Moldova Weekly #14: Going through the motions, post-electoral denial, for a few euros more
Going through the motions
On Wednesday morning, Justice Minister Olesea Stamate announced she would cancel the results of the pre-selection of Prosecutor General Candidates. She explained that the pre-selection committee did not have access to enough information to verify the candidates’ integrity and new information came to light later. More importantly, she said that the Speaker’s delegate Petru Bobu in the committee cheated and gave unreasonably low scores to some candidates and very high scores to others. For example, Petru Bobu gave 25 out of 100 points to civil society activist Ștefan Gligor, 40 points behind Gligor’s second lowest score (65). Bobu also underrated Vladislav Gribincea, giving him only 24 points, which is 56 below Gribincea’s second lowest score (80).
Later that afternoon, three outraged Socialist MPs demanded the minister’s resignation. Around the same time however, the Cabinet passed a surprise bill, amending the Law on prosecution services so that Prosecutor General candidates would be filtered by the Prime Minister, who would then propose at least two names to the High Council of Prosecutors. The Cabinet passed the bill by “assuming responsibility”, an extraordinary procedure to enact laws bypassing the Parliament. For the bill not to come into effect, the MPs had three days to put forward a motion of no confidence. After failed negotiations between ACUM and the Socialists, which not even the intervention of US and EU ambassadors could help, PSRM put forward the motion on Friday and the Parliament must have at the first plenary meeting next week.
To understand more about the whole affair, check out our latest piece: Moldova’s Battle for the Prosecutor General, What’s Happening?
Curiously, the Democrats had a pending motion of no confidence but decided to withdraw it. Former PDM Speaker Andrian Candu assured the Democrats would support any and all no confidence votes against the Maia Sandu Cabinet, but party leader Pavel Filip was less certain. Candu also promised PDM would return to power sooner than expected, despite President Dodon’s statements that PSRM would not even talk to other parties but ACUM.
The head of state suggested that in the case of early elections, the proportional system would be used instead of the mixed one, making one wonder how could he know that. ACUM and PSRM MPs did ask the Constitutional Court to say which system should be used, but the Court is yet to provide an answer. Juggling the roles of neutral go-between and informal leader of the Socialists, Igor Dodon expressed hopes the government will cancel its decision and avoid the no confidence vote. In turn, Prime Minister Sandu insisted that the appointment of an independent Prosecutor General is a red line for the government and she would not back off.
The battle for the GPO overshadowed last Sunday’s mayoral victory of Socialist Ion Ceban against ACUM’s Andrei Năstase. In fact, the latter complained that the disappointing results of the Prosecutor General pre-selection negatively affected his result. Năstase’s second-in-command Alexandru Slusari announced PDA would undergo a reformation, but denied the electoral defeat was its cause.
The PDA leader rejected Ceban’s offer to create a formal coalition in the City Council and share deputy mayor and sector governor seats, but promised ACUM would support any initiative that would benefit the people. It seems Năstase did not coordinate his position with his ACUM colleagues from PAS, as PAS MP Radu Marian admitted later that day his party had not yet taken a decision regarding Ceban’s offer. Meanwhile, President Dodon’s calls for local coalitions between ACUM and PSRM in other district and town councils were just starting to bear fruit before the no confidence vote. Alexandru Slusari said ACUM was ready to ally with PSRM in most districts, but a successful motion may throw these plans out the window.
Another coalition proposal in Chișinău came from ex-mayor Dorin Chirtoacă. He called on pro-Romanian parties to join forces for a majority in the City Council, despite them having only 24 out of 26 seats needed for a majority (unless he also meant the 2 PDM councillors). Nobody answered him.
Police and prosecutors searched five locations in the investigation of the procurement of 31 ISUZU buses by the Chișinău municipality from a Cypriote offshore. Three persons were heard and criminal charges were opened against a fourth one. The press wrote that deputy mayor Nistor Grozavu was among those heard, while Vitalie Butucel, former head of the transportation division, fled and escaped the police.
Former head of police Ion Bodrug was arrested at the airport for weapons smuggling, but prosecutors could not obtain an arrest warrant, so he will be investigated at large. Similarly unsuccessful was the prosecutors’ attempt to prolong the arrest of Oleg Sternioală, deputy chairman of the Supreme Justice Court, who was freed after 72 hours in remand. Sternioală then sued the High Council of the Magistracy for allowing his arrest in the first place. Sternioală is under investigation for how he got rich. The law enforcement officers did manage to arrest Ion Dorogoi, a former accomplice of jailed banker Veaceslav Platon, for 72 hours. It is true though that Dorogoi willingly turned himself in.
The investigation of a 20 million lei fraud at Moldovagaz, started two weeks ago with searches at Ungheni-Gaz, continued this week with searches at four other branches of the company. The National Energy Regulatory Agency deployed a control mission at Moldovagaz itself.
Meanwhile, journalists from Newsmaker tried to find out how the search for fugitive banker-politician Ilan Șor is going. In August, the head of Interpol Moldova said Șor had been located in Israel. Now, the Ministry of Justice says it has no official confirmation of Șor being in Israel and, as such, cannot send an extradition request. On Friday, Șor addressed his loyal constituency in Orhei by videochat, during the celebration of the town’s patron saint day.
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Before the battle for the prosecution service took over the news, last week’s war of words between President Dodon and Minister of Economy Vadim Brînzan continued on Monday and Tuesday. Targeted again by Igor Dodon and the Socialists’ criticism, Brînzan assured he did his utmost to get more transport permits for Moldovan exports to Russia and that the Ministry did not sell the permits on the black market, at least not under him. Brînzan went further and suggested the Socialists were actually angry because he stopped the cash flow from corrupt schemes within state owned companies, thus “suffocating” many politicians.
Meanwhile, Finance Minister Natalia Gavriliță announced a “Budget of Solidarity” for 2020, which provides salary raises for numerous public employees, especially in the field of education. Despite raises ranging between 12.5% and 30%, many of these salaries will remain way below the national average. The draft budget also provides more fiscal autonomy to rural authorities by allowing them to keep 100% of individual income tax (up from 75%).
Moldova received a €10 million grant from the EU, part of the first installment of macro-financial assistance. The grant followed in the tracks of a separate €25 million package offered by the European Commission. Prime Minister Maia Sandu used this in her favor, warning that Western funding will dry out should her Cabinet fall.