Moldova Weekly #11: The show must go on, eastern promises, majority report
The show must go on
Moldovans throughout the country chose their local councils and mayors yesterday. Municipal elections in the capital got the lion’s share of attention. As expected, Socialist candidate Ion Ceban (40%) and ACUM’s Andrei Năstase (31%) made it into the second round of elections. Former mayor Dorin Chirtoacă surprised many with slightly more than 10%. He then encouraged his supporters to vote against Ceban in the second round. Năstase’s former ACUM colleague Octavian Țîcu came in fourth with almost 5%. So, in theory, Năstase should be able to close the gap with Ceban and make it a tight contest in the second round, as seen last year in the subsequently invalidated snap mayoral election. In the City Council, the Socialists got 37.56%, ACUM - 33.30%, PL (Chirtoacă) - 6.36%, PDM - 4.01%, Șor Party - 3.85%, PUN (Țîcu) - 2.78% and MFN - 2.13%. In oversimplified terms, it takes 2% to win a seat on the Council, which has 51 members. This means the Council will be fractured and no single party will hold a majority.
On the eve of the ballot, we analyzed how the absence of Plahotniuc and the PSRM-ACUM coalition affected these elections in Chișinău. Check out our piece here: Five Ways Sunday’s Chisinau Local Elections Are Different from Last Year.
Outside of Chișinău, everyone’s favorite independent mayor of Cahul Nicolae Dandiș won a crushing victory with almost 82% of the vote. Renato Usatîi made a triumphant return to Bălți, retaking the mayoral seat with 62%, while Șor Party retained its hold on Orhei. Despite Ilan Șor’s fleeing abroad, his candidate took over as mayor of Orhei with 80%, while Șor Party won 52% of the votes for the Orhei District Council. The Democratic Party, whose former leader Vlad Plahotniuc is also a fugitive, remains strong in some districts, especially in Plahotniuc’s home district of Nisporeni. Mayor of Comrat Serghei Anastasov will continue for another term with a resounding victory of 95%. Previously elected with the support of Renato Usatîi's Partidul Nostru, Anastasov ran on behalf of the Socialists this time.
In parallel to local elections, Moldovans in four constituencies elected new MPs. In the European diaspora constituency, ACUM’s Galina Sajin will replace Maia Sandu, who vacated her seat to become prime minister. In Andrei Năstase’s district, the election was won by his brother Vasile. Vlad Plahotniuc’s seat as Nisporeni MP was won by another PDM candidate - Ghenadie Verdeș. The Socialists’ Vitalii Evtodev was elected in constituency no.48 from Transnistria, replacing Viorel Melnic, an independent close to Ilan Șor who quit soon after ACUM and PSRM announced a coalition.
The Slusari Committee presented its final report on the bank fraud to the Parliament. According to its findings, the future beneficiaries of the fraud started consolidating their shares in BEM, Unibank and Banca Socială as early as 2011. Three groups centered around Vlad Plahotniuc, Vlad Filat and Ilan Șor seem to be the main orchestrators and beneficiaries. By the time the public learned about the fraud in 2014, the National Bank provided the three banks with billions in government-backed loans, but a delay in instating special administration over the three banks allowed them to issue more shady loans to offshore entities. The Slusari Committee wants the government and the National Bank to de-classify all the files and documents pertaining to the bank fraud and to start negotiations with offshore jurisdictions regarding the exchange of fiscal information. The committee also wants the prosecution service to start cooperating with foreign services and to initiate a separate inquiry into why the investigation has stagnated over the last five years.
The Democrats walked out in protest, accusing the Slusari Committee of falsifying reality and trying to absolve Vlad Filat and Veaceslav Platon from blame. Șor Party’s Marina Tauber, who recently got out of house arrest and is under investigation for her role in the fraud, swore to fight to prove that Speaker Zinaida Greceanîi and her husband were also involved in the fraud.
Meanwhile, the Popșoi Committee got another 60 days to finalize its report on the attempted coup between June 7 and 14, when PDM, backed by the Constitutional Court, refused to hand over power to the new coalition between ACUM and the Socialists. The Democrats dismissed this inquiry as a witch hunt.
Waiting for the Prosecutor
The Ministry of Justice announced the members of the committee that will pre-select the candidates for Prosecutor General: Minister Olesea Stamate, former acting chairwoman of the Supreme Justice Court Raisa Botezatu, USM law professor Sergiu Băieșu, civil society representative Igor Boțan, former Prosecutor General Dumitru Postovan, former Director of Public Prosecutions from Ireland James Hamilton, as well as psychologist Tatiana Buianina, who will not have a vote.
So far, 20 candidates have registered. According to the latest amendments, judges and other law professionals with at least 8 years of experience can also run for Prosecutor General. Among those to take advantage of the new eligibility criteria are prominent civil society representatives Ștefan Gligor and Vladislav Gribincea.
Out of the Blue
Blue Air withdrew from the company that privatized Air Moldova. Its shares (49%) were taken over by Latvian businessman Dzintars Pomers. According to the Munteanu Committee, Blue Air was used as a front by the real beneficiaries in order to boost their chances to win the privatization tender. According to Mold-Street, the transaction took place around the same time that the authorities froze the assets of Air Moldova and its parent company Civil Aviation Group. Prosecutors later explained that only Air Moldova assets were frozen. The flag carrier was privatized for pennies on the condition that the new investor repay its huge debt, which Blue Air promised to do. So far, the debt has not been repaid, Blue Air is out of the picture and Air Moldova reportedly survives by accumulating more debt towards Șor companies.
MPs Sergiu Litvinenco (ACUM/PAS), Alexandru Slusari (ACUM/PDA) and Vasile Bolea (PSRM) asked the Constitutional Court what system should be used in case of early parliamentary elections. The previous ballot was carried out within the framework of a mixed voting system - half of MPs came from proportional lists, half from single-member constituencies. The ACUM-PSRM coalition canceled the mixed system and reverted to a proportional one. However, the previous Constitutional Court ruled that even if the system is changed, the new one is to be applied only for the next regular elections and the old one remains in effect for any early elections. The MPs say that the previous membership of the Court was subservient to the Democratic Party and hope that the new judges will change their mind.
A petition from CPR Moldova wants the Parliament to ask the Constitutional Court to revise another of its old decisions. In 2015, the Court had ruled that public servants with shady assets and fortunes can be punished only if law enforcement bodies prove their illegality. CPR wants to oblige civil servants with riches way beyond their official income to explain the origin of their wealth. Otherwise, their fortunes should be seized and they should answer before the law.
Meanwhile, the Constitutional judges did a favor to their colleagues from ordinary courts. At the behest of the lawyers of judges investigated in the Laundromat case, the CC declared the phrase “serious consequences”, used in several Criminal Code articles, unconstitutional because of its unpredictability. In effect, this will allow some Laundromat judges to get more lenient sentences if they are found guilty.
Moldova could get up to €1 billion in EU funding over the next 7 years, as part of a theoretical €20.5 billion package for the Eastern Partnership. The carrot was dangled by Romanian MEP Siegfried Mureșan, head of the Delegation to the EU-Moldova Parliamentary Association Committee. Most of the money would go into connecting Moldova’s energy and road networks to the EU.
In Bucharest, designated Prime Minister Ludovic Orban announced he wants to dismantle the Ministry for Romanians Everywhere. He accused the institution of being too generous with its money and of funding Moldovan mass media that served oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc and attacked pro-European parties.
MP Sergiu Litvenenco will put forward an amendment that will make it easier to dismiss the leadership of autonomous public authorities such as the Competition Council, the Service against Money-laundering, the Council of the Audiovisual, the National Energy Regulatory Agency and others. Litvinenco is unhappy that these bodies are led by people appointed by the previous regime, who are hampering the new government’s work and reform efforts. The MP wants the heads of these institutions to be assessed either annually or at any time by a special parliamentary committee. In August, Litvinenco proposed a bill to reduce the number of members of the Competition Council and of the Council of the Audiovisual.
Meanwhile, Court of Accounts report on the government reform of 2017 says authorities overdid it with the personnel optimization. In particular, the report shows several ministries were left without enough accounting staff, which hindered their financial efficiency and transparency. Another of the Court’s worries is that the ministries amassed too many unused leave days (242,000 days or 66 million lei for the Ministry of the Interior alone), which could transform into a big personnel and financial risk.