On Sunday, May 14, Gagauzia will hold the second round of the Bashkan elections. But there is too much uncertainty around them so far… up to the possibility of annulling the voting results.
If the main intrigue of the first round of the Bashkan elections (April 30) was turnout, whether at least 50% of individuals registered in the voter lists would come or not come to the ballot boxes so that the elections are recognized as valid (even with a margin of 57.8% ), then the main intrigue of the second round was whether the authorities would remove from the elections the winner of the first round and the Sor Party candidate, Evghenia Gutul.
Law enforcement and other bodies were silent a week after the first round, but a week before the second round, they began to show activity similar to the 2021 Balti scenario, when the Sor Party candidate, Marina Tauber, was removed from the second round of the Balti mayoral elections for financial violations.
“Balti” or “Gagauz” scenario?
On Sunday, May 7, some territorial offices of the Sor Party and homes of activists were searched, followed by detainment of several leaders and members of the Gutul’s electoral headquarters. The National Center for Combating Corruption said that the searches were carried out in the case of bribing voters and receiving money from a criminal group.
According to the National Center for Combating Corruption, since the beginning of March, “the electoral competitor and her representatives have received money from the criminal group, which they used to illegally reward activists participating in the election campaign in Gagauzia.” The investigation established that each activist received 15,000 lei to convince 30 voters for the Sor Party candidate. These funds, the Center said, do not appear in the party financial reports to the Central Election Commission.
On Tuesday, May 9, police informed the Central Election Commission of Gagauzia about violations in the electoral process committed by “one of the political parties during the elections”. Among the described violations: bribing voters, organized transportation of people to polling stations for a fee, placement of election posters in unauthorized places, payment of funds for them from financial sources not declared to the Central Election Commission, “other committed violations that are incompatible with the democratic electoral process.”
On Thursday, the regional pro-government portal Nokta wrote indignantly that both the Central Electoral Commission and the General Inspectorate of the Police of Moldova sent letters to the Gagauz Central Election Commission about the violations they found in the Bashkan election, but the local Central Electoral Commission did not show due zeal: “We were answered, that a meeting on this issue was scheduled for today, but it did not take place due to the lack of a quorum”.
And before that, the Vice-Chairman of the Moldovan Central Election Commission, Pavel Postica, also interviewed by Nokta, said that a letter to the Central Election Commission of Gagauzia stated that almost all candidates violated the Electoral Code of the Republic of Moldova, as they exceeded the donation threshold that can be receive during the election campaign. This is an administrative violation followed by individual punishment of people who have exceeded the donation threshold, i.e. a fine and forfeiture in profit of state. And in general, according to Pavel Postica, the revealed violations can lead to the recognition of the Bashkan elections as invalid.
Judging by the statements made these days and the steps taken, the center had several options for further action, i.e. either to remove Evghenia Gutul from the second round in order to prevent the Sor Party from gaining a foothold in the southern “rebellious” region (some commentators said that if the Constitutional Court declares the Sor Party outlawed, the authorities may, under this pretext, withdraw its candidate from the Bashkan elections), or even annul the voting results and hold repeated elections.
“I doubt that the center now has any clear plan of further actions. What is happening is not the result of some deliberate, well-considered steps and some kind of strategic plan. They act emotionally, and pour buckets of gasoline on the fire. Well, let us say they removed Evghenia Gutul from the second round, and what did they get in the end? Uzun and Petrov with direct finances from Moscow? Besides, did you notice an unambiguous signal to Chisinau? The Chair of the Gagauz People’s Assembly Dmitrii Constantinov, who is usually loyal to the authorities, sharply stated that "if someone in Chisinau does not like the results of the elections in Gagauzia, this is not a reason to go against the will of the people.” I think this is a warning: do not interfere in the regional elections, otherwise the PAS will get not just a political scandal, but a united opposition in the face of almost all political forces in Gagauzia,” as Head of the Institute for Diplomatic Studies and Security Affairs Valeriu Ostalep told to noi.md.
Political analyst Corneliu Ciurea believes that on the eve of the second round, due to the actions of the authorities, Evghenia Gutul even gained some advantage, as the center is persecuting the candidate and her campaign headquarters. But the PAS, he believes, “originally had a goal of not letting her win, and they didn’t give up on this goal.” According to Corneliu Ciurea, Chisinau may try to annul the results of the second round, depending on the winner. “If Uzun wins, there will hardly be tough actions from the center, but if Evghenia Gutul wins, then they can cancel it.”
There is another factor in this equation with many unknowns - who in these elections will be considered the least of the evils by the West. The United States and the European Union have recently taken a firm hold on Gagauzia, traditionally considered a pro-Russian region. To all appearances, the West actively pour considerable funds into it, feeding pro-Western NGOs and nurturing opinion leaders.
During the first round, on April 30, the US Ambassador and the head of the EU mission to Moldova openly visited the Gagauz Central Election Commission, “to learn together the voting in the elections of the autonomy governor and how the media are informed.” Imagine a fuss if the local Central Election Commission had been visited by the Russian Ambassador Oleg Vasnetsov for a similar purpose. And at the opening of the Hederlez holiday, US Ambassador Kent Logsdon walked at the head of the official delegation next to the Bashkan of Gagauzia, not really bothering with the protocol, according to which the official delegation is headed by the state/regional officials, followed by the parliament members, government, and only then by staff of accredited diplomatic missions. “The second person in our state? Or is he the first?” asked the users of social networks.
Therefore, all developments of the Gagauz Bashkan elections will be approved by the West. Let’s see who will be approved by the US and the EU in the second round, a socialist or a candidate from the Sor Party, or they even support the idea of replaying the elections in order to put a more or less convenient person as the head of the region.
What does Evghenia Gutul promise to Gagauzia?
In the meantime, Evghenia Gutul and Grigorii Uzun are fighting for the position of the Bashkan of Gagauzia.
Evghenia Gutul is a little-known aspiring regional politician. In 2022, she had a second child, so recently she has not worked anywhere and has been sitting at home with the baby. Therefore, her pre-election promises are not so much the promises of the Bashkan candidate, but the obligations of the background party, which leader Ilan Sor constantly voices from Israel.
So, Ilan Sor gave “his man’s word” from the monitor to turn Gagauzia into a land of dreams in two years. “In 2015, the residents of Orhei followed me. Today, I am not ashamed to look them in the eye, because I have fulfilled all my promises, which we continue to do. Now we have set the goal of radically changing Gagauzia so that it becomes a land of dreams, a rich and prosperous region,” he said, when the election campaign of the Bashkan candidate supported by the Sor Party started.
The politician claims that his team has developed an investment program for 500 million euros specifically for the autonomy. Where the money will come from to implement these plans, he did not specify, but he said that Gagauzia is his “personal ambition”. Though, six months ago, after offering himself to the prime minister and presenting his 10 billion euro investment plan for prosperity of the whole of Moldova, Ilan Sor claimed that he already had preliminary agreements with certain large investors who were ready to provide Moldova with a loan of 5 billion euros for 20 years at 1% per annum and another 5 billion to invest in the Moldovan economy as direct investments. However, they are interested in the national critical infrastructure.
Ilan Sor also promises to build an airport in the autonomy by June 1, 2025, if his candidate is elected Bashkan. The construction of an airport is such a regional fix idea. This was one of Irina Vlakh’s election promises in the 2019 Bashkan elections. So it remains not implemented. The construction of an airfield in Ceadir-Lunga, at least for the maintenance of aircraft, was also promised by ex-Bashkan Mihail Formuzal in these elections.
Ilan Sor did not reinvent the wheel. He stated that the Gagauz airport would be built according to the project of the designed, but not implemented Chisinau terminal, allegedly due to the fault of the authorities. Ilan Sor promises that the airport in Gagauzia will become a hub between East and West (at one time such plans were hatched for Chisinau and Balti airports), and will contribute to the development of the region’s economy.
“This project will cost about 100 million euros. Already at the construction stage, it will provide about 4 thousand jobs, and during operation – about 2 thousand specialists to be trained by us. This economic prospect will open new gates and horizons for the business and economy of Gagauzia, and will provide quite large contributions to the budget of the autonomy, which we will allocate to social challenges,” the Chair of the eponymous party said.
As for social challenges, the Sor Party promises Gagauz voters to increase salaries and pensions by 30% within two years, distribute food coupons for 700 lei per month to pensioners of the autonomy by August 1 of this year, repair roads, build parks, create 7 thousand jobs, reduce utility bills and build a large free amusement park GagauziaLend by June 1, 2024. This is great, but we have some questions. How much money is planned for a holiday by a person sentenced to 15 years for stealing one billion dollars from the people who are promised investments of 0.5 billion euros by unknown persons who are interested in the infrastructure of the autonomy (it is not entirely clear what kind of infrastructure and under what conditions we are talking about)?
What does Grigorii Uzun promise to Gagauzia?
In the pre-election video of the independent candidate Grigorii Uzun, backed by the PSRM, the Chair of the Pobeda Collective Farm in Copceac Village Nicolae Dragan said that Grigorii Uzun is “a real man, a real leader, a man of word and deed.” Gagauzia under Bashkan Grigorii Uzun will be “friends with everyone”. “We will maintain and develop close cooperation, strengthen our economic, social and humanitarian ties with our traditional partners – the Russian Federation, Turkey, and the CIS countries. We will also work for the benefit of our people with other states,” Grigorii Uzun said when launching his election campaign.
Having headed Gagauzia, he is going to insist on the execution by the central authorities of the Law on the special legal status of Gagauz-Yeri, because “for these 30 years, the Law on the special legal status of Gagauzia has practically not been implemented by official Chisinau, moreover, the autonomy has been deprived of almost all political and economic powers”. Grigorii Uzun also warned that “no one will be allowed to encroach on our church and family.”
The focus of Bashkan Grigorii Uzun “will always be a person,” and he sees autonomy as “effective and independent, with a developed infrastructure and economy.” Among the priority steps is the urgent development of a package of laws to improve the autonomy’s investment climate, because effective investment is “a guarantee of future jobs.” He also promises to stop the outflow of the population from Gagauzia and encourage those who left the region to return. “Uzun’s team will not be a team of officials, Uzun’s team will be a team of all residents of Gagauzia,” the Bashkan candidate supported by the Party of Socialists said.
What will happen if the May 14 elections are declared invalid?
According to the Electoral Code of Gagauzia, the election of a bashkan may be declared failed if less than 1/3 of the voters take part in the second round of voting. Or invalid, if Comrat Appellate Chamber establishes violations committed during voting or vote counting that affected the results of the elections.
If the elections are declared failed or invalid, the Gagauz Central Election Commission should arrange a repeat voting for the same candidates using the same voter lists with the participation of the same electoral councils and bureaus within two weeks. But electoral contestants who are found guilty of violations, based on the final court decision, will be struck off the ballots and suspended from participation in the elections.
If the repeat elections are also declared failed or invalid, if only one candidate takes part in them, or if the Bashkan of Gagauzia is not elected in the second round of voting, the regional Central Electoral Commission should arrange new elections. They should be held within three months from the date of the failed regular or repeated elections.