Moldova Weekly #29: Alexandr the Kind, no man's candidate, picket to ride
No man’s candidate
PDA leader Andrei Năstase has announced he is running for president this fall. Four years ago he had agreed to support PAS candidate Maia Sandu, who eventually lost to Igor Dodon, but this time around Năstase says he will not repeat old “fruitless exercises”. Năstase’s rating right now is pretty low and hasn’t fully recovered after a surprise defeat to the Socialists’ Ion Ceban in Chișinău’s mayoral elections last fall.
One year ago, PAS and PDA ran together as a bloc in the parliamentary elections, but their relationship has soured after Maia Sandu’s Cabinet was taken down by the Socialists and the Democrats. Năstase and his allies have frequently voiced their displeasure with PAS’s decisions: they felt pushed into an alliance with the Socialists, which they did not want, and then removed from power against their will because of Maia Sandu’s decisions.
The final nail in the coffin of the ACUM bloc seems to have been the early parliamentary election in the Hîncești district constituency. Despite only one MP seat being at stake, the two parties could not agree on a common candidate. PAS put forward former justice minister Olesea Stamate, while PDA announced their support for Grigore Cobzac, labelled a traitor by PAS. This week, PLDM has withdrawn their candidate and pledged their support for Olesea Stamate, calling on PDA to do the same.
Alexandr the Kind
Prosecutor General Alexandr Stoianoglo has met with jailed activist Gheorghe Petic as part of general review of potential politically-motivated cases under the PDM government. Former border police officer Petic was charged with rape, but claims he was punished for being a whistleblower about corruption and smuggling at the Moldovan border. Petic wrote on FB that Stoianoglo gave him a glimmer of hope.
The Prosecutor General’s Office has also analyzed the measures taken by anticorruption prosecutors against judges last year. Several judges had complained that prosecutors were abusing their powers to interfere with the work of the judiciary. The PGO announced a review of those cases proved the judges right: anticorruption prosecutors did put pressure on them to obtain the desired sentences.
Meanwhile, Alexandr Stoianoglo presented a public report on the work of the prosecution services. To many’s surprise, he admitted that prosecutors had been involved in political fights and economic disputes, using their powers to help one side against another. He warned prosecutors that he would not tolerate such behavior anymore and called on them to rediscover their professional ethics. However, despite his harsh words, Stoianoglo did not announce any punitive measures against the prosecutors previously involved in illegal schemes.
Another announcement from the PGO is that former intelligence chief Vasile Botnari will be tried behind closed doors. Botnari is the only person to be held responsible for the shameful kidnapping of 7 Turkish teachers and their delivery into the Ankara autocratic regime’s hands. Despite previously saying that high-profile cases should be public, PG Stoianoglo now insists that Botnari’s case cannot be public because it concerns undercover agents and “fight against terrorism”.
Judiciary under siege
Despite his lenient attitude in other matters, Alexandr Stoianoglo has been determined to get rid of chief anticorruption prosecutor Viorel Morari. After an internal investigation, Morari was charged with money laundering and abuse of office. However, the prosecution is now unhappy that Morari will be judged by a set of three judges, only one of which has been assigned randomly. Prosecutors requested the case to be moved to another court, but were denied by the Supreme Court of Justice.
Another case where the judiciary’s good faith has been questioned is that of Ilan Shor, one of the main suspects in the bank fraud. His trial has been delayed, paused and moved from one court to another for years. Minister of Justice Fadei Nagacevschi has asked the Superior Council of the Magistracy and the Superior Council of Prosecutors to punish those who have been purposefully drawing the trial out.
The judiciary has also become the target of public and political criticism for Moldova’s lost cases at the European Court of Human Rights. Last week, Moldova was ordered to pay 3.5 million euros and the government was outraged. Prime Minister Chicu said the money could be taken from the budget of the judiciary, while President Dodon suggested judges should be personally accountable and that their assets should be seized.
In response, a group of judges has published a letter denouncing the “attack on the independence of the judiciary” and the “deliberate defamation” of the justice system. They suggest these attacks are motivated by the upcoming presidential elections this fall.
Picket to ride
Minibus owners and drivers in Chișinău protested this week demanding increased ticket prices. Today, a passenger pays 3 lei (0.15 euros) for a ride, but operators say they are supporting significant losses and that the price should be double or even triple.
Chișinău’s public transportation system has not won any plaudits and minibuses might be its most maligned part: old, dangerous and dirty vehicles, rude and unprofessional drivers, no timetable, usually overcrowded. Companies operating minibus routes have demanded the City Hall to approve increased fees for years, but the answer has traditionally been “more expensive tickets only in exchange for better quality services”. As a result, the prices have stayed the same and the quality of minibus transportation has deteriorated. Their numbers have dwindled as well.
Mayor Ion Ceban says that prices cannot be increased because the operators cannot provide complete accounting reports which would prove the need for higher fees. Transporters announced five minibus routes will be canceled next week, but Ceban is unfazed. He said the City Hall will buy 100 new buses from Belarus and cover the canceled routes. Prime Minister Chicu chimed in saying that minibuses are obsolete and in the long term should be replaced by buses and trolleybuses.
The coronavirus panic has spread to Moldova, with drugstores running out of face masks and disinfectants. Prices have risen accordingly and the government had to intervene and cap markups at 20%. While no cases have been registered in Moldova, a Moldovan citizen was diagnosed with the new Covid-19 in northern Italy, which is the most affected region in Europe so far. Northern Italy is also home to the largest Moldovan diaspora in Europe so the authorities in Chișinău are on alert.
The opposition has accused the government of taking tardy and inefficient measures. They say Moldova doesn’t have enough Covid-19 test kits, lacks potential quarantine hospitals and has not taken sufficient security measures to detect coronavirus carriers at the border and the airport. President Dodon however thinks the opposition are merely trying to exploit this emergency for political purposes and assured the government took all the necessary steps and is ready to contain the virus in case it spreads to Moldova.