Moldova in brief, week #27, June 29 - July 5.

Good at numbers

After a month during which the novel coronavirus “advanced strongly” in Moldova (+92% compared to May), according to an analytical note by the NGO ADEPT, this week the numbers finally started to drop. However, the rates of positive tests remain high. “This is an indication of high rates of local transmission, which should prompt the authorities to test more and more people [...] If you don’t want to know how serious the situation is, you just don’t test!,” says prof. Alexandru Rafila, president of the Romanian Society of Microbiology. Last week, Moldova’s chief public health officer Nicolae Furtună said massive testing would be “a waste.”

In reporting dropping numbers, the authorities continue to manipulate, thinks former health minister Ala Nemerenco. For example, according to her, Moldova continues to be in second place in Europe, after Sweden, in terms of new cases per one million population. Also, the authorities report higher numbers of total tests, but in actuality the number of primary tests carried out last week was even smaller (it’s primary tests that matter in detecting new cases). To be fair, Nicolae Furtună announced that the government [bought 100,000 more test kits] (https://newsmaker.md/rus/novosti/vlasti-moldovy-zakupili-esche-100-tys-testov-na-koronavirus/), which are expected to arrive in Moldova next week.

As regular flights were resumed on June 15, there’s an increasing risk of new imported cases. Even so, president Igor Dodon and prime minister Ion Chicu believe the requirement for passengers to stay 14 days in isolation should be lifted starting July 15. Health minister Viorica Dumbrăveanu begs to differ.

For the first time since the pandemic, and after being a bad role model by routinely ignoring safety rules, president Dodon finally advised the general population to wear face masks in public places.

A fine ruling

Constitutional Court judges ruled that €1000 fines for breaking lockdown rules are unconstitutional . Previously, critics of large fines argued that they are disproportionate to the income of the people, that they are applied selectively and generate corruption. By May 26, 2192 fines had been issued, with a total value of about €2 million. The CC ruled that fines for individuals should be reduced from 22,500 lei to 50 lei (€2.5) and fines for companies from 50,000 lei to 500 (€25). The Moldovan Parliament has a history of ignoring CC rulings but this time the lawmakers seem willing to conform and reduce the fines. Prime Minister Chicu grudgingly admitted the government might reimburse some of the fines.

Finding Ștefan

Within just 48 hours, MP Ștefan Gațcan left and quit a lot of things. On Tuesday, he left the Socialists (a first for them) and the parliamentary majority to join Pro Moldova. On Wednesday, he quit Pro Moldova, renounced his seat in the Parliament and left the country altogether.

His exit from politics is just as tumultuous as his entrance. He won his MP seat three months ago in the Hîncești constituency. The elections took place even though that district had one of the first Covid-19 outbreaks in the country. PSRM stood by Gațcan despite allegations that he was involved in an incestous sex scandal. The Socialists saw red when Gațcan quit them for Pro Moldova.

The timeline of Gațcan’s political exit is short, yet convoluted. What seems clear is that at least one of the sides if not both broke the law. Socialists say that Pro Moldova bought Gațcan off for at least half a million euros. Pro Moldova, in turn, say that PSRM kidnapped, threatened and even gave Gațcan a beating to force him to give up his seat in the Parliament.

Between his announcement on Tuesday and his disappearance on Wednesday, Ștefan Gațcan complained to the prosecutors that he was under pressure to resign from the Parliament. On Wednesday, the MP was nowhere to be found and Corneliu Furculiță, head of PSRM’s parliamentary group, announced Gațcan’s resignation. The latter also published two recordings of himself, unconvincingly assuring everyone that he was with his family, not kidnapped, and that he was fine, but needed ”rehabilitation”. Pro Moldova’s Andrian Candu claims Gațcan was forced to leave the country, while President Dodon said he provided an escort to the MP because the latter feared for his safety. On Thursday, the governing alliance’s MPs in the appointments committee approved Gațcan’s resignation from the Parliament.

Honey, I shrunk the Parliament

As a result of the still unfolding Gațcan affair, the Socialists came with two proposals for the amendment of the Constitutioni. They want to reduce the number of MPs to 61 and to ban party switching. President Dodon, who himself had quit the Communists to join the Socialists in 2011, already anticipates ”external criticism” . He is of course right, as the imperative mandate is a not very democratic concept. Meanwhile, Pro Moldova’s Sergiu Sîrbu went to the Constitutional Court, asking the judges to confirm that an MP serves the people, not the party, and that the Socialists had no right to pressure Gațcan into resigning.

As for the number of MPs, Moldovan voters have already voted in favor of a 61-member legislative body during a consultative referendum that was organized at the same time as the last parliamentary elections. Proponents of this reform argue that it will cut administrative costs and filter out those who seek an MP seat for personal gain. Critics however say that the reform will only make it easier for corrupt leaders to buy themselves a legislative majority.

PSRM also insists that the current Parliament must be disbanded and President Dodon voiced his agreement that early parliamentary elections should be organized on the same day as the first round of presidential elections - on November 1.

Come again

On Wednesday, the Chicu Cabinet “assumed responsibility” for a set of amendments to the state budget, a procedure that allows the government to bypass the Parliament at the risk of being sacked. The amendments add 1 billion lei in expenses and the money is meant for one-time payments to pensioners and people with low income, as well as the gradual doubling of medical workers’ salaries.

After ”assuming responsibility”, the government must present the bill in the Parliament, then the MPs must decide whether to allow it or to sack the Cabinet. This time however, the opposition parties boycotted the Parliament’s meetings this week, so that PM Chicu wasn’t able to present the bill to the MPs because of a lack of quorum. Ion Chicu first suggested he might resign, but then changed his mind and promised to come to the Parliament as many times as necessary.

After the first meeting of the Parliament failed, PSRM’s Vlad Bătrîncea accused PAS and PDA of playing ”Plahotniuc’s game”. Bătrîncea then explained that the Prosecutor General was supposed to come to the Parliament with information about Pro Moldova MPs’ corruption and schemes. However, the prosecutorial service denied these ”insinuations and speculations”.

The opposition explained their boycott by saying that the PM should not steal their lawmaking jobs. Deputy Speaker Alexandru Slusari (PDA) said MPs are equally eager to raise the doctors’ wages and that there is no reason for the government to bypass the Parliament via such extraordinary procedures. PM Chicu replied that the normal parliamentary route takes too long. Slusari offered a deal to Chicu: if the government withdraws its bill, the MPs will examine the same amendments within a week, but got no answer. Slusari also discussed the idea that this whole affair might be an attempt of the government to get itself sacked and then to blame the opposition for sabotaging “social initiatives”. President Dodon himself said that the Chicu Cabinet was considering its resignation in order to cause early parliamentary elections.

Enemies with benefits

PDA is intent to take over the reins as soon as the Chicu Cabinet falls. They have already had talks with Pro Moldova, agreeing ”on the necessity to appoint an anti-crisis government”. Deputy party leader Alexandru Slusari awkwardly tried to save face by saying that PDA did not talk to long-time enemy and Pro Moldova boss Andrian Candu. According to Slusari, PDA has also talked to PAS, PDM, but not the Șor Party. The latter has been in touch with Pro Moldova. PDM chairman Pavel Filip declared that his party had not been formally invited to any negotiations and that it would not sit at a table with sellouts, in a dig at Pro Moldova and the Șor Party MPs. Slusari on the other hand suggested that PDA talked to other PDM lawmakers, not the party leadership.

Igor Munteanu, another PDA member touted as a potential PM, is confident that Moldova might have a new government in the upcoming weeks. The prime minister would be a PDA member, while the other ministers would represent other parties. Munteanu added the new Cabinet would consist of “specialists renowned in their fields”, but offered no further details.

It’s a miracle!

While the whole world is bracing for a massive crisis, President Dodon said the Moldovan economy is back on the rise. According to him, budget revenue increased by about €13.8 million compared to June 2019. Mold-street looked into this ”economic miracle”. First of all, the government had moved the deadline for company income taxes to June 25, when companies had no choice but to pay their tax debts. Public revenue also increased because authorities had less VAT and excises to pay back than in June 2019. This actually shows that there has been less economic activity than last year. ”The figures must not be compared with last year’s data, but with the government’s commitments for the current year and we know there’s a €825 million deficit in the budget”, said former finance minister Natalia Gavriliță, currently a PAS member. She warns that the government cannot afford to spend money on pre-electoral infrastructure projects during a pandemic.

Choose your poll

The latest CBS/IPP Public Opinion Barometer shows Maia Sandu of the opposition party PAS outranking president Igor Dodon in terms of public trust (30.7% to 28.3%). PAS also scores better than Dodon’s Socialist Party, 29.8% to 27.5%. However, most respondents think Dodon will win the re-election (22.4%) as opposed to Maia Sandu’s 11%. The creators of the poll haven’t included the traditional open question “who will you vote for?”, instead choosing to offer potential pairs of runoff candidates: Maia Sandu would beat Igor Dodon and Renato Usatîi, Igor Dodon would prevail over Usatîi and Andrei Năstase, while Usatîi would only be victorious in a duel with Năstase, who would lose in all the cases.

According to the Barometer, PSRM would poll 15.8% and PAS 15.7%, followed by Șor Party with 3.4%, Usatîi’s Our Party with 2.5%, PDM with 2.4%, PCRM with 2.3%, and Năstase’s DA Party with only 1.8%. MP Vasile Năstase, Andrei’s brother, accused the surveyors of fabricating the results.

Another poll, carried out by the Association of Sociologists and presented earlier this week, shows PSRM taking the lead by a wide margin: 48.7% versus PAS’s 26.9% and PDA’s 7%. Our Party would barely clear the electoral threshold of 6%, by one decimal, as the rest – PDM (3.9%), Șor Party (2,3%), PCRM (2%) and Pro Moldova (1,8%) – would fall behind. In the presidential election, 35.8% of respondents would vote for Igor Dodon, 19.6% for Maia Sandu, 5.5% for Andrei Năstase, while 21% are uncertain.