Moldova in brief, week #24, June 8-13.

The crooked curve

The coronavirus situation in Moldova continues to worsen as the record for daily infections has been beaten two days in a row, while the number of infections rose by 20% compared to last week. Moldova ranks 13th in Europe by the number of Covid cases per capita.

Despite this, PSRM city councilors in Chișinău voted down a proposal to pay infected medical workers about $1000 each. The money was to be reallocated from non-priority expenses of the municipality. Alas, it was not meant to be.

The government grudgingly had to reverse its course to ease restrictions. Citizens’ vigilance is once again of utmost importance as Moldovans will have to carefully choose their companions for outdoor activities. The rule of no more than three persons (except for close relatives) still applies and social distancing is mandatory. The same goes for wearing masks in grocery stores, transportation and other public places. Non-professional sports enthusiasts will have to do without sports fields and children should keep away from playgrounds. Elderly people above 63 years of age are required to stay home, unless they have emergencies to attend to. Everyone is also to have an ID on them at all times.

Restrictions are still in place for those coming from abroad. They have to self-isolate for two weeks after entering the country. The rule is also applicable to those who had direct contact with Covid positive persons. All these restrictions will apply at least till 30 June.

Scapegoat wanted

In this whole debacle, PM Chicu found someone to blame: not the inefficiency of government measures, but the opposition who blocked the Russian loan. Chicu said this money would have bought time to keep people at home a bit more (and thus reduce infections). What he doesn’t say is that the loan was, at least formally, meant to finance a new road rehabilitation program. Despite the worsening healthcare situation, the PM is firm in his determination to relax all restrictions by the end of June. For more on this and on the PM’s attitude and response to Covid, see our article.

Unhappy with the government response to the pandemic, Pro Moldova MPs put forward a no confidence vote against the health minister. They also demand authorities to reveal how many tests have been carried out by public institutions and how many by private labs, what happened with the 80,000 tests bought for $2 million, and when the National Public Health Agency’s (ANSP) lab has been accredited by WHO to carry out Covid-19. Pro Moldova members say the lab has been working without an accreditation for 8 months.

Former health minister and current Pro Moldova MP Ruxanda Glavan has accused ANSP of distributing gowns expired since 2016 to frontline doctors in May. She says this is additional proof that the high number of infected doctors can be attributed to the lack of proper protection equipment.

Year One A.P.

Moldovan politicians marked one year since Vlad Plahotniuc was ousted from power by the PSRM-ACUM alliance. President Dodon, despite the released footage of his negotiations with Plahotniuc, says he risked his own life to liberate the country from the oligarchic regime. Dodon added that he has no regrets - and why would he? Since then, the Socialists obtained the seat of the Speaker of the Parliament, gained control over the government and won the local elections in Chișinău.

PDA leader Andrei Năstase labeled the president ”an opportunist and a hypocrite” who negotiated with Plahotniuc until the last moment and then presented himself as the savior of the nation after being pushed into an alliance with ACUM by the ”national and international circumstances”. PAS chairwoman Maia Sandu also said that ACUM had to ”rip the Socialists out of Plahotniuc’s arms”. Both opposition leaders added a touch of modesty and said the merit of ousting the oligarch belongs to the people.

Meanwhile, the legal process against the former PDM leader is moving one step forward and one backwards. The judges rejected the prosecutors’ request to seize Plahotniuc’s assets abroad, but they maintained the arrest warrant against him. Now, the prosecutors can formally request his extradition from the US.

Vlad Plahotniuc had been designated for corruption by US State Secretary Mike Pompeo, meaning he was deprived of long-term American visa and denied the possibility of asylum, but he sued this decision, claiming he was denied fair trial and that he needs protection because Russia would try to assassinate him.

The beam-in-the-eye declaration

President Dodon thinks Plahotniuc’s influence in Chișinău is still strong and the fugitive oligarch is the one chipping away at the parliamentary majority via his acolytes Andrian Candu and Ilan Șor.

PSRM and PDM are now left with the bare minimum of MPs for a parliamentary majority. They proposed a declaration against political migrations to condemn MPs who switch parties between elections. The opposition was quick to point out that many of the PDM and PSRM parliamentarians are turncoats themselves, many of them having ditched the crumbling PCRM to join parties with better prospects. However, the declaration was adopted unanimously - even the MPs who have recently switched from PDM to Pro Moldova voted for it.

The last lawmaker to make this transition is Angel Agache. Civic activist and former MP Grigore Petrenco wrote that, according to his sources, Agache received $1.2 million to change parties, which allegedly angered many of the other ex-PDM turncoats who had received way less.

Meanwhile, newsrooms received an anonymous email with pictures of some signed papers claiming these were receipts signed by Socialist MP Corneliu Furculiță. The email also said that this was proof Furculiță had received over $6.5 million to illegally finance the party. The MP asked the prosecutors to investigate the email.

The presidential fist

Sick of the parliamentary intrigues, Igor Dodon publicly mused about his dream of a presidential republic and explained what he meant: “You bang your fist on the table and you’ve put the prosecutor, the judge, the MP, the prime-minister - everyone to their places. For example, the US is a presidential country. Belarus is a presidential state. There, when the president says something, discussions are over”.

For now, Igor Dodon is making the most of the powers he has. The president warned the opposition that, should they bring down the Chicu Cabinet, he would simplu nominate him again: “I can put forward Chicu’s name 2-3 times and nobody can make me sign another candidate into the premier’s office”. Dodon claims the opposition parties have already met to discuss a new government and distribute offices, but he is adamant no new cabinet can be appointed without his and the Socialists’ agreement.

The NGO consensus

The saga of the NGO bill has reached a tumultuous yet happy end. After his weekly meeting with the Speaker and the PM, President Dodon announced that ”a consensus was found” - the bill would be adopted if the PSRM amendments are accepted. In the Parliament, after a three hours debate, the Socialists caved in and withdrew several of their amendments, while adjusting several others. There was still room for scandal - Socialist MP Vasile Bolea, head of the Parliament’s Legal Committee, was accused of falsifying the committee’s report on the bill, by adding amendments that hadn’t been discussed by the committee.

The final text of the law allows NGOs to provide services for political parties, but not during electoral campaigns. Despite Bolea’s proposed amendments, the bill also allows NGOs to monitor elections.

Prime Minister Chicu, who had previously fiercely opposed the law claiming NGOs would “destroy this country”, was basically thrown under the bus on the issue by the ruling coalition and now says Moldova has fulfilled all of its committments towards the EU. Ion Chicu hopes Brussels will transfer the second installment of the macrofinancial assistance for Moldova by the deadline at the end of July.

The prosecution rests

The Prosecutor’s General Office announced it has closed five of the 38 files previously described as ”politically motivated” by chief prosecutor Alexandr Stoianoglo. One of the closed files is that of alleged Russian agent Ludmila Kozlovska, while another one concerns David Davitean, initially accused of a murder attempt against Russian banker Gherman Gorbuntsov.

Deschide.md also wrote that Stoianoglo submitted a request to the court to release jailed banker Veaceslav Platon. Neither the PGO, nor the court confirmed or denied the information. Stoianoglo had previously said Platon’s file was ”completely fabricated”.

More news, in one sentence

◾ The Ministry of Economy held a press conference about 5G, explaining that the technology is harmless and that Moldova has no 5G network - its deployment should start in 2023.

◾Moldova’s public debt rose by about $77 million in May, mostly due to the issuance of government bonds, reaching a total of $1.5 billion.

◾PAS MP Radu Marian asked the prosecutors to investigate Socialist MP Bogdan Țîrdea’s riches, after Ziarul de Gardă published a journalistic investigation last week.

◾Newsmaker has put together a photo gallery showing how President Dodon has been ignoring anti-Covid rules, while PAS MP Dumitru Alaiba calculated that Dodon should pay over $80,000 in fines.

◾Separatist leader Vadim Krasnoselski has put forward a bill in Tiraspol that would allow the regime to close its borders even after the pandemic ends, in order to protect “national security and morality”.

◾The Ministry of Agriculture has updated its harvest forecast for this year: it expects farmers to produce about 600,000 tonnes of wheat, while fruit production will likely be 15-20% lower than the average harvest of the previous three years.