Moldova in brief, week #28, July 6-11.

Inglorious distinction

The Moldovan Government has extended the state of public health emergency until at least the end of this month. Although the numbers of new Covid cases are dropping, prime minister Ion Chicu admits the pandemic doesn’t show any sign of going away soon. This week the total case count topped 19,000 cases as the death toll amounted to 641 people.

President Igor Dodon has announced he considers awarding the Labor Glory medal to health minister Viorica Dumbrăveanu for being “in control” of the situation. Not everybody agrees with this assessment of Dumbrăveanu’s work though. The MPs of Pro Moldova and Shor Party tabled a no-confidence motion against the health minister, but it didn’t pass.

Other countries, too, don’t seem to share president Dodon’s opinion about the rosiness of the situation in Moldova. Italy, for example, has put us on a list of 13 nations considered to pose a high risk of Covid transmission, banning entry to travelers who stayed or transited – in the last 14 days – through any of the countries on the list.

The prodigal Gațcan

After disappearing last week to spend a “period of rehabilitation” in the company of the presidential guard, MP Ștefan Gațcan was found by Romanian reporters in the border city of Iași. On Wednesday, the lawmaker returned from his hideout and the next day he was already attending Parliament’s meeting, without completing the 14 days in quarantine as required of anyone who crosses the border. Gațcan announced that he was keeping his seat as a Socialist MP and that he was withdrawing his complaint from the prosecutors (see last week’s digest for details).

Only last week the Socialists were calling Gațcan a “political prostitute.” But this week he was eagerly welcomed back: it was his presence in Parliament that allowed the PSRM-PDM alliance to go ahead with a set of amendments adopted by the Chicu Government in extraordinary procedure, after three failed attempts due to lack of quorum. As Chicu’s amendments were set to pass, the opposition walked out in protest.

Still, PDA lawmaker Igor Munteanu asked the Constitutional Court whether Parliament’s earlier refusal to assemble for hearing the amendments could amount to “an indirect expression of no confidence in the Government.”

Seizing the occasion of having enough votes, the (still) governing alliance adopted some other pieces of legislation, including a bill criminalizing street racing and a series of amendments to increase protection for victims of domestic violence.

Hacking the Code

The Socialist-Democratic majority also moved to pass on first reading a number of amendments to the Elections Code. One proposal made by Socialists is to reduce polling times by two hours, but Democratic group leader Dumitru Diacov said his party would oppose this. Another proposal will see electoral competitors appeal their removal from the race not in courts, but with the electoral authorities. The opposition has demanded that the amendments undergo public consultation before a second reading is held.

A further controversy was sparked by Igor Dodon’s suggestion that the presidential election this fall could take place exclusively within the borders of Moldova. The president argues that many countries will not allow organizing elections because of the coronavirus pandemic. However, the electoral expert Pavel Postică of the reputable organization Promo-LEX says host countries cannot forbid conducting of elections inside diplomatic and consular missions, and only opening of additional polling places could be problematic.

The opposition accuses Igor Dodon of seeking to preclude the Moldovan diaspora from voting, as its members traditionally vote for pro-European candidates. Socialists, for their part, are accusing the opposition of having a policy to “open 80-100 polling stations in Italy, while opening only 5 stations in Russia despite there being 10 times more voters.”

Separation of polls

The Constitutional Court has ruled that Parliament cannot be dissolved within the last 6 months of a presidential term and that early legislative elections cannot be held on the same day as the presidential elections. Before this, both Igor Dodon and the opposition mulled over the possibility of such a simultaneous poll.

The CC ruling means that early legislative elections could be held next spring, if after the presidential elections to be held in November the main political actors don’t change their mind about the need to dissolve the current “dysfunctional” legislature.

Perhaps the least satisfied with the the CC ruling was PM Chicu’s aide Vitalie Dragancea, who fumed on social media: “We had a presidential system, a parliamentary system, and now we will be a republic of the Constitutional Court.” Counselor Dragancea then resigned saying he’s “too tired.”

On Thursday, the Constitutional Court handed down another decision reaffirming that its rulings are irreversible and not subject to any means of appeal, as justice Vladimir Țurcan tried to challenge in a district court his removal from the Constitutional Court presidency.

The flight of investors

The Agency for Public Property on Friday announced it terminated Avia Invest’s lease of the Chisinau Airport on grounds that the company has invested €66 million less of what it originally pledged. The Agency says that it gave the leaseholder a preliminary notice on April 14 and that the company failed to present “valid performance guarantees” within 60 days.

In response, Avia Invest described the statement as “an absolute and brazen lie.” The company says it only received a notice stating “the intention to terminate,” while the procedure proper would have to take more than that. Avia Invest also accuses Igor Dodon of trying to lay his hands on the Airport in this way, and of discouraging Russian investors (the company is now owned by the billionaire Andrey Goncharenko) while inviting them to do business in Moldova.

Prime minister Chicu later confirmed that it was only a notification and that the termination procedure would take 180 days.

Former justice minister Olesea Stamate thinks the government could lose international arbitral proceedings in Stockholm and face an early termination penalty of $900 million.

Loans and moans

After adopting budgetary amendments in extraordinary procedure, PM Chicu said the amendments will enable the Moldovan government to receive the second installment of €30 million of macrofinancial assistance from the EU. There was a third tranche, too, but the government has failed to meet the terms necessary for receiving it. Ion Chicu says it’s his predecessor, Maia Sandu, who’s to blame, of course.

On the flip side, PM Chicu announced that Moldova would soon, maybe even next week, receive the first installment of €100 million pledged by the EU in emergency assistance for helping Moldova cope with the economic fallout of the Covid pandemic. Also, the government has started talks with the IFM on a new three-year program for Moldova, worth approximately $550 million.

Not least, the government hopes to secure the $200 million loan from Russia, after its first iteration was declared unconstitutional by the CC. Ion Chicu says the renegotiation is nearly completed.

Meanwhile, the National Statistics Bureau says a quarter of Moldova’s population is living in poverty (on less than $116.87 a month), and 8.7% others in extreme poverty (below $94.25)

“Social measures”

Pensioners make up a significant part of the people falling below the poverty line. After the Government announced that, beginning on July 1, some of them can apply for a recalculation of their pensions, thousands of pensioners formed long and compact queues at social assistance departments. E-government is still science fiction for the government, whose compromise solution has been to allow applications by proxy. No automatic recalculation or online submission solutions are possible.

Meanwhile, president Dodon has suggested the Government should offer a more sizable indexation of pensions some time in October, just a month before the presidential election.

Future pensioners, i.e. people contributing today to the social insurance fund, will have the option of private pensions, as Parliament passed on first reading a bill to this effect.

Less is not more

In our latest piece, we looked into the Socialists’ proposal to amend the Constitution so as to cut down the number of MPs to 61 and ban party-switching. Our article argues this will not guarantee more professionalism and integrity for the MPs and might rather increase the power of big rich parties in the fight for legislative seats.

The proposal has already been tested out in Ukraine, where it failed to reduce political corruption and was criticized by the Venice Commission as a non-democratic measure. We point out in our analysis that not all floor-crossing is bad and that to prevent outright buying of MPs the government should instead act before they take their seats in the Parliament: the National Integrity Agency, the Central Electoral Commission, the National Anticorruption Center and the prosecutors should be empowered to do their job, so as to prevent corrupt and corruptible characters from making laws. Here is the entire article.

More news, in one sentence

◾ After President Dodon had promised that natural gas and electric power bills will be reduced before the fall elections, the utility Premier Energy requested that ANRE bring down the prices for electricity.

◾ PDM leader Pavel Filip has admitted that MPs Vladimir Andronache and Eugeniu Nichiforciuc could switch to PSRM, but doesn’t hold a grudge and says he intends to build a different party with other principles.

◾ A former investigating judge will be reinstated after being fired 11 years ago and will even receive his salaries for this period: around €207,000.

◾ Romania’s Authority for Citizenship will examine Moldova-born Romanian MP Constantin Codreanu’s request to strip Ion Chicu of Romanian citizenship on… 14 January 2021.

◾ A Court of Audits report evaluating Chisinau’s 2017 budget revealed a misemployment of €1.68 billion, largely due to inaccurate accounting and poor management of municipal real property.