powerbrokers. In contrast, Servant of the People were putting forward completely new faces, many of whom were not even local to the districts they were seeking to represent. Whilst international election observers had not seen a great scale of electoral malpractice in the presidential poll, it was assumed that in these single mandate constituencies there would be more scope for bribery and other electoral malfeasance. Could Zelensky and his party turn their presidential ‘against the system’ message into a winning strategy for the Rada and overcome such barriers?

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A polling station in the Kherson region on Election Day

Well it turned out that they could do so in spades. The party not only topped the list vote, but won a majority of the single member seats too. Long time incumbents were unceremoniously defeated by political naifs and, even though OSCE/ODIHR and others reported instances of bribery, it appears that voters were savvy enough to take the cash or foodstuffs on offer and then vote for Servant of the People candidates anyway. Servant of the People won 16 out of 17 seats in Dnipropetrovsk, 8 out of 9 in Kyiv Oblast, 12 out of 14 in Kharkiv, and all 13 in Kyiv city. (1)

In the list vote, Servant of the People won in every region except three. In the far eastern regions bordering the rebel controlled areas of the Donbas, the Russia supporting Opposition Platform – For Life topped the poll and in Lviv region in the West it was Holos (Voice) that came top. But Servant of the People performed strongly in these too and came first in the remaining 22 regions.

Across the country, the list results were:

  • Servant of the People 43.2% 124 seats
  • Opposition Platform – For Life 13.1% 37 seats
  • Batkivshchyna (the party of Yulia Tymoshenko) 8.2% 24 seats
  • European Solidarity (the party of former President Poroshenko) 8.1% 23 seats
  • Holos 5.8% 17 seats

No other party won more than 5% and therefore did not exceed the threshold to win representation, although six other parties (2) gained more than 2% and so will receive some state funding for their activities.

In the single mandate constituencies, 

  • Servant of the People won 130 seats
  • Opposition Platform – For Life won 6 seats
  • European Solidarity won 2 seats
  • Batkivshchyna won 2 seats
  • Holos won 3 seats
  • Opposition Bloc won 6 seats
  • Svoboda won 1 seat
  • Self Reliance won 1 seat
  • and there were 48 independents and others elected

And so overall Servant of the People hold 253 of the 424 Rada seats (some 26 seats were not contested this time as they fall within Crimea and the Donbas areas which are not in government control).

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Defaced political posters in the Kherson region the day before Parliamentary elections

The scale of the transformation of the Rada cannot be over-stated. More than 300 of the MPs elected last week are new faces and not a single member on the government benches has served before. In one example, in the south-eastern Zaporizhzhya region, 29-year-old Serhiy Shtepa, a wedding photographer, defeated 80-year-old millionaire Vyacheslav Boguslayev, the owner of engine maker Motor Sich PJSC.

The elections were assessed positively overall by international observers including OSCE/ODIHR. They were competitive and respected fundamental freedoms with the voting and tabulation processes being assessed as transparent and smooth. Inevitably, it was not an error-free process and the country still has some improvements that could be made, but this was a general thumbs-up for these polls. The international community has also welcomed the results as being a positive mandate for continued reform.

 

At no time in Ukraine’s post-Soviet history has one party controlled a majority of the seats in the Rada. Such control now will allow Zelensky considerable leeway to mould the country in his image. But most commentators are still wondering what that image will look like. The President has made statements about wanting to end the war in the East, but Russia and the rebels are refusing meaningful engagement. A deal for a prisoner swap involving the sailors held by Russia since the Kerch Strait incident fell apart at the last minute as they had their incarceration period extended and the Ukraine court postponed a hearing to decide the fate of a Russian blogger. More recently, Ukraine has seized a Russian ship that it claims was involved in the blockade of the Kerch Strait. It appears that Zelensky is happy to ratchet up tensions with his biggest neighbour in order not to appear weak, although this might also make a deal more likely.

Domestically, Zelensky has made it clear that he wants to see the de-oligarchisation of the state. But his relationship with his patron (and oligarch) Ihor Kolomoisky is still unclear. Is this just a change of oligarchs with influence or is this a genuine clear out? Figures close to Kolomoisky such as Andriy Bogdan, who now serves as the president’s chief of staff, are heavily involved in policy-making and running the presidential administration. Ties to the former owner of PrivatBank may cast a shadow over Sluha Narodu’s fight against corruption, an issue many Ukrainians believe should be the top priority of the next parliament.

The mixed electoral system would seem to be on its way out. Zelensky has said that he wants to move to a single national list system – albeit an open list where voters can promote their favourite candidates rather than having to accept the order set by parties. It has also been suggested that there would be no threshold – leading to a plethora of small factions. Just before these polls the Rada passed a version of this system which the President said he was not happy with. It is set to come into force for the next parliamentary polls, but may well be changed again before that time.

And in order to complete his hold on power, Zelensky is turning his attention to local government. He has the power to dismiss figures such as the mayor of Kyiv, the former boxer Vitaliy Klitschko, but he also wants to see local elections brought forward. These are due to be held in October next year, but the President has said he wants to hold them this autumn instead. He faces some opposition in the form of the country’s constitution which mandates that local polls must be held on a fixed five year timetable. Changing the constitution would require two votes of the Rada in separate sessions, indicating that next spring is the earliest that polls could happen. But with a compliant parliament and a definite will, it seems likely that Zelensky will get his way even if it means backdating a constitutional change or holding local elections both this autumn and next.

Zelensky has been explicit in his backing for a western facing, pro European and pro NATO stance, but it is clear that the country will not become a member of NATO for many years yet. The alliance is unwilling to take on a new member which is de facto at war with a neighbouring state. Previous Ukrainian governments have also traded on their conflict with Russia, believing they can get away with a lot so long as they are battling the West’s main opponent. How long this situation can be taken for granted (if it ever could) is also in doubt. 

Zelensky will also be trying to change a system where a majority of voters may not actually support his ideology. According to a strategist for Holos:

“Most of Sluha Narodu’s voters did not support the president’s party because of its pro-market agenda, but because they expect the new ruling party to cut utility prices, raise salaries and improve social conditions in general.”

Despite his resounding success, it is clear that Zelensky will have to live up to the expectations of his backers if he is to have any hope of a second term. The Ukrainian people have shown how tired they are of the oligarch system. It will be a very difficult task to unpick it, but that must be the aim if Zelensky is not to prove a flash in the pan.

 

Notes:

(1) There was an issue with clone candidates who claimed to be part of Servant of the People but were not official candidates. OSCE/ODIHR believes that such candidates distorted the result in as many as nine constituencies. I will be writing about this as part of the wider ‘imposter’ phenomenon in elections at another time.

(2) The six other parties to gain more than 2% in the list vote and therefore be eligible for state funding are:

  • Radical Party of Oleg Lyashko
  • Strength and Honour
  • Opposition Bloc
  • Ukrainian Strategy of Groysman
  • Party of Shariy
  • Svoboda

Russian readmission to Council of Europe could have an impact on Ukraine’s Parliamentary election

UPDATE 28/6/19: Six more PACE delegations have walked out of the General Assembly in solidarity with Ukraine.

A row over the readmission of Russia to the Council of Europe could have repurcussions for the up-coming Parliamentary elections in Ukraine as the country’s foreign minister has suggested that an invitation to Council of Europe observers could be withdrawn.

The Council of Europe is a body created to promote democracy and human rights and with 47 members from across the continent. Russia withdrew three years ago following condemnation of the annexation of Crimea and Russian support for the rebels in Eastern Ukraine. Its membership was subsequently suspended. At its summer meeting this week, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (known as PACE) voted on a proposal which would see Russia readmitted. That vote was passed despite strong opposition from Ukraine, the Baltic states, Georgia and the UK delegations.

Proponents of readmission argue that the Council of Europe oversees the work of the European Court of Human Rights and that continued exclusion of Russia would threaten the rights of Russian citizens who regularly win judgements in that court. Those opposed to the measure say it will be seen as a relaxation of sanctions against Russia and a loss of determination over Russian actions against Ukraine and incidents such as the Salisbury poisoning.

New Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has condemned the vote and suggested that many countries’ words of support have not been matched by their actions. Ukraine’s delegation to PACE has temporarily withdrawn in protest and it’s ambassador recalled. 

James Nixey, the head of the Russia and Eurasia programme at Chatham House told TRT World:

“The Council of Europe has had a long and dishonourable record of conceding to Russian diplomacy, through a mixture of corruption, coercion and bribery. Even without these methods, there is also an innate desire in the PACE structures and many of its member states to allow Russia in.”

In a move that will surprise no one, Russia has proposed four people on the international sanctions list as members of their new PACE delegation and have even suggested that they will nominate someone from Crimea.

Now the Foreign Minister of Ukraine, Pavlo Klimkin, has suggested that the invitation issued to PACE to observe the Parliamentary elections on July 21st may be withdrawn. PACE delegations traditionally work alongside the OSCE/ODIHR mission which is the largest and most respected* of the international election observation missions in Ukraine.

There is no question that Ukraine is genuinely angry about the PACE decision. Although not a foreign policy-oriented President, Zelensky had made significant efforts in his relations with France and Germany and the wider EU with his first foreign visits being made to Brussels and then Berlin and Paris. He will feel that his efforts have not been rewarded as German and French delegates were at the forefront of the Council of Europe’s Russia decision. Zelensky’s next foreign trip is to Canada where more than a million citizens describe themselves as ‘Ukrainian-Canadian’. The diaspora there have traditionally been very nationalist and anti-Russian in their outlook.

A recent Chatham House paper argues that:

“Kyiv may find that unconditional European support for Ukraine can no longer be taken for granted, it will have to be won.”

The certainly seems to be the case at the moment. The question will be whether the new President and Parliament are prepared to carry on trying to woo Europe or whether they will revert to more traditional supporters.

 

*Declaration of interest – I work frequently for OSCE/ODIHR and was a long term observer for the mission to observe the Presidential elections in the Spring.

Kazakhstan election gets a failing grade from OSCE/ODIHR

Yesterday’s snap Presidential election in Kazakhstan has been assessed very negatively by OSCE/ODIHR, the most respected international group present in the country. The election was called after interim President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev called the poll having taken over from long time President Nursultan Nazarbayev .

The full OSCE/ODIHR statement can be found here. It is a preliminary statement and the final report will be issued in a couple of months once the election processes, including any complaints and appeals, have been dealt with.

In short, OSCE/ODIHR found that:

  • there were a few positives, including that the central election commission held its meetings in public;
  • the campaign environment was not equal, with huge bias being shown towards the incumbent;
  • although there were seven candidates, including one woman, there was no real choice available to voters;
  • restrictions on freedom of assembly and arrests of those who expressed views opposed to the incumbent regime meant there was not an open campaign environment;
  • there were indications of malfeasance on Election Day including of ballot box stuffing;
  • counting and tabulation procedures were particularly problematic with evidence of manipulation of the vote.

Mr Tokayev was declared the winner with 70.76% of the vote – well down on the 98% which his predecessor was recorded as having gained last time.

This report presents a challenge both to the Kazakh regime and to other governments. The Kazakh regime has shown in the past that it does not take much notice of OSCE/ODIHR reports. Will they do so this time? And similarly for the OSCE member governments that commissioned this mission – will they take any account of the problems with the election and will any action follow?

 

UPDATE: A Chatham House paper on the elections and what happens next is here.

 

Election Observation – how to get involved

I sometimes get asked about election observation missions – who organises them and how to get involved. So here is a short guide – mainly from a UK point of view, but also useful for those from other countries, I hope.

There are a number of organisations which run election observation missions. Some are domestic groups (ie they observe in their home country) and some are international groups. The major international groups include:

  • the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) which consists of 57 member countries;
  • The EU (not just the 28 member states. Canada, Norway and Switzerland are among those who join in with missions and UK ministers have told me that they are minded to continue to participate in some missions after Brexit);
  • IRI and NDI which are US non-governmental organisations;
  • The African Union;
  • The Organisation of American States;
  • The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS – many of the former Soviet Union states)
  • The Carter Center, a foundation set up by former US President Jimmy Carter.

In general, all groups organise missions in a similar way. They will have a core team of experts which may include people skilled in political affairs, in election systems and procedures, in election law, in gender and national minorities issues, in media, electoral finance and so on.

In addition to this, there will usually be a group of long term observers (LTOs). These are experienced observers who are deployed in teams of two across the country. Each team will have a defined region to cover and their job is to observe the political campaign and the preparations by local election administrators, NGOs, media and so on.

Most missions also have short term observers (STOs) whose task is to observe polling day itself by going from polling station to polling station and seeing what is happening there. They will also watch the count and tabulation process. STOs also work in pairs and mix nationalities in each team. Where possible, each team will have a man and a woman and a mixture of experience. 

Depending on which organisation and what country, missions might be larger or smaller. A big OSCE mission might have as many as 60 LTOs and 400 STOs. A small mission might just be a group of experts looking at a few key aspects of the process.

And yes, observation takes place in just about every country including the UK. The aim is to see whether a country has laws and processes in place that meet the internationally agreed standards to which they have signed up AND to see whether the conduct of the individual election meets the requirements of the law. People often ask whether a particular election was ‘free and fair’ and, whilst that is good shorthand, reports are always more nuanced than this. Even a positive report (such as that on the recent Armenian Parliamentary election) will contain suggestions for the future.

Each mission has an offical working language. At present, these are limited to English for OSCE missions and some EU, plus French, Spanish and Portuguese for other EU missions. If you want to apply for a mission where the language is not your native one then you will be asked to undertake a language test and the expected standard is C1 – ie complete fluency.

A key requirement for all observers is to be objective and neutral. Just because something is being done in a different way from your home country, doesn’t mean it is wrong. There is an internationally agreed code of conduct and standard for observation which all of the reputable organisations are signed up to. One of the requirements is not to have any conflicts of interest such as declared support for one of the participating candidates or parties.

From the UK perspective, both LTOs and STOs are seconded. In other words they are chosen by the Foreign Office and proposed to OSCE or the EU. The UK contracts out the management to three ‘focal points’:

British East West Centre (BEWC)

Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (SOLACE) – best to email davidkidgerassociates@btinternet.com and ask to be added to the database

Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD)

Both WFD and SOLACE run databases and prospective observers can register to receive emails as and when a mission is announced. BEWC advertises missions on its website. For both EU and OSCE missions, observers also need to be registered on their system.

As for money, international election observation (outside of core team roles) is not going to provide enough for a living, but you will not be out of pocket for individual missions either. UK observers receive a per diem to cover accommodation and food and this amount depends on the country where you are working. It can range from about €100 to €240 per day. Any per diem that you don’t spend can be kept. You will also receive money to pay for drivers and interpreters (who are chosen for you), fuel and so on. Flights and insurance is also taken care of. On top of this, LTOs (but not STOs) receive a small wage.

That’s basically it. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch – alexfolkes@gmail.com 

Massive swing in Armenian elections sees ruling party swept from power

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A poster at an Armenian polling station urges voters not to sell their vote ‘for her future’

The major takeaway from the Armenian general election is the sheer dominance of the My Step Alliance of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. The group won just over 70% of the votes cast albeit on a turnout of only 48.6% – some 12% down on the last election.

The voting system is a national list with half the seats allocated according to preferences cast in the 13 regions. The results are as follows (1):

My Step Alliance 884,456 70.43%

Prosperous Armenia 103,824 8.27%

Bright Armenia 80,024 6.37%

Republican Party of Armenia 59,059 4.70%

Armenian Revolutionary Federation 48,811 3.89%

We Alliance 25,174 2.00%

Sasna Tsrer 22,862 1.82%

Rule of Law 12,389 0.99%

Citizen’s Decision 8,530 0.68%

Christian Democratic Rebirth Party 6,456 0.51%

National Progress Party 4,122 0.33%

Invalid Votes 5,133

Total 1,260,840

Various peculiarities of the voting system and electoral law apply to thisArmenia 7 result. Firstly, there is a 5% threshold applied to individual parties and a 7% threshold for alliances. But the Armenian electoral code requires that at least three factions are represented in Parliament. If the result does not provide for this then the threshold will be lowered until three factions qualify. In this case three factions will be represented and so the threshold will apply.

Second, the code requires that a faction that wins more than 50% of the votes cast shall receive a working majority in the Parliament (defined as 54% of MPs). That is clearly the case for My Step Alliance here.

Conversely, the code also limits the parliamentary majority that a single faction may enjoy. No group may have more than two thirds of the MPs. Stripping out the parties which failed to pass the threshold, the raw votes would have entitled My Step Alliance to 84 seats, Prosperous Armenia to 10 seats and Bright Armenia to 7 seats in the 101 seat Parliament. In order to ensure a working opposition, the code requires that additional mandates are created for the opposition to limit the governing party to the two-thirds threshold. Thus My Step Alliance will hold 88 seats, Prosperous Armenia 26 and Bright Armenia 18 in a Parliament of 132. Four seats are reserved for national minorities and, of these, My Step Alliance won 3 and Prosperous Armenia 1. (2)

Armenia 11I wrote about the background to the election here. It followed a largely peaceful revolution in April this year which saw the Republican Party of Armenia lose power and Nikol Pashinyan become Prime Minister. The RPA remained the dominant faction in Parliament, however, with 58 seats. Following these elections, they will have no MPs at all.

The small number of invalid ballots can mainly be explained by the voting system used. Each voter is given an envelope and 11 ballot papers, each representing an individual party. They choose their preferred party and insert that ballot paper in the envelope. The corner of the envelope has been removed to expose a small section of the ballot paper to which a validating sticker is attached before the vote is cast. Thus, if an envelope contains more than one ballot paper then only the one with the sticker attached is deemed valid and an envelope with no ballot paper will have no sticker and will be ignored rather than considered blank or invalid. Invalid votes will be those which have been written on – a comparatively rare event.

The OSCE/ODIHR election observation mission covering these elections produced a broadly positive report on the proceedings, although identified some remaining shortcomings in the areas of campaign finance, the legal system, transparency and gender representation.

The future for Pashinyan’s government will be challenging. Whilst critics from within the Republican Party (not surprisingly) dismiss the new rulers as populists who will ruin their works, the public view of the Republican Party is at an all time low. Other critics, however, point out the lack of governmental experience.

One of Pashinyan’s early moves was an overture towards Turkey. The two countries have had a glacial relationship over the issue of the Armenian genocide. However the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet reported the comments by the new Prime Minister word for word and this will be taken as a positive response.

Another large neighbour – Russia – fired a shot across the bows of Pashinyan in the form of an article in Sputnik News claiming to raise issues about the past history of government members. Russia has a large military base just outside the Armenian second city of Gyumri and, whilst Pashinyan has made no comments which would seem to threaten the future of that base, he does appear willing to upset the status quo in many respects. Laurence Broers of Chatham House has said Armenia is set for future political change in overturning former semi-authoritarian and oligarchic regimes.

“How to do that while maintaining the close alliance with Russia will test the Armenian-Russian relationship severely. But any dismantling of Armenia’s oligarchic ties in many major sectors of the economy, including energy and transport, will inevitably bring Pashinyan into conflict with their deep penetration by Russian state and commercial actors, and their local Armenian clients.”

  1. These totals have now been confirmed by Territorial Electoral Commissions and the Central Election Commission but may be subject to court challenges.
  2. This section has been updated with the correct number of seats awarded rather than estimates

Moldova Parliamentary Elections 2019 preview

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An election for the Moldovan Parliament was due to be held in late 2018 but has been postponed until 24th February 2019.

A presidential election is due in 2020. Between 1996 and 2012, the President was indirectly elected by the Parliament. However a constitutional court ruling in March 2016 found the indirect electoral system to be unconstitutional and the country therefore reverted to the previous direct two round election system.

Local elections are due in June 2019. Local authorities are elected using a proportional party list system and mayors are elected using a two round system with a second round held (if no candidate wins more than 50% of the votes in the first round) two weeks later.

History

Moldova is one of the smallest of the former soviet republics and currently has a population of around 3.9 million. This number is based on the 2004 census and includes Transnistria. There is significant speculation that the true figure of those living in the country is significantly lower. There is a large diaspora and the country is heavily reliant on remittances sent from abroad with more than 38% of the country’s GDP coming in that form – the second highest in the world after Tajikistan. 

The country is one of a number of former soviet republics suffering from a frozen conflict. Since 1990 the territory on the east bank of the Dniester River has been under the de facto control of a separate government and is known as Transnistria. Transnistria is largely comprised of Russian speakers of Ukrainian and Russian heritage. Violent clashes took place in the winter of 1991 and this escalated into a full military conflict from March to July 1992. There is currently a large Russian force in Transnistria which is nominally present to safeguard large arms caches. The peace agreement is overseen by a tri-partite grouping of Russian, Moldovan and Transnistrian forces. Unlike other conflicts such as Nagorno-Karabakh, there are close ties between the populations of Moldova and Transnistria and residents are able to cross the borderline.

Various efforts have been made to resolve the Transnistrian dispute with the most significant being that led by Dmitri Kozak, a counsellor to Russian President Putin. His proposal in 2003 would have seen an assymetrical republic which would effectively have given Transnistria a veto on future constitutional changes. Although not the 50-50 split that the Transnistrian government asked for, the government of the territory signed up to the proposal. However the President of Moldova, Vladimir Voronin refused to do so after internal opposition and at the urging of the US and OSCE. In 2011 a further process started in Vienna but has not progressed. The issue is seen as being key in Moldova but a low priority for Western states with little chance for resolution, especially following the Russian annexation of Crimea.

Practicalities

The 101 seat Parliament will be elected using a mixed member system following electoral law changes in 2017. The system is ‘unlinked’ in that the list seats are allocated proportional to the share of the votes using the d’Hondt method regardless of the number of constituency seats won. There will be 51 members elected in individual constituencies and the remaining 50 from party lists. Of the 51 constituency seats, three are for Moldovans living abroad and 2 for Transnistria, although it is unknown how such elections will work in practice.

A varying threshold will apply to the lists. For single parties it will be 6%, for alliances of two parties it is 9% and for alliances of three or more parties it is 11%. Individual candidates running as independents face a lower 2% threshold.

For the election to be considered valid there must be a turnout of 33% or more.

Electoral History

There have been eight elections since Moldova gained independence in 1991. The country is unique in that it is the only one of the former Soviet republics in which an unreformed Communist Party has re-taken power after having been voted out of office.

The first election was held in 1994 with the Democratic Agrarian Party winning 56 of the 104 seats. The Communists (the Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova) then won the most seats in the following six contests with the number of seats lowered to 101 in 1998. However the PCRM was denied power in three of those elections as other parties combined to force them into opposition.

Turnout levels have fallen from 79.3% in the first elections in 1994 to 55.85% at the last elections in 2014. The threshold for a valid election was cut from 50% to the current 33% before the July 2009 elections.

All previous elections have taken place with a single nationwide constituency using closed party lists. One area where there have been regular revisions is that of thresholds. An initial 4% threshold has been changed numerous times with different levels for single parties, two party alliances and three or more party alliances being adopted in 2005. A lower threshold of 3% for independent candidates had been adopted in 2001 and was lowered to 2% in 2010. However, no independent candidate has ever come close to reaching this level. Indeed, all votes for independent candidates combined have never reached the threshold. The threshold for single parties is currently at its highest level ever. In 2009, the OSCE said that the (then 6%) threshold was a barrier to smaller parties being able to enter Parliament and should be lowered. In the history of elections in Moldova there have never been more than 5 factions elected to the Parliament.

The major stumbling block for Moldovan electoral politics has been the election of the president. In 1996 the system was changed to require the President to be elected by a super-majority of 61 MPs. If Parliament failed three times to elect a President then it would be dissolved and new elections held. This provision came into effect after the April 2009 elections when the PCRM won 60 of the seats. There were widespread accusations of vote fraud and opposition parties organised protests which led to the storming of Parliament and the building being set on fire. The Constitutional Court ordered a recount which was subsequently boycotted by the opposition which feared it would be used to allot the one extra seat that the PCRM needed. In the event the recount made no significant changes.

The opposition parties all voted against the PCRM nominated Presidential candidate and so fresh elections were held in July 2009. Once again the Communists won most seats, but with just 48 PCRM MPs (and 53 for the combined opposition which formed the government), no President could be elected.

In the face of a seemingly insurmountable systemic failure, Parliament looked to change the constitution. The Government and PCRM had different views as to what change was required and so a constitutional referendum was held on the basis of the Government’s plans in September 2010. The proposed changes won 87% support among those who voted, but with a boycott campaign organised by the PCRM and others, turnout was just 30.29% – below the one-third threshold.

This forced Parliament to be dissolved again and fresh elections were held in November 2010. The outcome was similar to the previous contest with the PCRM winning 42 seats and the other parties combined to form the Alliance for European Integration with 59 seats. The courts made the decision that the government would stay in place even if no President could be elected and this Parliament ran its full term to 2014.

The most significant change at the 2014 elections was the emergence of a new party. The Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova (PSRM) was led by Igor Dodon as a breakaway from the Communists. The PSRM came top of the polls with 25 seats followed by the Liberal Democrats with 23 seats, PCRM with 21 seats, Democrats with 19 seats and Liberals with 13 seats. One party (Homeland) was disqualified from the contest for using foreign funds.

In 2016 the courts decided that the indirect system used to elect the President was unconstitutional and the country should return to direct elections for the post. Igor Dodon won the subsequent poll with 52% of the vote in the second round (having secured 47% in the first). He beat Maia Sandu who ran on an ‘Action and Solidarity’ ticket. Turnout in the first round was 49% and 53% in the second.

In the summer of 2018 the mayoral election in the capital Chisinau was annulled following a complaint. The courts (which must certify the result of an election, found that Mr Nastase had received funding from overseas and had campaigned on polling day in contravention of the silence requirement. This led to a series of protests. The ‘winner’ of that election, Andrei Nastase, is standing on the PPDA ticket at this election and OSCE/ODIHR reports that interlocutors raise the possibility of the mayoral election impacting on Parliamentary polls.

Parties

The Party of Communists of the Republic of Moldova (PCRM) has been the most successful party historically in Moldova. However it is now largely eclipsed by the Socialists. It is a true communist party and affiliated to the Party of European Left. The party suffered a major split in 2016 which saw 14 MPs leave the PCRM faction and subsequently join the Democratic Party.

Current polling average – 3%

The Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova (PSRM) has largely eclipsed the Communists. Whilst they just beat their rivals in the last elections they are now running at around 50% in opinion polls to 3% for the PCRM. Whilst the party has a history dating back to 1997, it was largely unsuccessful and did not compete in 2009 or 2010 elections, backing the PCRM instead. Igor Dodon joined the party in 2011 and the party gained most seats in the 2014 elections. Dodon won the Presidential election in 2016 and subsequently stepped down from the party leadership to be replaced by Zinaida Greceanii.

Dodon and the PSRM are largely perceived to be pro-Russian. However, the party and its leadership claims that they are pursuing a balanced foreign policy favouring neither the EU and the West nor Russia. Party platforms support the concept of a Moldovan language (although the constitution refers to the national language as Romanian) and Dodon and others choose to speak in Russian as their first language.

Whilst the party claims a socialist and left leaning ideology, many policy positions are nationalist and right wing in character. The party has links to the Europe of Nations and Freedom grouping and to populist parties across Europe.

Current polling average – 47-50%

The Liberal Democratic Party of Moldova (PLDM) is a conservative pro-European party. It is currently led by Viorel Cibotaru, a former Defense Minister. It was founded in 2007 by Vlad Filat and others as a breakaway from the Democratic Party. They were later joined by members breaking away from the Christian Democratic Popular Party.

The LDPM won 15 seats in its first election in 2009 and then 18 seats in the election three months later. Filat became Prime Minister as head of the Alliance for European Integration. In 2010 the party won 32 seats and became the dominant non-Communist party. Iurie Leanca replaced Filat as prime minister in 2013. In the most recent elections the party won 23 seats on 20% of the vote but support has since collapsed.

Current polling average – 1%

The Democratic Party of Moldova (PDM) is a centre-left pro-European political party alligned to the Party of European Socialists. It is broadly a social democratic party. It was founded in 1997 and led by Vladimir Plahutniuc and first deputy chairman Pavel Filip currently became Prime Minister in a coalition government in 2016. At the most recent elections the party won 19 seats on 15.8% of the vote. However, as a result of defections, the party currently holds 42 seats in the Parliament and is the largest grouping.

Current polling average – 11-14%

The Liberal Party (PL) is a conservative liberal party affiliated to the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE). The party is led by Mihai Ghimpu whose nephew Dorin Chirtoaca was Mayor of Chisinau. Founded in 1993 as the Party of Reform, the party held a broadly christian democratic platform. It failed to enter parliament in the 1994, 98 and 2001 elections. In 2005 the Party re-branded itself as the Liberal Party and adopted a liberal programme. Ghimpu became President of the Party and in the elections that year they won 15 seats on 13% of the vote. The party again won 15 seats in the second 2009 elections on a slightly higher share of the vote and entered government as party of the Alliance for European Integration. In 2010 the party dropped to 12 seats in Parliament on 10% of the vote.

In 2013 the party suffered a split as members broke away to form the Liberal Reformist Party which joined the new Pro-European Coalition government. In the most recent elections the PL won 13 seats on 9.7% of the vote.

Current polling average – 1-2%

The Liberal Reformist Party (PLR) subsequently lost all seven seats in the 2014 election. It is a centre-right liberal party affiliated with Liberal International and led by Ion Hadarca which believes in Moldovan-Romanian unionism.

Current polling average – not found.

The Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS) is a liberal pro-EU party founded in 2016 and led by former Education Minister Maiai Sandu. Sandu came second in the 2016 Presidential elections. The party has a centre-right ideology and is affiliated to the European People’s Party grouping.

Current polling average – 11-15%

The Dignity and Truth Platform Party (PPDA) is a centre-right party led by Andrei Nastase a lawyer who won the annulled mayoral election in Chisinau in June 2018. The party was formed in 2015 initially as a civic movement and calls for a change in the political class. It campaigns against the ‘oligarchic mafia government’ and particularly opposes Vladimir Plahotniuc.

Current polling average – 13-16%

Key Electoral Issues

  1. The rise of the PSRM in the polls appears to guarantee that the party will be the largest single bloc within next parliament. The significant question will be whether they will secure more than half of the seats. This may in turn depend on the performance of some of the smaller parties. If they can reach the threshold to secure seats then it lessens the chance of a single party government. However, the raising of the threshold would seem likely to preclude the Communists, PLDM and PL from reaching parliament through the lists. Based on current polls, only the PSRM, PPDA, PAS and PDM would win seats.
  2. The change to an unlinked mixed member system is also likely to work to the benefit of larger parties as parties with a small plurality of the vote can win an overwhelming majority of the seats. It would be perfectly possible for the PSRM to win more than two thirds of the seats on just under half of the votes. For the small parties to be represented in Parliament they are likely to have to concentrate their efforts on a very small number of constituencies where they are strongest and run big names in those seats. However, in a country which has no history of single member constituencies and where all parties like to portray themselves as being able to win a majority everywhere, this may be a hurdle too high to clear.
  3. The changes to electoral law – in particular the move to a constituency system – have necessitated the establishement of new electoral bodies with new powers. Constituency Electoral Councils will be formally established only 60 days before election day and so will face an uphill task if they are to complete there duties on time and in a satisfactory manner. One major task will be ‘comprehensive voter education’. 
  4. Voter lists – and the registration of people who are deceased or have emigrated – has proved to be an issue in previous elections in Moldova. This time there are approximately 2.8 million people registered and around 1 in 14 of these (some 200,000) do not have a registered home address. Whilst this is not a problem with a national voter list, it is a requirement for a constituency based system. How these people will be allocated to a constituency – or whether they will at all – will be a significant challenge for the electoral authorities.
  5. Candidate nomination will also be a challenge. In particular, candidates are required to obtain an ‘integrity certificate’. This is meant to exclude those who are, for whatever reason, barred from standing and also requires a financial disclosure. Similar requirements in other countries have been used to weed out candidates opposed to the incumbent regime and also to delay candidatures.
  6. The formal campaign will start 30 days before election day. As well as traditional campaigning methods, it is anticipated that there will be extensive online and social media campaigning. Given the fragility of the Transnistria dispute and the geo-political interest in the nation, it is possible that out of country actors (whether state sanctioned or not) may seek to influence the election. Authorities within the country have played down this possibility (maybe because they recognise that there is little action they could take to prevent it) and have instead raised concerns about the misuse of state resources – something that the OSCE premanent mission in Moldova is seeking to help the Central Election Commission to tackle.
  7. Campaign finance is a significant issue in Moldova. Accusations have been made in the past over the misuse of charitable organisations linked to candidates and whether these have been used for vote-buying. And, whilst campaign funds may not come from overseas, with the very high level of remittances, it is perhaps inevitable that a large proportion of campaign funds will have come, at least ab initio, from other countries. Regulations do not state how many times such funds have to have been ‘washed’ before they can be considered domestic.
  8. The level of mistrust in some state authorities in Moldova is very high. The annullment of the Chisinau mayoral election has led to this mistrust spreading to the electoral system. In addition, the significant changes in the alignment of MPs elected in 2014 has also engendered a lack of trust in the system.

OSCE/ODIHR will be running a full election observation mission for the 2019 Parliamentary elections. IRI – the International Republican Institute – has long term observers on the ground already, although the mission overall will be small. ENEMO has previously organised observation missions in Moldova, although a number of observers from Ukraine observing as part of the ENEMO mission in July 2009 were expelled from the country. The CIS organisation has also organised observation missions in Moldova in the past. It is likely that there will also be domestic observers although some organisations have raised concerns about an increase in the registration data required which may lessen the amount of domestic scrutiny.

Armenian Parliamentary Election preview

Snap parliamentary elections will be held in Armenia on December 9th. These will be the first polls since the (largely peaceful) revolution in April and May this year which brought Nikol Pahinyan to power in place of the long-time ruling Republican Party.

Early elections were widely ainticipated as the Way Out Alliance headed by Pahinyan has a commanding lead in the polls and recently won overwhelming support in the Yerevan municipal elections. However, the decision to hold the elections in December, rather than next spring or summer, has angered the former ruling party which prevented the passing of a new electoral code.

Overview

Armenia is a parliamentary democracy in the caucasus region. The country borders Turkey to the West, Georgia to the North, Iran to the South and Azerbaijan to the East. There has been a historic feud with Turkey following the genocide of 1916-18 which is still widely commemorated in Armenia. And since independence in 1991 there has been a conflict with Azerbaijan over the Nagorno Karabakh region. This is one of a number of ‘frozen conflicts’ in the former Soviet Union (Transnistria in Moldova is another) and both countries deploy many thousands of soldiers along their frontiers.

Before 2015, the country was a semi-presidential republic. But following a constitutional change the President is now a figurehead position elected by the Parliament for a single 7 year term. The 2015 contitutional changes also reduced the nominal number of seats in parliament from 131 to 101 and replaced the additional member system of election with a mixed list (see below). Many commentators saw the change as a means to allow Serzh Sargsyan to continue to hold power as Prime Minister once he finished his second Presidential term in 2018.

The last election received a mixed report from OSCE/ODIHR. The organisation said that: 

“the April 2 parliamentary elections were well-administered and fundamental freedoms were generally respected. Despite welcomed reforms of the legal framework and the introduction of new technologies to reduce incidents of electoral irregularities, the elections were tainted by credible information about vote-buying, and pressure on civil servants and employees of private companies. This contributed to an overall lack of public confidence and trust in the elections. Election day was generally calm and peaceful but marked by organizational problems and undue interference in the process, mostly by party representatives.”

Domestic observers the Independent Observers Alliance said:

“the election campaign was accompanied by violence and pressure, including the use of firearms, mostly against the candidates and supporters of the non-ruling and opposition parties and blocs. The IOA also concluded that the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) carried out organized and widespread abuse of administrative resources and that the CEC (Central Election Commission) did not carry out a thorough and comprehensive examination of the issues raised in the petitions addressed to it.”

The Velvet Revolution

At the end of March 2018, Nikol Pashinyan, the leader of Civic Contract and supporters began a march from the second city of Gyumri to Yerevan. They were seekign to persuade Serzh Sargsyan not to seek what they described as a ‘third term’ by becoming Prime Minister. In mid-April Pashinyan announced the start of what he called a ‘Velvet Revolution’, a national non-violent protest outside the Parliament. Pashinyan and others were arrested the next week and thos led to mass strikes and protests including by soldiers. Sargsyan resigned on April 23rd without bloodshed.

Practicalities

The 101 members of the Parliament are elected by a mixed PR system. Voters are given a ballot paper with two sections. The top half is a closed national party list. The lower portion allows voters to choose from an open party list featuring candidates put forward by the parties in their area. There are 13 such areas or constituencies across the country. Seats are allocated to parties based on their national share of the vote (the top half of the ballot paper). Half of a party’s seats are allocated to the national list candidates and half to the candidates who received the most votes in the constituency sections. Four seats are reserved for national minorities – Kurds, Yazidis, Russians and Assyrians and parties prepare separate lists for these four groups.

At least 25% of all candidates put forward by a party on their lists must be of each gender (in practice this ensures 25% female representation on the lists) and the national list cannot include more than three consecutive names of the same gender. In practice this means that every fourth name is a woman in this largely male-dominated society. As a consequence, the current parliament is composed of 15% female MPs.

Video cameras are installed in virtually all polling stations in the country and footage can be viewed in real time online. Cameras are also kept running during counting (which takes place in polling stations). These cameras were paid for by the EU, as was voter identification machinery.

The threshold for election is 5% for single parties and 7% for electoral alliances.

A unique quirk of the Armenian system is that a party that wins more thyan half the votes will be given a working majority in parliament. This is defined as 54% of the seats. And so a party that wins more than 50% of the vote but does not win 54% of the seats will be given extra seats (created in addition to the 101 regular seats). Alongside this, no party can dominate a parliament. And so if a party or electoral alliance wins more than two thirds of the seats then the opposition parties will be given additional seats (created on top of the 101 regular seats) to reduce the winning party’s share to two thirds. Finally, at least three electoral forces (parties or alliances) must be represented in the Parliament. So even if the third force doesn’t win enough votes to reach the threshold, it will be given seats in the Parliament.

After the election, parties have six days to form a government. If this doesn’t happen then a run-off is held between the top two parties and additional seats are created and allocated to bring the winning party up to 54% of the total parliament. Seats won in the first round are not affected.

Before the current parliament was dissolved, the new government sought to change various aspects of the electoral code. They sought to lower the threshold to 4% for parties and 6% for alliances, require a minimum of four electoral forces in the Parliament, abolish the open list section of the ballot paper (leaving just the national closed party lists), require TV debates and raise the threshold for women from 25% to 30%. In essence, these changes would have benefited smaller parties and coalitions. Although twice brought to a vote, the bill failed both times because the Republican Party withdrew its MPs meaning that there were not sufficient elected members present to form a quorum.

Parties and Alliances

The deadline for parties to register for these elections was the 14th November and eleven parties and alliances filed papers to compete.

Republican Party of Armenia

The Republican Party is the largest of the right-wing parties and lacks a real ethos other than consolidating and holding on to power. Affiliated to it are many of the country’s oligarchs and there have been numerous accusations of corruption leveled at its members. The RPA won most seats in all elections held between 1995 and 2017 with shares of the vote ranging from 23.7 to 49.2 in the latest contest. The party won Presidential elections in 2003, 2008 and 2013. The Party is led by former Defense Minister Vigen Sargsian. Serzh Sargsyan, the former Prime Minister and President of Armenia, is not among the list of candidates for the partyn and apparently will play no role in the campaign. 

My Step Alliance – Civic Contract and Mission Party

Civic Contract is a pro-European, liberal and nationalist party led by the outgoing Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan. It participated in the last elections as part of the Way Out Alliance (YELQ) which secured 9 seats overall with Civic Contract taking 5 of these.

The Mission Party is a small liberal pro-European party led by Manuk Sukiasyan. They currently hold one seat in the Parliament after the 2017 elections which they fought as part of the Tsurakyan Alliance.

Armenian Revolutionary Party

Also known as Dashnak, the ARF was founded in 1890 and mainly operated with the Armenian diaspora around the world. Since independence it has also operated in Armenia as a small party and has been a part of the governing coalition. ARF is a democratic socialist party and is led by Hrant Markarian. It currently holds 7 members of the Parliament.

Bright Armenia

Bright Armenia is a small party currently holding 2 of the 101 seats in the Armenian Parliament. In the last elections in 2017, the party was part of the Way Out Alliance (known as YELQ) which won 9 seats in total. The party is led by Edmon Marukyan.

We Alliance – Free Democrats and Hanrepetutyun Party

The Free Democrats are a small liberal party formed in 2011 and led by Khachatur Kokobelyan. In 2017 they failed to meet the threshold to win seats in the Parliament. The other notable name involved with the party is former Prime Minister Hrant Bagratyan.

The Hanrepetutyun Party is a small centrist party formed in 2001 which fought the last elections as part of the Way Out Alliance (YELQ) securing one member of Parliament. After the revolutionm in April 2018, the YELQ alliance was dismantled and the Hanrepetutyun Party formed an alliance with Bright Armenia to fight the Yerevan city council elections. It is fighting these elections as part of the We Alliance. The party is led by Aram Sargsyan.

Country of Legality

Orinats Yerkir (also known as Country of Legality) is a centre right party which does not currently hold any seats in Parliament. Previously the party held 19 seats after the 2003 elections and 9 following the 2007 polls. The party is led by Artur Baghdasaryan.

Prosperous Armenia

Prosperous Armenia is the party of former President Robert Kocharyan and was founded on 2004. It hs been the main opposition to the RPA for many years and won 15% of the vote in 2007, 30% of the vote in 2012 and 27% of the vote in 2017. It is a pro-Russian centre right party which believes in economic liberalism and social conservatism. It is currently led by Gagik Tsarukyan.

Sasna Tsrer

Sasna Tsrer is a hardline nationalist party set up following the spring revolution in Armenia. They call for the unification of Artsakh (Nagorno Karabakh) with Armenia and the ‘liberation of Armenia from Russian colonial rule’. They advocate closer co-operation with the USA and EU.

There are also three new parties about which I can find almost no reliable information:

Christian Democratic Rebirth Party

Citizen’s Decision

National Progress Party

In addition, at least thirteen parties have refused to register or participate in the elections although many of these are de facto non-existent and none have a presence in the out-going parliament.

Campaigning

The campaign officially runs until the 7th December with the 8th a day of electoral silence. During the 2017 elections (when I as an election observer on behalf of OSCE/ODIHR) the leading parties refused to participate in TV debates and refused even to allow senior figures to be interviewed by independent journalists. By and large, the public got their information from party propoganda videos, alongside the usual campaign leaflets and posters.

The Republican Party has declared as its aim to finish second in the election as it claims to be the sole opposition force in the country. Allies of the Prime Minister have said they doubt whether the RPA can win any seats in the country.

RFE/RL have a report on the upcoming election here.

It is difficult to predict what might happen in this election. Will voters desert the RPA and is the new Prime Minister and his My Step Alliance really as popular as the Yerevan municipal elections would seem to imply? If they are then we might actually see the first use of the two thirds rule. The statement by allies of the PM that the RPA may well not win any seats could be troubling. It may be that their previous victories were achieved on the basis of fraud, but if the new government seeks to make their statement a reality by fixing the elections against RPA then that would be a worrying development.

You can read a good analysis of the 2017 election by the German Green Foundation here.

The final report of the OSCE/ODIHR mission is here.