Moldova in brief, week #35, August 24-28.

Madhouse MD

The Moldovan authorities have extended the state of health emergency until September 15, anticipating a spike in Covid cases after the long weekend due to the end-of-August national holidays. But the situation is already alarming as it is: there were 624 new cases reported on Wednesday, just 2 cases shy of the daily record reached last week. And the weekly growth from August 22 to 28 was 14% on the previous 7-day period. On Tuesday, another grim record was set – of 15 deaths in one day. On Saturday, Health Minister Viorica Dumbrăveanu announced she tested positive.

Citing international best practices, the authorities will no longer give repeat tests to asymptomatic patients and patients with mild or moderate forms of the disease – while traces of the virus can still be detected in their bodies 10 days or more after the onset, they are considered to pose no risk to others. The tests thus saved will be redirected, for preventive purposes, to patients who suffer from other illnesses and require hospitalization.

On the Kremlin’s orbit, Putin and Lukashenko have agreed that Belarusians will participate in testing the Sputnik V vaccine. Just back from Moscow, President Dodon rushed to the Russian embassy to assure the Kremlin he wasn’t joking last week when he offered to become the first Moldovan to try the vaccine once it’s available to foreigners.

On the very day of his return from Russia, where he spent several days at a health spa (not on an official visit), Dodon attended a number of public events, ignoring the self-isolation rules that are in place for ordinary citizens.

On Monday, Prime Minister Chicu was lamenting the Covid numbers rising lately and the fact that “almost no one is observing the rules anymore”. But on Friday, Chicu reportedly welcomed upwards of 100 guests to his son’s wedding at a posh winery near Chisinau, in an apparent violation of a general ban existing for such events.

Party mood

Speaking of parties. As usual at the end of August, Moldova is in a celebratory mood, with Independence Day and Our Language Day marked on the 27th and 31st, respectively. Last Sunday and this past Monday, President Dodon attended a series of events marking the 1944 “liberation of Moldova from fascism.” But critics say the “celebration” is divisive, as the liberation of Bessarabia from the Nazi automatically meant its occupation by the Soviets and its separation from Romania, in line with the infamous Ribbentrop-Molotov pact. By an ironic coincidence, the pact was signed 5 years earlier also on August 23.

On Monday, the president met with a group of artists and singers and posed with them in an embrace full of patriotic spirit. As Dodon explained later, the artists surprised him by inviting him over at a rural resort and agreeing to support the “I Love Moldova” campaign. It’s true, some of the singers were surprised as well. Dodon says the campaign is launched to celebrate Independence, but the Ziarul de Gardă newspaper remembers that “Iubesc Moldova/I Love Moldova” is the slogan that featured in Dodon’s 2011 unsuccessful campaign for Chișinău mayor.

On Independence Day, top government officials, as usual, laid extravagant wreaths of flowers at symbolic statues and delivered pompous speeches. There was some booing as well from political rivals, for the sake of contrast. According to a poll published ahead of Independence Day, 69% of Moldovans believe the nation is heading in the wrong direction, 61% say the reforms are ineffective, and 58% self-identify as poor, so nothing to celebrate here. On the flip side, public sector employees got an extended weekend from the 27th to the 31st. Meanwhile, President Dodon went to Mount Athos to pray.

Initially planned for Independence Day, the red ribbon had to be cut on a much-awaited gas pipeline connecting Chișinău to the Romanian border and built with Romania’s support. PM Chicu explained the ceremony had to be postponed because “such a project deserves a beautiful inauguration” and with Romanian officials participating, too. But his counterpart in Bucharest, Ludovic Orban, suggested earlier that he wouldn’t let the “temporary authorities” of Moldova reap the benefits of a project that was designed as an alternative to Russian gas.

The Labors of President

Igor Dodon presented a report on his three and a half years as president. He claims he managed to fulfill some 80-90% of his electoral promises: he liberated the country from Plahotniuc’s regime, improved relations with Russia, increased pensions and had direct meetings with tens of thousands of people. The full report is available on the presidential website and on Friday people already started receiving a newspaper with Dodon’s accomplishments in their mailboxes.

These successes are disputed by the opposition. PAS MP Radu Marian argues that the reform of the judiciary has been halted and corrupt judges are being promoted, while the investigation into the bank fraud has stalled and authorities have recovered next to nothing from the stolen money. Some of the president’s accomplishments are being claimed by other politicians. Former Health Minister Ala Nemerenco says she was the one who came up with the proposal to increase financial support for young medical workers.

Watchdog.MD has also criticized the president’s foreign policy. Igor Dodon has regularly traveled to Moscow but has zero official visits to neighboring Romania and Ukraine. Internally, he showed off his diplomatic chops by calling the separatist leader Vadim Krasnoselski “the president of Transnistria”.

Demoliamus igitur

Two years after the demolition of the Gaudeamus cinema was stopped as a result of street protests, the owner of the building Cristivlad and construction company Inamstro furtively resumed demolition works. Civic activists and deputy mayor Victor Chironda reacted quickly and stopped the workers, but by now only the facade of the old cinema is left standing.

The building was privatised in 2004, during the Communist government, by Cristivlad - a company created right before the tender. In 2014, it managed to acquire the land on which the cinema stood. Initially, it obtained a permit to raise a commercial or cultural building (C3), but then changed it to an R7 permit, which allows Cristivlad to replace the cinema with a tall block of flats.

The City Hall later challenged this in court, but lost all the subsequent trials. However, in the meanwhile, Cristivlad’s demolition authorization has expired. Deputy mayor Chirond says the municipality will restore the area’s urban code to C3 and negotiate with the owner to build a cultural center instead of a 15-story apartment block.

Nothing suspicious here

PAS lawmaker Dumitru Alaiba is looking for skeletons in Igor Dodon’s cupboard, asking prosecutors to probe his alleged role in facilitating a scheme to import electricity at inflated prices back when he was minister of economy. According to Alaiba, in 2008, Dodon renegotiated the electricity supply agreement with Ukraine by adding a Hungary-registered intermediary company. As a result, says Alaiba, electricity rates went up 30% by the end of the year, as the company continued to siphon off millions of dollars over the years.

Meanwhile, the Prosecutor General’s Office announced it didn’t find “a legitimate reason” to verify the wealth of another top Socialist, Corneliu Furculiță, who, as Ziarul de Gardă reported, owns an undeclared house in the Chișinău suburbs. The reporters caught the Furculițăs at home, and their neighbors confirmed the stately property had been the Socialist group leader’s home for more than a year. But the prosecutors say they won’t investigate, because ANI, the agency responsible for verifying the assets declarations of public officials, didn’t find anything suspicious.

The Moldovan Candidate

Former prime minister and convict Vlad Filat is angry that PAS “arrogantly” refused his party’s proposal to create an electoral bloc. Now, Filat’s PLDM put forward Tudor Deliu as presidential hopeful for the upcoming election. Deliu had led the party for the last two years, until Filat retook control.

Mayor of Bălți Renato Usatîi has announced he will also run for president. If he manages to get registered this time (in 2016 the minimum age requirement was raised, thus ruling him out), Usatîi will be Igor Dodon’s main rival on the ”left wing”. An outspoken populist, Usatîi says Dodon is the embodiment of a system that cannot be repaired - it must be demolished and replaced with a new one. Dodon himself is yet to put forward his name again, but said he might make an announcement on September 1.

On the center-right, Maia Sandu and Andrei Năstase both claim to have information that the Socialists are planning to buy votes for Dodon from separatist Transnistria. Their parties, PAS and PDA, in a rare moment of agreement said they should join forces to monitor the ballot and prevent fraud. PAS MP Sergiu Litvinenco also urged the Parliament to pass the amendments to the Electoral Code in accordance with the recommendations of the Venice Commission.

This issue aside, the friction between the two former allies shows no sign of abating. In a new interview, Andrei Năstase has again theorized that he might have won against Dodon in 2016, had he not withdrawn in favor of Maia Sandu. He also accused her of splitting the ACUM bloc and having the pro-Europeans parties ousted from power.

Meanwhile, the first 69 electoral observers have already registered with the Central Electoral Commission. The NGO Promo-Lex, in its monitoring report on the pre-electoral period, curiously observes that while Moldova’s population has dropped, the number of people in the national registry of voters has grown.

Vizier’s visit

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu traveled to Chișinău, where he met his counterpart Oleg Țulea and President Igor Dodon. Çavuşoğlu described Moldova as a strategic partner and said that both governments were working to prepare a meeting of the Strategic Cooperation Council in 2021, on which occasion Turkey’s authoritarian leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan might visit Moldova again.

According to Çavuşoğlu, Moldo-Turkish trade increased by 24% in 2019. Igor Dodon also noted that Turkey is the 7th biggest investor in Moldova. Commerce aside, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu did not miss the opportunity to talk about “the FETÖ menace”, an organization aggressively persecuted by Turkish authorities since the failed coup in 2016. Due to their alleged terrorist links, seven Turkish teachers were kidnapped and deported from Moldova in 2018. Moldova was subsequently condemned for human rights violations at the ECHR.

Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu also went to Comrat, where he inaugurated a new Turkish Consulate. Ankara has traditionally seen the Turkic Gagauz in southern Moldova as a brotherly people and has provided economic aid and investment. Çavuşoğlu expressed his happiness at the cooperation and dialogue between the Gagauz autonomy and the central government in Chișinău. The Turkish diplomat also mentioned Transnistria and reiterated Ankara’s support for Moldova’s territorial integrity, a meaningful remark given Gagauzia’s own separatist past.

More news, in one sentence

◾ PAS lawmaker Doina Gherman demands a full-day schedule for kindergartens, which are set to partially reopen on September 1, to help working parents, while the Pro Moldova group wants paid leaves for parents with children aged 10 years and younger.

◾ Two PPDA lawmakers want the Constitutional Court to verify the law that allowed the government to appoint an acting president of the Superior Council of the Judiciary bypassing the Bench.

◾ Igor Dodon congratulated his Ukrainian counterpart Volodimir Zelenski on Ukraine’s Independence Day, declaring that Moldova “has always supported” our eastern neighbor’s territorial integrity, in a bid to mend fences after his 2016 gaffe when he stated that “de facto, Crimea belongs to Russia.”

◾ As of July 31, government debt rose by about 8 billion lei, or 15%, from the end of last year, due to the coronacrisis.

◾ EBRD a bought 25% stake in Vestmoldtransgaz, the operator of the Ungheni-Chișinău gas pipe, for €20 mln.

◾ Three years after the death of Andrei Brăguță, a man with a mental health condition that was brutally killed while in police custody, there is not a single final judicial sentence in the case, his family’s lawyers say.

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