The government has fallen, long live the government

Last week, Maia Sandu’s Cabinet tried to bypass the Parliament in amending the Law on the Prosecution Service. The Socialist MPs responded with a no confidence vote and, on Tuesday, they ousted the Sandu Cabinet from power. The necessary votes were provided by the Democrats. In the aftermath, President Dodon claimed the Socialists would try to reanimate their alliance with the ACUM bloc. However, just one day later, Igor Dodon nominated his advisor Ion Chicu, a former finance minister in the Democrat Filip government, for prime minister. It took Chicu less than 24 hours to come up with a list of ministers and a governance program before the Parliament. So it’s pretty obvious that president’s Plan B had been ready for some time or that it might have actually been plan A all along. The Democrats helped the Socialists again and voted in the Chicu Cabinet.

Most of the new ministers were president’s advisors just one week ago. Some of them were state secretaries or deputy ministers under the Democrats and even campaigned for them during last winter’s parliamentary elections. This has led to accusations from the ACUM bloc that Igor Dodon threw a lifeline to the remnants of Vlad Plahotniuc’s oligarchic regime. To read more about the new cabinet, check out our latest piece:
All the President’s Technocrats in the Chicu Government.

Maia Sandu promised to continue to fight for the reforms initiated by her government. She said the Socialists voted her out because they were afraid of an independent prosecutor general and because her cabinet was dismantling illegal schemes that provided political parties with illegal funding. She warned that foreign financial support would dry out again should President Dodon and Prime Minister Chicu revert to the practices of the Democrat government. So far, official reactions from Romania and the EU seem to back her statements, stressing that any further aid will be conditioned on the continuation of reforms. The US reaction has been considerably softer and the US Ambassador was photographed having a good time with PDM’s Pavel Filip and Dumitru Diacov after the Chicu government was voted in.

Parting Shots

After the bitter divorce with the Socialists, some ACUM MPs have unburied the hatchet. Chiril Moțpan, head of the Parliament’s public order and security commission, announced he has a 24-page file, prepared over the years by an unnamed state institution, concerning some of the new ministers. He promised he would publish the documented wrongdoings of the new cabinet members, but didn’t say when.

Another ACUM MP, Iurie Reniță, announced he got an answer from the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office (PA) that they would investigate the alleged illegal financing of Igor Dodon’s 2016 presidential campaign via an offshore from the Bahamas. The main vehicle is thought to be PSRM MP Corneliu Furculiță’s Exclusive Media company. PA chief Viorel Morari said he has 12 tomes regarding the alleged Russian funding for Socialists and he would review them all to make sure that the previous prosecutors ”didn’t miss anything”.

Moțpan is not very optimistic though. He thinks PDM and PSRM made a deal to stop any investigations against the Democrats and to prepare compromising information against Andrei Năstase and Maia Sandu. Curiously enough, Speaker Zinaida Greceanîi assured after a meeting with US Ambassador Dereck J. Hogan that ”the ACUM bloc will not be touched”.

Socialist MP Vladimir Odnostalko and former Minister of Health Ala Nemerenco seem to be having their own personal duel. Nemerenco claims Odnostalko asked her for the positions of deputy chair of the Medicine Agency and director of the National Narcology Center. He allegedly admitted having an interest to control the anti-drugs field in Moldova. Odnostalko retaliated to Nemerenco’s accusations of influence peddling by blaming her for appointing incompetent people in various positions and damaging the healthcare system.

The Red New Dawn

It has been a truly auspicious week for the Socialists, as new mayor of Chișinău Ion Ceban was sworn in on Monday. Despite promising to step down from party duties after being elected, Ceban was seen at the Socialists’ meeting before the no confidence vote. He also had a meeting with President Dodon and Russian Ambassador Oleg Vasnetsov, where they discussed the project of Chișinău’s ringroad, in which some Russian businessmen seem to be very interested.

Ceban appointed young urbanist Victor Chironda as his deputy mayor in charge of urbanism and urban mobility. Given his apolitical electoral campaign and background as an activist, it was previously rumored Chironda would be made deputy mayor regardless of who won the elections. Meanwhile, Andrei Năstase, after losing both the municipal election and his job as minister of the interior, took office as a city councillor, promising to thwart any illegal scheme in the City Hall.

Năstase was taken by surprise when his bloc colleagues from PAS announced they would form a separate group in the City Council. Despite lamentations from PDA leaders, PAS explained they were two separate parties and would continue their collaboration within the framework of the ACUM bloc, just like they did until now. Some commentators however see this as a sign of deeper fractures within the bloc.

Although no names have been released to the public so far, prosecutors have frozen assets of over 3 million lei, belonging to suspects in the city’s procurement of 31 Isuzu buses from a shady offshore company in Northern Cyprus. Some of the suspects are believed to be current and former City Hall servants.

The Balance of Justice

Supreme Justice Court deputy chairman Oleg Sternioală, under investigation for his unjustified riches and money laundering, got his judge’s immunity restored by the Court of Appeal. He was briefly detained last week and freed by another court ruling. Sternioală claims that the High Council of Judges didn’t have the right to revoke his immunity as six of its members had been dismissed by a controversial Assembly of Judges. The previous government claimed the Assembly didn’t have a quorum and its decisions were void. Maia Sandu later openly accused President Dodon of orchestrating this insurrection among judges. It remains to be seen how the new minister of justice, the Socialists’ former party lawyer, will deal with this situation.

Viorel Morari, head of the Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office, says it will be very difficult to carry out the investigation against Sternioală with his immunity restored. Morari also sent a formal letter to Speaker Zinaida Greceanîi, asking the Parliament to increase the number of prosecutors from 720 to 750 and auxiliary staff from 700 to 750. His explanation is curiously specific: prosecutors now have an unexpectedly high workload, which might make them prone to errors, which, in turn, would make them vulnerable in case of a control of their work and undermine their independence and immovability. While the Sandu Cabinet had promised an external assessment and vetting of judges and prosecutors, it is not yet clear how the new government intends to go about the justice reform.

The Council of Harsh Feelings

Olga Guțuțui, member of the Council of the Audiovisual, resigned this week accusing the CA of serving political interests instead of the public interest. After more than four years in the Council, she says her colleagues always changed their policies to suit the parties in power. Chairman Dragoș Vicol on the other hand dismissed all accusations as ungrounded rumors. As regards Guțuțui herself, Vicol said she is not the first one to leave with such criticism. Indeed, just a couple of months ago Dorina Curnic left the Council demanding Vicol’s resignation.

Former Prime Minister Maia Sandu herself had demanded the resignation of the Council to no avail. Instead, the CA oversaw the growth of the Socialists’ media empire as they took over the broadcasting of Russia’s most popular channel Pervyi Kanal and some frequencies previously owned by Vlad Plahotniuc’s media trust.

Meanwhile, the national broadcaster’s supervisory board reappointed Olga Bordeianu as chairwoman of the company. Bordeianu had been fired last summer by the CA after a petition from ACUM MPs Octavian Țîcu and Maria Ciobanu.