Moldova in brief, week #25, June 15-21.

Riding the wave

On Monday, Prime Minister Ion Chicu announced Moldova was facing a second Covid wave, leaving many to wonder: when did the first end? Even graphically, the infection curve in Moldova looks like a wave that is continuously growing, without a crest in sight. Later, the Ministry of Health “clarified” the PM’s words saying that Moldova is currently in an aggravated stage of the first wave. The number of daily cases reached new highs: 478 on Wednesday and 450 on Friday. The PM says Moldova cannot afford another state of emergency and asked the people to “adapt” to the epidemiological requirements.

In a must read interview with Report.md, Dr. Adrian Belîi, ICU head at the Emergency Hospital, says the worst is still ahead. He expects 15% of the population to need oxygen therapy and mortality rates to reach 5%. Dr. Belîi thinks it is already too late for a strict lockdown – such measures work in the initial stages of the pandemic. Doctors, who celebrated their professional day on Sunday, are exhausted – even Health Minister Viorica Dumbrăveanu admitted it. WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that the world is entering a “new and dangerous stage [...] Many people are understandably fed up with being at home (and) countries are understandably eager to open up their societies.”

Choose your own scenario

She excused hereself for 15 minutes from a meeting and never came back – this is how Efrosinia Grețu’s former PDM colleagues remember her last day with them. Grețu, ironically one of the creators of last week’s Declaration against parliamentary turncoats, switched parties and joined Pro Moldova this week. The MP swears she didn’t receive any money and that she left PDM because she believed the current coalition was at a dead end. PDM leader Pavel Filip didn’t believe her and complained to the prosecutors that she was bought off along other PDM defectors.

Grețu’s departure would not be out of the ordinary if it didn’t leave the PSRM-PDM with only 50 seats in the Parliament, one short of a simple majority. However, it does not mean the opposition has 51, given that PAS and PDA publicly avoid Pro Moldova and the Șor Party like lepers. President Dodon put forward three scenarios: 1. a minority government; 2. early parliamentary elections after the presidential ones; and 3. a short term “anti-oligarchic” coalition of “national salvation” among PSRM, PDM, PAS and PDA. “If the current Cabinet is dismissed or its work is blocked… those who worked with Plahotniuc and Șor to bring about chaos will have to answer in front of the people”, warned Dodon.

PAS MP Sergiu Litvinenco says his party is unlikely to risk another coalition with Dodon, given that they already “got burned” once in the not so distant past. Litvinenco pointed out another potential scenario, one in which the president resigns in order to trigger early elections.

PDA deputy leader Alexandru Slusari declared that his party would discuss the situation, “but we certainly won’t sit at the negotiation table with Igor Dodon, because we don’t understand in what institutional capacity he is inviting us”. Another PDA deputy chairman Igor Munteanu accused PAS of being the Chicu Cabinet’s “new allies” because of its hesitancy to support the no confidence vote against the current government. PAS leader Maia Sandu explained that she would gladly vote to take down the government if the opposition had 51 votes to install a new one, perhaps headed by Năstase, Slusari or Munteanu.

Andrei Năstase himself counts on 60-70 votes for a new Cabinet, after the announcement that on Monday, June 22, PDA and PAS would have a first “round of negotiations” with PDM. The cautious Democrats said it was discussions, not negotiations. This seems to be another scenario that hasn’t been included in the president’s offer.

Previously, Igor Dodon threatened to block any nominee for prime minister not to his liking, even though the Constitution says the head of the state can nominate a PM candidate only “after consulting” with the parliamentary groups. Igor Munteanu asked the Constitutional Court to clarify: can the president pick a nominee by himself or must he listen to the parliamentary majority?

The early elections scenario is backed by the European People’s Party – chairman Donald Tusk tweeted that Maia Sandu and Andrei Năstase should put their differences aside. According to him, “the current Parliament is dysfunctional and the best solution is to go back to the people and let them decide.”

What’s the plan?

Regardless of whether the cabinet is replaced, the opposition party PAS proposes a package of “anti-crisis solutions” to address the sanitary, economic and social aspects of the pandemic-related crisis. Some proposals only require political will to be implemented, for example, that the press is given free and unobstructed access to information of public interest. But most measures require money, and loads of it. These include a significant increase in the number of tests conducted daily, 75% subsidised payments for temporary unemployment for three months, a 2 billion lei ($115 million) fund to secure loans for SMEs, compensations for farmers, computers for families and teachers to enable online education, and many more.

Can the public budget afford it, given that PAS representatives themselves admit that the budget already has a 20 billion lei hole ($1.15 billion)? Besides cuts in “unneeded” expenses, PAS plans to rely on the macrofinancial assistance promised by the EU and on other potential aid.

The voice that wasn’t there

Newsrooms received a new piece of kompromat this week: a sound recording where president Igor Dodon appears to talks to Socialist mayoral candidate Ion Ceban on June 15, 2018, in the aftermath of the latter’s defeat at the hands of Andrei Năstase. Dodon seems to propose a scenario where Năstase is disqualified and Ceban refuses to take the mayoral seat “because it would be unfair”. The one supposed to be Ceban hesitates and the other voice tells him he has a day to think it over, assuring him “they will not take any decision without discussing with us”. Several days later, judge Rodica Berdilo cancelled the result of the election for both candidates.

Both Igor Dodon and Ion Ceban, who went on to win the Chisinau election a year later, dismissed the recording as fake. They say it’s not their voices and that they will complain to the prosecutors. On the other hand, Andrei Năstase did not miss the opportunity to use the recording as proof that he is Dodon and Plahotniuc’s “archenemy”. Năstase asked the Prosecutor General to investigate, but was answered the prosecutors would act only upon receiving a formal complaint. The prosecutorial service had the same reaction to the footage where Igor Dodon seems to accept a bag, allegedly with money, from Vlad Plahotniuc and his aide Serghei Iaralov. However, the Penal Procedure Code does allow the prosecutors to act ex officio if there’s reasonable suspicion.

Meanwhile, MP Iurie Reniță said he was heard as a witness in the investigation into the black bag footage of Dodon, after PDA leader Andrei Năstase had written a formal complaint. Justice Minister Fadei Nagacevschi, the former party lawyer of the Socialists, defended the president by saying that the footage is not necessarily incriminating because it doesn’t show what it’s in the bag.

V.P. for Vendetta

Năstase has another rival claiming the mantle of Plahotniuc’s archenemy. Banker Veaceslav Platon was freed from jail this week, with the help of the Prosecutor General. The four years spent in jail left a mark on Platon’s face and he claims to have been framed as one of the main architects of the bank fraud through procedural and judicial manipulations. Even his lawyers were pressured by Plahotniuc’s regime.

Many critics wonder however why the shady businessman was not detained for other schemes, first and foremost for this suspected role in the Russian Laundromat. PAS MP Sergiu Litvinenco claims to have proof Platon was freed with the help of the Russian secret services, for whom he is allegedly working. Others think it was President Dodon who pushed to free Platon in order to use his thirst for revenge and his resources against Plahotniuc. Dodon denied using anyone, adding: “you set a thief to catch a thief”.

The freed businessman declared total war on Plahotniuc, who he says is still involved in Moldovan politics. Platon also promised to help recover the money stolen during the bank fraud and spoke about a coalition of about 15 business people hurt by the fugitive oligarch, who are willing to work together and chip in to see Plahotniuc behind bars. Until then, Platon is after Pro Moldova leader Andrian Candu and Șor Party’s Denis Ulanov, saying he has evidence that both were involved in the bank fraud.

The Prosecutor General’s Office has sent a formal extradition request for Plahotniuc to the U.S. Moldova does not have an extradition agreement with the U.S., but authorities rely on the UN Convention against transnational organized crime. In the U.S., Plahotniuc has challenged in court Mike Pompeo’s decision to declare him undesirable.

The (un)believers

A ZdG investigation looked into the widespread rumors that doctors and police officers are bribing people who recently lost a family member to have the latter listed as Covid victims. Interestingly, the rumors were started by a priest. Reporters however could not find anyone to confirm the story – the families who allegedly received money denied the rumors and others who spread the story online refused to offer details.

Hospital managers say they have no reason to inflate Covid death numbers because their funding is proportional with the number of successfully treated cases, not lethal ones. Doctors also say the myth that Covid kills only people with pre-existing diseases is partially true, but explained that the virus aggravates these people’s condition, causing deaths that could have been otherwise avoided or significantly delayed.

Moldovan priests have also spread fake stories about 5G, Bill Gates and coronavirus. One of the fiercest local fighters against the ”virus created by Satanist globalists”, Bishop Markel, ended up infected himself. Now, the bishop is advising his followers to “respect the doctors’ rules and recommendations to the letter”. Overall, at least 30 priests got the virus and two died.

The president’s daydream

This week, president Dodon urged the freed banker Veaceslav Platon to suppress his vigilante ambitions and submit any evidence he might have to the prosecutors. Because, as Dodon admits, “order and justice is the privilege of prosecutors and judges. Not even the president does order and justice.”

But only last week, Dodon said he wanted a presidential system so that he could “show Kuzka’s mother to everyone”. “You bang your fist on the table and you’ve put the prosecutor, the judge, the MP, the prime-minister, everyone to their places!” He offered Belarus and the United States as examples of how this is supposed to work. In fact, what Dodon wants resembles a dictatorship rather than a presidential system. In our latest piece (available in Romanian only), we explain how things are in Belarus and, indeed, in the United States, and what the difference is between a dictatorship and a genuine presidential system.