Moldova Weekly: “no choice” elections, holy viral communion, god save the economy
An election and church services during the epidemic, a state of emergency, an old new ruling coalition, government crowdfunding and the whereabouts of Vlad Plahotniuc finally revealed. This week in Moldova:
“No choice” election
PSRM’s Ștefan Gațcan won the snap election for an MP seat in the Hîncești constituency, defeating pro-European candidates who failed to join forces. Most notably, former ACUM allies PAS and PDA supported different candidates and accused each other of treason and whatnot. Gațcan’s victory was also facilitated by a low turnout - only 23% - and the removal of the Șor Party candidate. Both the government and the opposition have been criticized for going on with the election despite the coronavirus epidemic. PAS admitted to being in the wrong, but only after losing to the Socialists.
Hîncești now has the second most cases of Covid-19 after Chișinău, though it may not be directly related to the polls. Health Minister Viorica Dumbrăveanu said she wanted to stop the election, but didn’t find the “necessary legal instruments”. Head of the electoral authority Dorin Cimil and President Dodon both claimed that elections could be delayed only during a state of emergency, which is legally not true. The law says that elections cannot be organized during an emergency and provides for the possibility of their delay under circumstances that may put the voters in danger. Like an epidemic, for example.
A state of emergency was finally declared right after the elections, with many accusing the Socialists of delaying the emergency in order to gain one more MP seat.
PSRM + PDM =
PSRM and PDM have finally made their relationship official and signed an alliance agreement. The ruling coalition will be called the Social-Democratic Platform (PSDM). Within an hour of the announcement, the Democrats had 5 ministers appointed: former police chief Alexandru Pînzari is the new Minister of Defence, former head of the Public Services Agency Sergiu Răilean will be in charge of Economy and Infrastructure, Igor Șarov, historian and former secretary in the Filip Cabinet will be Minister of Education, Moldova’s ambassador to Hungary Oleg Țulea will head Foreign Affairs and Cristina Lesnic returns as deputy Prime Minister for Reintegration, an office she held during the PDM government. Three of the so-called technocrats they replaced will continue as advisers to the President. PDM veteran Dumitru Diacov said Pavel Filip was promised the position of Speaker or Prime Minister after the presidential elections next fall.
Romania has reacted by saying the old-new coalition does not change anything and it still doesn’t trust the Moldovan government’s pro-European and reform credentials.
The principle of uncertainty and emergency
The state of emergency has been declared for 60 days and the Parliament amended the law to expand the Emergency Committee’s powers. Unlike other European countries like Romania or the UK, Moldova’s state of emergency declaration does not have attached a list of concrete measures to be undertaken. Neither Prime Minister Chicu, nor head of the parliamentary legal committee Vasile Bolea were able to explain why they went for the maximum allowed 60 days of emergency.
The MPs also amended the law so that the Parliament will be able to adopt, change or annul organic and electoral laws even during the state of emergency. Coincidence or not, Democrat MP Eugeniu Nichiforciuc suggested during a TV interview that the PSDM alliance might restore the mixed electoral system, which was cancelled last summer.
Meanwhile, the president, the minister of health and the head of the Public Health Agency are all sending mixed messages. It is not clear, for example, what the coronavirus testing policy is: whether all contacts are tested or only those with symptoms that are not typical for other respiratory infections. The number of tests performed, about 800 for 94 confirmed cases, suggests the latter is true. In any case, Dodon expects aid packages with masks, testing kits and other useful supplies from China, Russia and the WHO, and said the epidemic will peak in Moldova at 400-500 cases, invoking WHO estimates. Nicolae Furtună from the Public Health Agency is less optimistic and thinks a “second scenario” of 800 cases is possible and also probably the maximum load that Moldova’s health system can take.
While Prime Minister Chicu is continuously lambasting people for their irresponsibility and not taking the epidemic seriously, President Dodon appeared to be assuring everyone that the virus is not so bad and that it can “pass through you and you won’t even know it.” (As he clarified later, he meant that even those without symptoms can pass the disease).
Despite their own confusion-inducing communication, authorities announced a war on fake news and the Security and Intelligence Service published a list of 52 websites to be banned. The list was actually published in 2017 by Stopfals.md and many of those sites have long been dead. Authorities meanwhile continue to turn a blind eye to Russian propaganda and fakes, about which even EU services have warned. Last week, for example, Sputnik Moldova published a news story about how the toll of a church bell can kill viruses.
Holy viral communion
Despite calls for home isolation and the closure of numerous services, authorities are pretty lenient with the church, which refuses to stop mass and eucharist services. The Metropolitan Church of Moldova announced that Sunday services would be officiated outside, for all the difference that makes. Meanwhile, reports are surfacing that many priests continue to provide the eucharist using a single common spoon for all the churchgoers, disregarding the most basic hygiene rules during an epidemic.
Authorities are stricter with other social gatherings. A whole town was put under quarantine after a woman returned from the UK, celebrated her birthday with 26 friends and then tested positive. Overall, 24 people had been fined by Saturday for breaking self-isolation rules and being aggressive towards medical workers. The prime minister complained that many Moldovans are still bent on going out for a barbecue instead of staying home. How a barbecue is more dangerous than a church service where everybody swallows from the same spoon is a matter authorities have failed to explain.
God save the economy
The government has promised to help businesses survive the epidemic and announced a series of measures: a temporary ban on all fiscal and state controls and verifications, a delayed deadline for the payment of certain taxes, a reduced VAT for the hospitality industry, no mandatory audits for 2019, encouraging banks to provide preferential loans, etc. Welcome as they may be, these measures provide little to no direct financial support. In Europe, most governments have provided tax breaks and longer tax delays, state-guaranteed loans with subsidized interest rates, and financial help for the payment of wages.
Moldova obviously lacks the resources. One suggestion put to President Dodon was the reallocation of funds from infrastructure projects to the coronavirus-mitigation program, but he rejected it saying it “would stop the economy”. The government instead launched a crowdfunding campaign, which Igor Dodon claims has nothing to do with the authorities shortage of funds, but is a response to the many generous business people who are begging to donate some money and help fight the epidemic.
The IMF has expressed willingness to provide a $100 million assistance package to Chișinău, but Moldovan authorities are yet to take the IMF up on their offer.
Not everyone is doing bad these days in Moldova. President Dodon has promoted SIS chief Alexandr Esaulenco and his deputy Artur Gumeniuc to the rank of major general. Ruslan Flocea, head of the National Anticorruption Center, was awarded the same rank.
Four law professors have been appointed by the Parliament to the Superior Council of the Magistracy (CSM), the judiciary’s body of self-government. Besides the expected criticism from the opposition, prime minister’s justice adviser Nicolae Eșanu has also expressed doubts about the opportunity of the four appointments. He says that CSM members should have been selected with a large consensus, otherwise it could undermine the justice reform.
The long road home
American authorities have finally confirmed that fugitive oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc is indeed in the US and that he is undergoing deportation procedures, which might take a while. Plahotniuc was previously the target of corruption-related designation by State Secretary Mike Pompeo, leading many to think he had already left the US. However, his close ally Andrian Candu revealed the designation had no effect as Plahotniuc was still in the US. The oligarch is also wanted in Russia, where he is charged with several crimes, including drug trafficking and money laundering.
His successor at the helm of the Democratic Party, Pavel Filip, had long claimed ignorance about the whereabouts of his former party boss, but now admitted he had met with Plahotniuc in the US, in July. Filip claims the oligarch promised not to interfere in PDM affairs anymore, which Filip trusts to be true.