National Youth Forum on Elections — from competition to cooperation
Even if they have different views on politics and, during election campaigns, they are opponents in the big race for power, the National Youth Forum on Elections gathered them together and from rivals, they became colleagues or even friends.
For two days, over 150 young people, from Chisinau and different regions of the country, were brought together at the National Youth Forum. They are members of youth organisations under the auspices of Moldovan political parties, which accepted the invitation to attend the forum. The participants had the opportunity to hear from experts about how the next elections will take place based on the new electoral system and, moreover, they have been involved in an election simulating exercise of the Election Day.
“It was a great experience. Such all of us are part of the youth organizations of political parties, it is useful to know how the new electoral system works, given that it is applied for the first time and we are on the eve of parliamentary elections. We also exchanged opinions, talked about our experiences with colleagues from other parties and over all the political disputes, we became friends. We have seen that we can make strong teams and that we have to believe in our future,” says Nicoleta Cocota, one of the participants.
Alexandru Bujorean is another participant and he has positive impressions about the event: “It is a useful forum because the young generation should be the most involved and informed, especially because the upcoming parliamentary elections will be unfolding, for the first time, in an absolutely new way. I think young people should be the driving force of any society, and obviously this forum should serve as a catalyst for involving young people in this process.“
The Forum was organised by the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) and the Center for Continuous Electoral Training (CCET), with the support of UNDP Moldova, and its purpose was to familiarise the representatives of political youth organisations with the modality of conducting an electoral process and to motivate them to find out more about this area through direct participation in election simulation. Also, an important stake for the organisers was to increase the political culture of the prospective electoral candidates.
The CEC Deputy President, Rodica Ciubotaru, present at the opening of the event, noted that for the CEC it is very important that all citizens are well informed and actively involved in all electoral processes from the Republic of Moldova.
“It is our duty to inform you best and to raise your interest in everything that happens in the electoral field, especially because you are already involved in our country’s social-political life through the political parties you are representing here. This activity is important not only because it will contribute to enriching your electoral knowledge, but also to increase your political culture, focusing on communication, negotiation, and collaboration — important skills that any political person has to possess.”
The Deputy Resident Representative of UNDP Moldova, Stefan Liller, during his speech encouraged the young politicians to get involved: “We are not gathered here today to do politics or to engage in the electoral competition. We are here to see what each and every one of us can do to contribute to the future of Moldova by participating in the electoral process and make it more credible, transparent and inclusive. Have you reflected on what an ethical electoral campaign means to you? How do you see and understand the role of the mass media, or the use of social media, in the electoral process? Do you know what roles different stakeholders play — government institutions, the judiciary, civil society organisations and you as a citizen? As young leaders I hope you will also be able to inspire and motivate others around you — peers, friends, family and the community — by your own example of civic activism and engagement — to make them want to contribute positively in the elections and the democratic process.”
In the opening part of the event, the young people had as guest speakers several experts in politics and in media: Igor Botan, the ADEPT Executive Director, Oxana Iutes, the Deputy Chief of Party of Internews in Moldova and Dumitru Ciorici, Agora.md co-founder. They have spoken to the participants about civic participation during elections, manipulation, and communication via social media networks and online environment.
The political expert Igor Botan, who monitored all elections since the Republic of Moldova has declared its independence and has an extensive experience in the electoral field, had a speech about the importance of civic participation in the elections and mentioned the young politicians also have to work hard in order to convince the citizens to vote.
“Let’s presume that you don’t want to participate in elections, that means that your neighbors, especially in the uninominal constituencies, people with different visions than yours, will come to the ballot boxes and with their vote will influence the elections’ result. We all know how the situation in Moldova is and if you don’t vote, those who do, will decide if not your destiny, at least, how your everyday life will be.”
The journalist Oxana Iutes, the Deputy Chief of Party of the Internews in Moldova, talked to young people about manipulation and communication, suggesting them to be careful what information they disseminate as political leaders and, in this regard, to respect the community they represent and their audience for whom they speak, always inform them correctly and truthfully.
“How do we protect ourselves from manipulation? The easiest way is to check the information from as many sources as possible. Learn more about certain topics and try not to spread out fake news. Check out whom the media sources belong to? If you doubt some information, then try to see why this information has been given in this way? Analyze the data that is provided to you, because in mass-media you may find also misinformation. The information which is presented as truthful is sometimes unreliable, as you can’t find it in any report, study, or another official document. We have to check the authors of the materials, check the photos and videos because they can be also faked,” explained Oxana.
Dumitru Ciorici, who has an extensive experience in online journalism, and in recent years as a vlogger too, thinks that the main source for information for young people is the social networks. He also states that the online environment is not always safe, so everyone must be more careful regarding the potential dangers on the networks.
“We are facing a big issue regarding people’s education and what I think the youth should do today is to talk to as many people as possible and to guide them on the right path. To recommend them where the credible sources are, so people can compare. That’s the only way you can figure out which news is true and which one is formulated in a manipulative way. So besides all the tasks you have in the upcoming elections, try to promote this informational culture.”
The young political activists claim that participating in this forum was a good opportunity to find out new and useful knowledge for both political career and everyday life.
“It’s good to know about manipulation in media. It’s a pity that in Moldova this phenomenon is less known by many social groups,” says one of the participants at the forum, Dorin Codreanu.
“In my view, through this forum, we are enriching our knowledge, here we have found out useful information that can not be found online,” said Ecaterina Medvedeva.
“This seminar played a very important role for the development of our political party’s young wing. We have learned a lot of useful information, which we will be able to use during the entire electoral campaign,” Dragos Coretchi said.
After the opening remarks and the experts’ presentations, the young people were divided into five groups in order to organize the Election Day’s simulation as close as possible to reality. Thus, there were three groups of participants who had the role of politicians, it was a group where the young people were electoral officials and the group of the voters. The simulation exercise represented the parliamentary elections based on the mixed electoral system.
An important point is that the young people while working in the workshops were not assigned according to the parties they belong to. On the contrary, the organisers took care to form the groups randomly and to exclude the political criterion from the game.
Thus, the three groups of young people who represented the political parties had to form ad-hoc three parties, to establish their political platform and to campaign in order to get votes. The group of the participants who represented the electoral bodies was trained in how the electoral institutions work and were responsible for the good organisation of the elections. And finally, the group of voters learned about how to be properly informed during the electoral period and what civic activism means.
All the workshops were possible thanks to trainers from both CEC and CCET, as well as those representing the civil society.
In order to avoid the overwhelming of the participants during these two days full of activities, a cultural program was organized for them. Thus, a concert was performed by the Moldovan National Youth Orchestra and an artistic film was screened.
The CEC chairperson, Alina Russu, after awarded the participation certificates at the end of the forum, underlined: “Since the young people said that after these two days full of activities they gained a lot, we definitely can say that our goal has been reached. We wanted young people to understand, from the first source, what it means to be an electoral officer, what it means to be an observer, what it is like to be an electoral candidate. Or, for instance, how a conscientious and well-informed voter can be characterized. For us, it was very important to see that young people are willing to be involved in the political and electoral processes, especially in the Republic of Moldova. It is important that young people, regardless of their different political views, can have a dialogue on the country’s prospects for development.“
Eva Bounegru, the manager of the UNDP Moldova’s project “Enhancing democracy in Moldova through inclusive and transparent elections”, thinks that this forum was a real challenge for the project team.
“There is a general perception that to bring the representatives of different parties together at the same table is really difficult, but to make them work together is almost impossible. We, the project’s team and the Central Electoral Commission, have not only been able to gather these youngsters together, but have succeeded to have two days of exciting activities, have good discussions, good results and, why not, pleasant memories. We do believe that it is very important that, not only voters and electoral officials to be more informed and educated, but electoral candidates also. Of their political culture and electoral knowledge, depends on how fair and correct are run the electoral campaign and the elections.”
The National Youth Forum on Elections was organised as a part of the electoral information and civic education campaign “Democracy Matters”, initiated by the Central Electoral Commission. The campaign is conducted in the framework of the UNDP Moldova’s project “Enhancing democracy in Moldova through inclusive and transparent elections”, with the financial support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the British Embassy in Chisinau through the Good Governance Fund and the Embassy of Netherlands through the Matra Program.