Two pro-Russian candidates, who have spent the most money on the campaign, are likely to fight for the main post in the Moldovan autonomy of Gagauzia in the second round. But will there be a second round?
In the autonomous territorial unit of Gagauzia, part of Moldova, elections for the Bashkan, the head of Gagauzia, were held on Sunday, April 30. The 65 polling stations worked from seven in the morning until nine in the evening. The CEC registered 92,500 citizens with the right to vote, more than half of whom had to go to the polls to be considered valid.
To win in the first round, one candidate had to win more than 50 per cent of the vote. None of the eight contenders was able to achieve such a result. Grigore Uzun, a candidate supported by the major opposition Socialists Party (PSRM), and Yevgenia Gutsul, a Sor party protégé, advanced to the second round, both receiving just over 26% of the votes. Gagauzia is traditionally considered a zone of Russian influence in Moldova.
However, this time there were no representatives of Russia among the observers. The Moldovan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration did not send them an invitation.
Vital Gaidarji, director of the Gagauz information portal spoke a few days before the elections about the possibility of a second round and the candidates who would compete for the post of Gagauz Governor.
He spoke then about a possible bribing of voters in the villages – between 400 and 10 thousand lei (20 to 500 euros) were paid for the votes of a family. And such actions were to be expected precisely from the Socialists and the Sor Party, Gaidarji warned.
In a comment to the media, he said that he was guided by the mood of the people and the results of some polls. There was a large percentage of undecided, said Gaidarci, and while the support of the Socialists in the region traditionally reaches 77% and was predictable, the “Sor” party took advantage of technology and finances.
In Gagauzia, he continues, they are shocked by the results, which are uncharacteristic for the region. And it is too early to put an end to this case. The Constitutional Court of Moldova, Vital Gaidarji explains, may ban the “Sor” party for illegal funding and activities in favour of Russia at a sitting scheduled for May 10. In the meantime, the second round of elections must be held no later than 14 May.
And it is not quite clear what will happen to Eugenia Gutsul, as she is the party’s Sor candidate. She will probably have to be removed from the election and the election itself may be annulled.
Turnout in question and manipulation of lists
According to the CEC, there were no incidents that could have affected the elections. Voting was monitored by 75 international observers representing the EU delegation in Chisinau, the U.S. National Democratic Institute, and the embassies of Azerbaijan, France, Great Britain, Lithuania, Turkey, Poland, Ukraine, and Sweden.
The low turnout due to the migration of Gagauz to other regions could have been the most acute problem. The election commission was dragging its feet with the figures to the last, and only half an hour after the polls closed, the CEC chairman Yana Kovalenko announced the turnout of 57.8% of the population, which means that the elections took place. But then she added that 6127 citizens voted by additional lists – after which the confusion started.
According to the law, when calculating the turnout only the voters on the main lists are taken into account. In addition, the additional lists were suddenly added to the main lists, which increased the total number of voters. A little later, the CEC specified turnout as 51.6 per cent for the main lists.
Sergey Manastyrly, head of the Balcan-Centre think tank, said the number of additional voters was too high (6.2%, according to the CEC). Citizens without residence registration have the right to do so by applying to the CEC in advance, the political analyst explained, but in previous election campaigns, the number of such people was half as high. “This looks like a new record,” Manastyrly said ironically.
It is also important, he said, to determine what time of day these people voted. He and his colleagues managed to trace how the slyest locals delayed to the very last, expecting higher rates when buying their votes and received not 500 lei (25 EUR) but double or triple if they went to vote 15 to 20 minutes before polls closed.
What is known about the candidates
On the eve of the election, the CEC has published data on campaign financing by candidates. The party of fugitive oligarch Ilan Sor, sentenced to 15 years for fraud, has set a record. According to the CEC, more than 60,000 euros went to Yevheniya Gutsul’s election account. Grigoriy Uzun also made it to the top, reporting expenses of more than 13 thousand euros.
Practically nothing was known about 37-year-old Yevgenia Gutsul before the election of the Bashkan. She is a lawyer by training, but there was no information about her work or her party positions. Her main message was that she was supported by the “Sor” party and its leader.
Grigor Uzun, 36, an engineer by profession, is not currently employed. Being born in Gagauzia, at the age of thirteen he went to Russia together with his parents, where he graduated from school and Omsk Technical University. He had a transport business in Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District until he became a member of the Moldovan Parliament six months before the 2021 early elections.
Vitaliy Andrievsky, Director of the Institute for Effective Politics, notes that both candidates are convenient for the Kremlin, although they have a common minus – dependence on Moldovan politicians. Behind Uzun stands the ex-president Igor Dodon, and behind Gutsul the ex-oligarch Ilan Sor, so they do not have complete trust.
The political scientist believes that Dodon and Sor are fighting for their own survival and Gagauzia is only a field of this battle. The victory will determine which of them will be “the Kremlin’s favorite wife”.