Moldova in brief, week 2, January 11-17.

Covid holidays

The number of daily new Covid cases, as well as the positivity rate of tests, are still decreasing, despite the merrymaking of winter holidays. The Ministry of Health’s terse press releases give no clue as to the reasons for this statistical drop, but a similar tendency has been recorded in neighboring countries. Hans Kluge, head of the WHO’s European office, thinks the numbers might be misleading because there were fewer people counting cases during the holidays. Moldovan authorities prolonged the health emergency situation until February 15, maintaining the few restrictions still in place.

The Ministry announced the first batches of vaccine will reach Moldova by the end of January, thanks to the COVAX global program, but it is not yet clear which vaccine and how many doses will be available. The authorities also went on to approve the national anti-Covid immunization plan, which prioritizes medical workers and the elderly.

Caretaker Prime Minister Aureliu Ciocoi hopes the vaccination campaign will start in the first half of February. He said Moldova is ready to receive even the Pfizer vaccine, which requires storage at -70°C.

Constitutional quiz

Aureliu Ciocoi says the interim government will not meet, despite having quorum, until the Constitutional Court answers President Sandu’s application. She thinks that current legislation places excessive limits on what a caretaker Cabinet can do. Sandu asked the CC if an acting PM can replace ministers and if the government can sign international treaties to access funds. The president’s move has drawn criticism from Deputy Speaker Alexandru Slusari (PPDA) and MP Adrian Lebedinschi (PSRM), who say that signing international treaties is the same as proposing bills, which only a regular Cabinet can do.

Meanwhile, Renato Usatîi and Vladimir Voronin both offered to be Sandu’s nominees for prime minister. The former says he is confident the MPs will not accept him and thus bring the country a step closer to early elections. The Communist veteran explained he cannot bear the current situation anymore: ”you’ll see what I'll do to all of them!”. President Sandu dismissed both proposals. She fears any nomination might delay the early elections and suggested that the best way to trigger them would be the auto-dissolution of the Parliament.

However, on Monday morning, the Constitutional Court struck down such a possibility and said there are only two situations in which the Parliament can be disbanded: failure to appoint a Cabinet or inactivity for three months. Our colleague Andei Lutenco anticipated this ruling in our piece Can the Moldovan Parliament dissolve itself?

Meanwhile, Igor Dodon announced PSRM leadership would meet on Monday in reaction to the ”political, constitutional and governmental crisis caused by the current president’s inaction”.

All the president’s bridges

With a lame government and no parliamentary support behind her, Maia Sandu travelled to Kyiv, where she met her Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky, Speaker Dmytro Razumkov and newly-appointed PM Denis Shmygal. This is the first visit of a Moldovan president in Ukraine after a five-year hiatus. Zelensky rejoiced that Igor Dodon’s successor ”is not afraid to call Crimea an Ukrainian territory”. While at it, he stressed Kyiv’s ”firm support” for Moldova’s territorial integrity.

Sandu said she and Zelensky agreed to upgrade Moldo-Ukranian relations to a ”strategic partnership” and will create an inter-presidential council to this goal. They also spoke about an ambitious plan to build a modern motorway between Chișinău and Kyiv, as well as a new bridge over the Nistru. Another idea that was put on the table was the possibility for Moldovans and Ukrainians to visit each other’s countries with a simple ID card.

An important topic was the diversification of energy sources and the sustainable use of the Nistru River. Ecologists and activists from both countries have long warned that the expansion of Ukraine’s Novodnestrovsk hydroelectric complex north of Moldova will harm the river and threaten the water security of Moldova and the Odessa region of Ukraine. President Sandu announced she would ask the EU to help out with an ecological assessment of the project. Former PM Chicu shared a fake news story, which claimed Sandu not only supported Ukraine’s plans, but was also ready to cede Moldovan lands. Meanwhile, environmental NGOs insist that the river can be a source of life or a source of energy, but not both, and demand that the project be stopped.

After Kyiv, Sandu went Brussels, where she has scheduled meetings with high-ranking EU officials as well as Belgian dignitaries. Besides diplomatic support, the president hopes to find more anti-Covid vaccines and equipment for Moldova.

During a video conference with ambassadors in Chișinău, Sandu said she would strive for good relations with everyone, including Russia, on the condition of mutual respect.

The monuments men

Before resigning, the Chicu Cabinet decided to change the membership of the National Council of Historic Monuments, even though the members elected in 2019 were not even close to finishing their 3-year term. Civil society criticized the government’s decision for several procedural faults, such as the lack of public consultation or anticorruption expertise.

The biggest issue is probably the new members themselves, or at least some of them. The Council is the authority that decides which building deserves to be called a historic monument and to be protected by the state, and which building can be replaced by a new one. However, some of the new members are associated with shady and controversial real estate projects in the city center. A group of civil society organizations published two open letters to the Presidency, the Parliament, the Government and the Ministry of Education, asking them to undo the changes to the Council.

Also this week, President Sandu withdrew Pavel Abraham from the commission in charge of assessing the candidates for ECHR judgeship. Sorin Ioniță, head of Bucharest-based think-tank Expert Forum, warns that Abraham doesn’t have the best of reputations in Romania. Sandu appointed judge Viorica Puică to replace Abraham. In June 2020, Puică won the competition to be appointed as judge at the Supreme Justice Court, but the PSRM-PDM parliamentary majority at the time blocked her promotion.

Two former justice ministers duked it out over this issue. Caretaker minister Fadei Nagacevschi, a former advisor to the Socialists, said there is no option to withdraw a member of the commission according to the official regulation. He suggested Puică could be accepted in the commission as an exception – not instead of, but alongside Pavel Abraham. Nagacevschi's predecessor, Olesea Stamate, currently a presidential advisor, chose to focus on Abraham’s reputation rather than engage in ”legal debates”.

More news in one sentence

◾ Car fuels got 7% to 10% more expensive because of international prices, as well as higher national taxes.

◾ PAS asked the CC to reverse the amendments to pharmaceutical legislation operated by the PSRM-Șor alliance at the end of 2020, which removed price caps for over-the-counter drugs (opening the door for price hikes) and reduced the VAT for compensated medication (possibly making them too unprofitable for drugstores to sell).

◾ Over 20 servers in Moldova and Ukraine were seized as part of an international operation that put an end to DarkMarket, the largest marketplace for illegal goods on the Dark Web.

◾ The Chișinău Court of Appeal placed Andrei Neguță, former ambassador to Moscow accused of smuggling anabolic steroids, under preventive detention, after the initial court had placed him under house arrest.

◾ Head of the Bălți mail office, Vasile Guțu, accused the director of the Post of Moldova, Vitalie Zaharia, of putting the mail in the service of Igor Dodon, of hiring only loyal people and persecuting those who resisted, to which Zaharia responded that Guțu was merely trying to detract attention from his own legal problems.

◾ Chișinău’s representatives complain that the Tiraspol regime refused to discuss within the Joint Control Commission the matters of the illegal checkpoints and the kidnapping of Moldovan citizens.

◾ Chișinău decided to extend the January 15 deadline, after which Transnistrian cars would be allowed on the right bank only with neutral plates.

◾ The Supreme Justice Court ruled in favor of the National Integrity Agency, which demanded the firing of Alexandru Ambros, mayor of Ungheni, after the town hall had awarded several contracts to his wife’s company, as revealed by journalists.

◾ Ion Chicu declared himself disappointed by Facebook’s censorship and announced he would switch to Telegram, but not before deleting the comments of journalists who pointed out his own censorship and lack of transparency as PM.

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