All the President’s Technocrats in the Chicu Government
This is a translated and slightly adapted version of an article originally published in Romanian on November 14.
President Igor Dodon has an aversion for party-switching, so much so that he insisted the now defunct ACUM-PSRM coalition agreement should include safeguards against MPs crossing the floor. However, being a government official serving different administrations doesn’t make one a turncoat, but rather an “apolitical technocrat,” right?
This was the narrative pushed Thursday when Socialists and Democrats voted in a new Government, in a series of rapid-fire developments (check out our weekly digest for last week and stay tuned for the next installment Saturday). As a formal coalition with the Democratic Party was politically a definite no-no, President Dodon proposed a Cabinet of such “apolitical technocrats.” At its helm is the presidential adviser Ion Chicu, former finance minister in the Filip Government and ex-usurper, so to speak.
Ion Chicu’s sinuous path
Ion Chicu and Igor Dodon became colleagues at the Ministry of Economy in 2005, and then both held various positions in the next Communist governments. Before the Communists were ousted in 2009, Dodon was Zinaida Greceanîi’s senior deputy prime minister, and Chicu her senior adviser on economy and foreign relations. A Dodon-Greceanîi-Chicu troika is a reunion of old Communist comrades who hopped different ships when the Communist one started to sink.
After several years in the consultancy business, Ion Chicu was appointed by Plahotniuc’s Democratic Party first as a state secretary in the Ministry of Finance and then was promoted to Minister, after Octavian Armașu took over as head of the National Bank. Igor Dodon confirmed the appointment “without doubt” and assured Chicu of the President’s Office’s full support.
After the departure of the PDM government, Igor Dodon quickly offered the former minister an adviser’s job in his Office. Moreover, members of the bloc ACUM warned in May, in the throes of talks for a coalition, that Ion Chicu would be the prime minister of a PSRM-PDM coalition government.
Igor Dodon’s sinuous path
Igor Dodon can be sympathetic to the former finance minister, because his own political path wasn’t quite straight. After being a pro-European Communist minister in the twilight of Vladimir Voronin’s presidency, he defected the Communist Party alongside Zinaida Greceanîi and Veronica Abramciuc to join the virtually unknown Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova, referred to as the Socialist Party or PSRM for brevity.
After lending a helping hand to the Eurointegration Alliance to vote in President Nicolae Timofti, Igor Dodon decided his new party could use some reorganization. PSRM founder Valentin Krylov was kicked out, and so was Dodon’s fellow ex-Communist MP Veronica Abramciuc. Krylov denounced a “hostile takeover.”
PSRM went on to become the main advocate of Moldova’s “strategic partnership” with Russia, as Dodon abandoned his pro-Europe predilection and rallied pro-Russia voters around his banner.
Despite winning the 2016 presidential election with indirect help from Vlad Plahotniuc’s media empire (which massively disfavored ACUM candidate Maia Sandu), Igor Dodon purported to be the principal obstacle to the PDM leader taking full control over Moldova. Otherwise, his Socialists helped the Democratic Party change the electoral system, which eventually produced 30 seats in Parliament for the latter, following the February 2019 elections.
Dodon then negotiated with Plahotniuc, and either because they truly failed to come to an agreement, or the diplomatic pressure (including Russia’s) was too great, PSRM eventually formed a coalition government with the bloc ACUM in the name of ridding the country of oligarchy. Five months later, Socialists are happy to vote together again with Democrats in Parliament.
The socieoconomic excuse
Igor Dodon said that Maia Sandu herself provoked the fall of her Cabinet by amending the Prosecution Service Law without Parliament’s consent. But then he admitted the Government would have been taken down anyway because Socialists were unhappy about the handling of social and economic policies. This is reflected in the no-confidence motion filed against the Sandu Cabinet: “Instead of changing the wrong path the country has been headed down on, the current government has become a cabinet whose inaction on various directions of socioeconomic activity harms the interests of the current and future generations of citizens.”
This argument contradicts the Declaration on the Captured State, the very first document passed in Parliament by the PSRM-ACUM coalition. It declared the following: “Only by pulling the country out of captivity can we launch policies to address socioeconomic issues faced by the people.” The first item on the Declaration’s action plan was to remove the old chief prosecutor and replace him with an independent one. The last part is a task still pending.
But Dodon and his Socialists now changed their mind and decided that socioeconomic issues should prevail. Moreover, the former usurpers aren’t that bad anymore. Ion Chicu, who refused to vacate the Ministry of Finance in complicity with the Filip Government’s unwillingness to cede power to the ACUM-PSRM government, is suddenly an apolitical professional. Meanwhile, PDM turned from a “crime syndicate” into discussion partners and informal allies of the informal Socialist leader. Plahotniuc’s sidekicks Pavel Filip and Andrian Candu are now in full process of reforming their party, President Dodon is convinced.
The urgently non-partisan
The appointment of the Chicu cabinet reveals the falsity of President Dodon’s anti-party-switching discourse. Not all those who worked in political offices under the Plahotniuc regime were PDM members. If membership is Dodon’s only standard for non-partisanship, don’t be surprised if you see Plahotniuc’s schemer-in-chief Serghei Iaralov get a government job one day.
The notion of technocracy, which the President tries to sell while describing the new Cabinet, means a type of government based on non-partisan specialists who run the government as a technical or engineering problem. This idea, even if applied sincerely, is criticized as elitist and non-democratic, as it breaks the chain of responsibility between governance and the governed.
However, in the case of the Chicu Cabinet it doesn’t apply at all. When we are talking about a government that Igor Dodon and the Socialist Party themselves accused of dictatorial tendencies and usurpation, the former ministers and deputies in that government should not be able to hide from responsibility under the pretense of technocracy. Chicu & co were at least accessories in many of the PDM’s abuses that Dodon and his Socialists formally condemned. For example, the Filip Cabinet left a 4 billion lei hole in the state budget before it was ousted in June. And Chicu’s complicity as finance minister in the squandering of taxpayers’ money on Democrats’ pre-election projects denies the notion that he acted in technically sound ways.
The haste to make Chicu prime minister, without even feigning a couple of days of negotiations and headhunting, casts doubt on the sincerity of Dodon’s statements, repeated just a day before the appointment, about the willingness to keep the coalition with ACUM going and about not burning bridges. In less than 24 hours, Igor Dodon found a candidate, that candidate found candidates for each minister position and they managed to produce a program for government. In less than 24 hours!
All the President’s men
Here is a quick presentation of some of the Chicu Government’s members: Minister of Economy and Infrastructure Anatol Usatîi was a state secretary under the Democrats and the implementer of the waste of money and cement that represented the Good Roads Program. Viorica Dumbrăveanu, ex-deputy minister and secretary at the Ministry of Health and Social Assistance under the Democrats, now gets the minister’s job. Both Usatîi and Dumbrăveanu were spotted campaigning for PDM ahead of the February elections. Finance Minister Sergiu Pușcuță was head of the Tax Service both under Communists and Democrats. The Justice Ministry will be headed by the very non-partisan Fadei Nagacevschi, previously counsel to PSRM president Zinaida Greceanîi. Victor Gaiciuc is back as Defense Minister, a job he held in the first Voronin term. Education Minister Corneliu Popovici was deputy director of the Academy of Public Administration (also during Voronin’s presidency), and then vice president of DAAC Hermes, the company owned by Vasili Chirtoca, number 2 on the Socialists’ list in the Chisinau City Council. The previous job held by six members of the new Cabinet, including Chicu, is adviser to President Dodon. Everything looks very “technocratic” and “apolitical”, doesn't it?
Instead of conclusion
Igor Dodon’s penchant for inconsistency and duality has been the subject of more than one article here at sic! Whereas during the PDM government the President was more like a small barking dog that could be removed whenever the Speaker had to sign a law which Dodon wouldn’t, the Socialists’ rise to power doesn’t seem to have added responsibility for him. Yet again, he is backtracking on his previous statements and commitments. He has ignored the Declaration on the Captured State and, while in talks with ACUM for the future of the coalition, devised a government with the help of the reformed Filip and Candu.
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