News from Moldova, in brief. Week #18, April 27 - May 3.

Apply and suspend

The judges of the Constitutional Court have been caught in a political firestorm. After they canceled the government’s anticrisis package (which was adopted by sidestepping the Parliament), suspended the loan agreement with Russia, and replaced former Socialist MP Vladimir Țurcan with Domnica Manole as chair of the Court, President Dodon suggested that Andrian Candu and fugitive oligarchs Vladimir Plahotniuc and Ilan Șor might be behind these “political games”. PSRM MP Vasile Bolea asked the Superior Council of the Magistracy (CSM) to revoke the mandates of CC judges Domnica Manole, Liuba Șova and Nicolae Roșca.

In the other camp, PAS leader Maia Sandu accused the government of putting pressure on the judges to obtain a favorable decision regarding the Russian loan. Her PAS colleague Sergiu Litvinenco even said that judges were being under surveillance. The Prosecutor General’s Office dismissed it as “political PR”. However, four of the six constitutional judges took the situation more seriously and formally submitted a complaint to the prosecutors, asking them to investigate the case. CC chairwoman Domnica Manole also said she would notify international institutions and diplomatic missions about the pressure and intimidation” against the CC judges.

Meanwhile, the Truth and Dignity Platform (PDA) submitted a new application to the CC asking to cancel the Russian loan agreement. The first one had been submitted by the Pro Moldova parliamentary group and warned about the dangers for national economic security. PDA’s complaint instead concerns the way the loan was negotiated and approved - the opposition MPs say it was done without any transparency and several legal procedures were bypassed.

PDA leader Andrei Năstase had also previously complained to CSM about President Dodon’s phone call with CC judge Vladimir Țurcan, asking CSM to withdraw Țurcan’s mandate. However, the meeting of Council did not take place because of a lack of quorum. The four members of civil society and academia, controversially appointed in March by the Parliament, did not attend the meeting.

No good deed goes unpunished

Romania sent medical equipment worth 3.5 million euros to Moldova. President Dodon, who previously went to the airport to welcome a Russian plane with Chinese medical supplies, which were bought, not donated, this time didn’t pay much attention to the aid from Romania and only published some thanks on FB a day later. PSRM MP Bogdan Țîrdea was even less impressed and wrote that Romania’s help was too late, just for show, and instead praised Hungary for reacting earlier. What neither Țîrdea, nor the Ministry of Foreign Affairs mentioned is that the ”Hungarian aid” was requested and received through NATO’s Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre.

The Romanian government also sent a team of 42 doctors to help their Moldovan colleagues in the fight against Covid-19. Those deployed to hospitals in Chișinău were first sent to a student dormitory with shared toilets, then to another one that didn’t have enough rooms, so in the end the Embassy booked a hotel for some of the medics. The doctors sent to Bălți also got a taste of Moldovan hospitality - the mayor offered each an envelope with $1000 cash inside and promised them highbred turkeys upon their return to Romania. The Embassy however asked the doctors to return the money the next day.

The aid from Romania also stirred tension among the opposition. PDA members accused PAS leader Maia Sandu of unjustifiably taking credit for the Romanian government’s actions.

Maybe try some tests

The Chinese shipment of medical equipment that arrived in Moldova more than a week ago finally received customs celarance and now the authorities have around 90,000 Covid test kits at their disposal. However, the testing strategy hasn’t seemed to change, with the number of tests performed daily remaining in the order of hundreds. The daily case count also remains within a relatively narrow range. Former health minister Ala Nemerenco has likened the curve of the daily cases to a “train which has a constant number of seats,” adding: “and it takes in no more passengers than its capacity allows. Or the motorman permits.” Compared with the Baltic states, or Slovenia, or Slovakia, with commensurate populations, Moldova is carrying out far fewer tests, and the ratio between the number of tests performed and the detected cases is much greater, according to Cotidianul.

What changed though in the testing policy is that Covid suspects with mild symptoms started to be tested at home. The Ministry of Health promised the tests would be carried out by well-trained and well-equipped personnel, but ex-minister Nemerenco is skeptical about both aspects. She believes poor testing will only lead to a big number of false negative results.

The total case count topped the 4,000 mark this week, and about a quarter are health care workers. A recent report showed that the protection of medical personnel is the most serious issue in the anti-Covid effort. Besides the shortage of protective equipment and disinfectants, other drawbacks include the lack of institutional protocols and adequate training..

Whether they like it or not, public sector employees who cannot work remotely are also expected to be back at work starting Monday, where they will have to follow a set of “strict rules”. Moreover, public transport will be resumed as usual, which implies the return of conductors who sell on-board tickets. Passengers will be required to have their mouths and noses covered with whatever they can find (and pray).

Metropolitan tears

Metropolitan Vladimir wrote an open letter to the government complaining about “the inimical and disdainful attitude towards the Church, which has been humiliated and put on its knees” in recent weeks. The church leader is unhappy that authorities banned the attendance of religious services, including on Easter, because of the coronavirus. Vladimir writes that “the Moldovan Orthodox Church is a not a HoReCa place that can be closed during the epidemic”, but „a divine-human institution”..

Prime Minister Chicu said in response that “protecting human lives and health is a deed most holy and dear to God”. He insisted that during the pandemic rule are harsh, but should be respected by everyone.

His attitude is very different to that of President Dodon, who was filmed before Easter telling priests they would not be fined, thus encouraging them to break quarantine rules.

“True democracy”

On Friday, MP Ruxanda Glavan announced she was leaving the Democratic Party to join the breakaway “Pro Moldova” group. A former minister of health, Glavan said the government’s anti-Covid response – “statistics instead of a strategy and an action plan” – was the last straw for her. In fact, Glavan suggested she had been a dissenting voice within PDM for some time now, being “demoted to the bench” next to “all the courageous” fellow party members (if it’s true, this didn’t prevent her from getting an MP seat, though).

The PDM president Pavel Filip accused Glavan of leaving the party because it has lost its deep pockets, a reference to oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc. Eugeniu Nichiforciuc, another leading member, said Glavan should have waited until Monday, when “true democracy in the Democratic Party will be making a step forward.” The PDM is convening its political board on Monday. On Sunday, a group of MPs including Nichiforciuc and veteran Democrat Dumitru Diacov were caught on camera meeting with businessman Alexandru Valcu, who is described by deschide.md as a fixer for President Dodon. The same source suggested Niciforciuc’s faction was even considering toppling Filip from the party’s presidency.

Acute conspiratory infection

A couple of influencers in Moldova, including local Instagram celebrities and the anti-globalist politician Iurie Rosca, joined the global craze of coronoavirus conspiracy theories. There is an online petition going around calling for a stop of plans to introduce the 5G technology, with some believing that it’s both a threat to human health and a means to somehow spread the coronavirus. The telecom regulator ANRCETI issued a statement to assure the general public it’s neither. In any case, while the technology was tested in Moldova in March 2019, a full rollout is not expected anytime soon.