Moldova Weekly #13: Chișinău has fallen, the disappointing four, ticket to Russia
Chișinău has fallen
The Socialist Ion Ceban is the first leftist candidate to win mayoral elections in Chișinău since independence, with 52.4% of votes against Andrei Năstase’s 47.6%. The result came as a shock to many in Năstase’s camp. The latter defeated Ceban in last year’s snap mayoral election, a result cancelled in court afterwards, and expected to repeat the feat this year. Analysts and journalists have been quick to analyze how and why Năstase and ACUM lost the capital. Some blame their overconfidence that Chișinău would never elect a leftist mayor, some point towards weak support from pro-Romanian parties, while others recall Năstase’s disastrous performance during the debates with Ceban. PDA MP Igor Munteanu thinks Năstase was punished by voters for ACUM’s alliance with PSRM. In all fairness, the Socialist did have a better campaign, winning over many neutrals with his image as a calmer, more competent, non-political, almost technocratic candidate.
As the results came in, the equally “non-partisan” President Dodon took over victory speech duties at the Socialists’ HQ. As expected, the president will use this victory to push ACUM for more concessions and maybe demand more seats in the Cabinet. Igor Dodon said the government needs an “intervention to be put on the right track” and that negotiations will start this week. On the other hand, he insisted the ACUM-PSRM parliamentary alliance should be replicated in the municipal council. Prime Minister Maia Sandu was brief in her statements, assuring that no defeat is final, calling Andrei Năstase to get back to work as minister of the interior and urging Ion Ceban to make good on his electoral promises.
Ion Ceban got the chance to speak alone this morning and promised he will suspend his party membership as soon as his mandate is validated, in order to be “everyone’s mayor” (“everyone” not including the LGBT community, whose march Ceban previously promised not to allow). He also renewed his campaign proposal to ACUM. Ceban wants them to create a majority in the City Council with the Socialists in exchange for two deputy mayor seats out of four and two city sector governors out of five. Ceban added that PSRM is even willing to amend the law so that the City Council would have a stable chairperson, in which case the position would also go to ACUM. As for Andrei Năstase, PDA announced he will hold a press conference on Tuesday. Presumably, that’s when we’ll find out ACUM’s answer to Ceban’s offer.
The disappointing four
The pre-selection committee for Prosecutor General candidates announced four names who passed: Oleg Crîșmaru, criminal investigation officer at the National Anticorruption Center (CNA); Veaceslav Soltan, head of cyber-crimes division within the Prosecutor General’s Office; Alexandru Stoianoglo, former prosecutor and PDM member; and Vladislav Gribincea, a civil society representative known as one of the architects of the previous justice reforms in Moldova. Ștefan Gligor, the civil society activist with an online campaign backing him, did not pass.
The results were disappointing enough as they were, but when the press wrote about some potentially unjustified assets of two of the successful candidates, even Prime Minister Maia Sandu suggested the pre-selection committee should review its decision. President Dodon however adamantly opposed the idea. He said the government cannot cancel the results of its own contests whenever it doesn’t like them. Justice Minister Olesea Stamate initially defended the selection procedure, but later relented in the light of new information and said the committee might review its decision before submitting the shortlist to the High Council of Prosecutors (CSP). The latter received a new member this week, as the government appointed Promo-Lex lawyer Lilia Potîng to the Council as civil society representative.
The battle for justice
President Dodon lent credence to those warning about his own separate designs for the Moldovan judiciary by creating a presidential council for justice reform. The head of the state appointed some controversial names, such Anatolie Munteanu, the ombudsman who tolerated police abuse during the April 2009 protests, Alexandru Cladco, a prosecutor who defended his colleagues’ letter against the justice reform, or Carnste Mahnke, a foreign expert who assured that the judiciary was alright during the Plahotniuc regime. Meanwhile, Speaker Zinaida Greceanîi had a separate meeting with a group of judges “for information purposes”. All things seem to indicate the Socialists are stepping up their game to have more of a say in the reform of the judiciary. Prime Minister Maia Sandu may have had enough, as she publicly asked Igor Dodon to stop his „underhanded games” and attempts to undermine the justice reform. Sandu went on to say she was equally ready to fight for a fair judiciary from the government building or from the streets.
The High Council of the Judiciary (CSM) saluted the creation of the president’s advisory board, but complained that some members were behind the two recent Assemblies of Judges, in effect a failed coup attempt in the judiciary. CSM failed again to appoint a replacement for Ion Druță, former head of the Supreme Justice Court, currently under investigation for illegal riches and influence peddling. This week, CNA have seized nine of Druță’s real estate properties and luxury car, with a total value of €600,000.
Other judiciary sins have been uncovered last week by Ziarul de Gardă, which shed doubts on the system of random distribution of cases among judges. According to ZdG information, in the case of jailed former Prime Minister Vlad Filat, the “random” button was clicked 15 times until the politician was assigned to a “proper” judge. In the case of jailed banker Veaceslav Platon, the button was clicked 16 times. For Ilan Șor, a more ingenious method was preferred. When two more judges were needed to complete the panel, the court waited 5 months for other judges to take a leave until only two were available, giving the random distribution system no choice.
Ticket to Russia
Minister of Economy Vadim Brînzan was another target of presidential commentary last week. As cargo trucks blocked roads in Chișinău, Ocnița and Edineț in protest of the lack of transportation permits to Russia, Igor Dodon accused the Ministry of Economy of doing nothing to solve the situation. He added that the Ministry tolerated the illegal sale of licenses for €500 to €1000. Vadim Brînzan countered by saying he had already discussed the issue with his Russian counterpart. According to Brînzan, this is just one more problem that stems directly from the previous government’s decisions. He says the Democrats chose to agree on a limited number of permits with Russia, a quota, instead of pushing for the liberalization of trade, as he intends to do. Brînzan also explained that the permits had been distributed before the new Cabinet came into office and some people received more than they need, creating an artificial deficit and inflated prices on the black market. Brînzan attended a Commonwealth of Independent States summit and announced a Russian delegation would come to Chișinău on November 6.
As it is obvious by now, the president had a really busy week. Igor Dodon met with separatist leader Vadim Krasnoselski in Holercani, for a morning walk on the bank of Nistru. They agreed to drop several criminal charges against various officials from both sides of the river, without offering concrete details. The two leaders also agreed to open a trolleybus line between Varnița (controlled by Chisinau) and Tighina (controlled by separatists). President Dodon spoke in favor of the current Russian peacekeeping mission, defying the government’s stance that it should be replaced with an international civil mission. Officials talks will continue at a conference in Bavaria on November 4 and 5. Former member of the Joint Control Commission Ion Leahu lambasted the president for unconstitutional talks with the “rebel leader” and opined that Dodon and Krasnoselski discussed “personal issues”.
Anticorruption prosecutors announced that former PDM leader Vlad Plahotniuc is now wanted internationally, without specifying through which channels they distributed the warrant. At the time of writing, Plahotniuc’s name does not appear on the Interpol’s online list of wanted persons. While the fugitive politician’s whereabouts remain unknown, prosecutors have frozen the assets of BB-Dializa, a company awarded a monopoly for dialysis services by the former PDM government, BASS Systems, a company famous for winning most government software tenders, and GMG Productions, part of Plahotniuc’s now crumbling media empire. The nominal value of these assets is estimated at €2.7 million. The government also canceled the provisions that granted BB-Dializa a monopoly, but stopped short of terminating the public-private partnership contract.
The Parliament’s Secretariat announced savings of over €1 million this year. Some money was saved during the several months of post-electoral negotiations, during which the Legislative didn’t work. Other funds were saved on MP trips and software procurements. Secretary General Adrian Albu said most of the savings would go back into the state budget, but part will be used to buy new computers and four cars for foreign delegations. Albu explained that 320 of the Parliament’s 600 computers are obsolete and only 10 out of the 57 cars have less than 7 years. Albu also told how his predecessor Ala Popescu took with her one of Parliament’s 2011 Skodas when she moved to the Competition Council, offering in return a broken 2006 Skoda. The exchange was blessed by former Speaker Andrian Candu.
The public budget will receive another boost from the European Commission, which approved a €25 million assistance package for Moldova, the fourth one since the new government came into power. The Commission stressed that further assistance is contingent on the progress of the judiciary reform above all.