Moldova in brief, week #26, June 22-27.

What a waste

The novel coronavirus total case count in Moldova reached 15,776 on Saturday, as the government extended the state of public health emergency until July 15. Prime minister Ion Chicu has assured the public there are enough hospital beds. But he couldn’t say the same about the number of healthcare workers, as more than 2,000 of them have contracted the virus since the beginning of the pandemic. This week, the only infectious disease specialist of the district of Taraclia fell ill with Covid.

In Chișinău, deputy chief public health officer Boris Gîlcă has said all the ICU beds in the municipal hospitals are now occupied by Covid patients. The Bălți City Hall also announced that the municipality ran out of beds for Covid patients and that it was planning to open an additional ward.

Ala Halacu, head of the Public Health Agency’s laboratory department, admitted in an interview with Sănătateinfo Moldova doesn’t have labs certified to perform SARS-CoV-2 tests, but it has been decided in coordination with WHO that the tests can be carried out in the laboratories with influenza testing certification. According to Halacu, one in five tests is carried out by private facilities.

Public Health Agency director Nicole Furtună said massive testing “is nothing but a waste of tests and a waste of time for the overburdened and struggling laboratory [personnel]”, which is in stark contrast to the famous “test, test, test” teaching from the WHO director. Furtună also thinks the epidemiological situation in Moldova isn’t half bad. Meanwhile, the EU has put Moldova on a list of barred nations whose citizens will not be allowed to enter when the Union’s borders open. An analysis by the NGO ADEPT has found that the situation in Moldova is the most serious among the Central and South-East European nations.

And… no action

The fate of the Chicu Cabinet remains up in the air. The main opposition parties Action&Solidarity (PAS) and Dignity&Truth (PDA) are invited for talks by both president Dodon and former speaker Andrian Candu, whose splinter group Pro Moldova has now become a fully-fledged political party, mainly at the expense of the Democratic Party. Maia Sandu says her PAS party won’t be tricked again into sitting with Dodon and his Socialists at the negotiating table.

Andrei Năstase however says he’s ready to discuss with anyone in Parliament. Moreover, he affirms his PDA party already has a 100-day government program and a team eager to get in charge. Năstase criticized PAS for hesitating to dismiss the Chicu Cabinet and vote in the Platform’s one instead. He described his former ACUM bloc allies as “contextual politicians,” faulting Maia Sandu for being the one to push ACUM into an alliance with PSRM one year ago and for “surrendering” the government to them in November. Sandu’s past sins, According to Năstase, include receiving oligarch Plahotniuc’s endorsement when being appointed education minister back in 2012.

PAS lawmaker Mihai Popșoi said a censure motion against health minister Viorica Dumbraveanu would be a good test before replacing the cabinet.

Andrian Candu seems to be the most confident of all, believing there are about 60 MPs ready to take the Chicu Government down. He also promises Pro Moldova won’t request any ministerial positions in the new cabinet.

Socialists against communism

Four PSRM lawmakers registered a bill to criminalize Holocaust denial. The draft also condemned the use of fascist, racist and xenophobic symbols, as well as any symbols of the “totalitarian Communist regime.” The Socialist lawmakers subsequently withdrew the initiative.

President Dodon later explained that the Socialist MPs were not the original creators of the bill and only registered in Parliament a document they had received from an NGO. Still, Dodon rebuked them for not checking what they were sponsoring and attributed the blunder to the fact that some of them were first-time lawmakers. The president went on to promise he would “never allow” the condemnation of Soviet symbols.

The unknowable mystery of the black bag

The Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office decided to drop the investigation into a leaked video that showed president Dodon accepting a black plastic bag from oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc. The reason? “It has been impossible to ascertain what the content of the bag was.” Earlier the prosecutors refused to open the investigation on their own initiative and only started proceedings after a formal complaint was submitted by opposition politicians.

Maia Sandu and other PAS members protested outside the Prosecutor General HQ condemning the prosecutors’ formalistic approach and failure to investigate the context (according to the leaked footage, the bag was “for salaries”). The Prosecutor General’s Office didn’t like the form of the protest – the demonstrators wielded black plastic bags for banners – and said it “cannot be taken seriously.”

In an interview with RFE/RL Moldovan Service, lawyer Ion Guzun says the prosecutors had “more than reasonable suspicions” to investigate, especially since this is not the first controversy around the Socialist Party’s finances. Guzun recalled the “Bahamas case” as well as the journalistic investigations into the president’s extravagant vacations and the business success enjoyed by his entourage.

Mr. Dodon goes to Moscow

President Dodon travelled to Moscow to attend the delayed Victory Parade on Red Square. He was accompanied by 75 Honor Guard soldiers, and despite the epidemiological risks, Igor Dodon said he was proud they participated.

The promised meeting with Vladimir Putin was brief and the discussion with Igor Dodon was relegated to Dmitry Kozak, deputy head of Putin’s administration. The Moldovan president however says the Russians are willing to resume talks on a €200 million loan and extend tax exemptions for some Moldovan goods.

During the time Dodon was in Moscow, Renato Usatîi announced from Bălți he was put on a wanted list by Russia in connection with the so-called Russian Laundromat. Usatîi, who is seen as an important rival for Dodon on the left, says the criminal proceedings against him are intended to thwart his presidential bid in autumn.

More news, in one sentence

◾ A group of Orthodox Christians started a “March of the Cross” procession across the country – they say they “pray for peace” and deny the threat of the novel coronavirus.

◾ PM Chicu said the Moldovan prosecution service signed a cooperation agreement with the Latvian authorities to investigate the $1bn bank fraud and dedicated the announcement to Andrian Candu – “a gift for his party’s inauguration”.

Moldovan exports to the EU dropped by 16% in the first four months of the year, but the EU still remains the destination of almost two-thirds of Moldova’s exports.

◾ Two mixed martial arts fighters accused of beating a man to death in the street in 2018 were acquitted by the court, but prosecutors say they will appeal.