Moldova in brief, week #43, October 19-24.

Sleep of reason

As Election Day draws closer, the reported daily numbers of Covid cases have been on the decrease this past week, with a high of 833 infections recorded on Wednesday (compared to +1000 cases two weeks ago). At the same time, the percentage of health care workers among the infected remains high.

President Igor Dodon has stated in an interview with the Russian news agency Tass that the Moldovan health care system is coping successfully, while admitting that the situation is difficult. He also hopes to be able to import the experimental Russian vaccine by the end of the year.

In hospitals, the Ministry of Health has made managers “personally accountable” for making sure that supplies are stocked, and despite the shortage, managers are also instructed “not to allow the work” of personnel in at-risk groups. As Sănătate Info reported, roughly 8,000 patients with mild forms of the disease, or nearly half of the total active cases, are being treated at home. This means that there are about 50 such patients for every family doctor. But the national average doesn’t do justice to doctors in urban areas, who bear the biggest burden. Doctors complain that many patients are not being reasonable.

A WatchDog/CBS poll shows that as many as 43% Moldovans believe in the conspiracy theory that the novel coronavirus has been created in order to have humanity chipped through vaccination to the advantage of a totalitarian world government. The percentage of those who believe in Covid-related fakes rose by 5-7% compared to May, an indication that both the government and society at large have had different priorities lately than communicating correctly on this subject. The tendency is confirmed by the October Public Opinion Barometer, another poll released this week, which shows that one in four Moldovans doesn’t believe that SARS-CoV-2 even exists.

sic! compared the electoral manifestos of the eight presidential hopefuls to see how much attention they devote to the coronavirus situation. Spoiler alert: very little to zero.

DKNS

As concerns the presidential election, the WatchDog/CBS poll showed that 17% of Moldovans would vote for incumbent Igor Dodon, 13.3% for Maia Sandu (Action and Solidarity Party) and 6% with Renato Usatîi (Our Party). At the same time, 18.6% refused to say who they would vote for and as many as 33.7% said they intended to go to the polls, but were unsure of their preference. In the event of a Sandu-Dodon runoff, 29.2% would vote for the PAS leader and 25.9% for the incumbent, while nearly a half of the respondents provided a don’t know/not sure reply or said they would’t go to the polls at all.

The Public Opinion Barometer, the other poll released this week, showed some different results, despite being conducted by the same polling organization (CBS Research). It gave Igor Dodon 23.2%, Maia Sandu 19.7%, Renato Usatîi 10.9%, Violeta Ivanov 4.8%, as other candidates received under 2%. 27.6% of respondents intend to vote, but have yet to decide for whom. In the event of a Dodon-Sandu runoff, 32.2% would prefer the incumbent and 31.4% the PAS leader, as 18.4% were “against both” and 18.1% were undecided.

The Ț-Files

Socialist lawmaker and media personality Bogdan Țîrdea published a 800-page book, prefaced by the Orthodox-nationalist and conspiracist Iurie Roșca, to expose the “NGO-cracy in Moldova”. Țîrdea combines public-source information and pure speculation to paint a picture where civil society and media organizations have “captured the state” and impose a “foreign” and “pro-LGBT” agenda on the Moldovan government. We at sic! feel honored to be alongside many reputable organizations on Țîrdea’s list.

In a collective statement that we have also endorsed, more than 90 NGOs condemn Țîrdea’s volume as an assault against civil society. The Soros Moldova Foundation issued a separate statement to explain to the Socialist lawmaker the importance of civil society and to encourage political parties, including PSRM, to show the same degree of financial transparency as the Foundation’s. A number of foreign embassies with active grants and assistance programs in Moldova have expressed their concern over Țîrdea’s allegations and EU Ambassador Peter Michalko in particular said he was “outraged by this baseless and malicious assault against civil society and independent mass media in Moldova.” Michalko also said that the book “raises serious questions about the [Moldovan government’s] political commitment to support a friendly climate for the development of civil society, which is an essential part of the EU-Moldova Association Agreement.”

The Rise of Kremlinovich

RISE Moldova and the Dossier Center in Russia published an investigation about Igor Dodon’s ties with the Kremlin administration and secret services. RISE claims to have obtained a phone previously owned by Igor Dodon, where he used the nickname Kremlinovich, while the Dossier Center used a document leak from the cabinet of General Vladimir Chernov, head of the Russian presidential administration’s department for “cultural relations” with other countries. It appears that this department had a Moldovan division, headed by Colonel Igor Maslov.

Igor Dodon, before and after his election as president, kept in close touch with this unit. During his frequent travels to Moscow, he met with secret service agents, diplomats and other officials within Putin’s administration. While the contents of their communication are not revealed, RISE and Dossier can confirm that, in September 2020, Kremlin officials had received Dodon’s UN General Assembly speech at least three days ahead of the event.

After these revelations, Dorin Chirtoacă asked the Central Electoral Commission to remove Dodon from the electoral race and Andrei Năstase’s PPDA even complained to the Prosecutor General’s Office. However, Alexandr Stoianoglo replied that this was just a journalistic investigation and that the PGO ”will not involve itself in political issues, especially in the electoral period”.

Vladimir Putin thought this was the right moment to endorse Igor Dodon for re-election: ”We count on the fact that, in the upcoming elections, the Moldovan people will appreciate the efforts of the current president to bring Moldova closer to Russia”.

Vaguely threatening, the Russian president went on to stress that Moldova’s winemaking industry and other branches of the economy were completely dependent on the Russian market. The figures show a different picture. Russia is only third among the top five export destinations for Moldovan wines, behind Romania and Poland, but ahead of China and Czechia. Even when we take other sectors into account, Romania remains Moldova’s most important commercial partner: 25% of all Moldovan exports go to Romania, three times more than Russia.

This wasn’t the only message from Moscow to Chișinău this week. Sergey Naryshkin, head of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, accused the US Embassy in Moldova of plotting to stop Igor Dodon’s re-election. Naryshkin claims that the US sent experts in “color revolutions” to aid the Moldovan opposition.

The fall migration of MPs

PDM splinter group Pro Moldova lost four MPs on Friday. The first to break ranks was Sergiu Sîrbu, who invoked ”personal and professional reasons”. Next went Grigore Repeșciuc and Eleonora Graur and the latter’s explanation was the most curious of all: ”I also regret that Mr Andrian Candu remains the hostage of this embarrassing situation. He is a gifted politician that honestly wants to build a modern European party, but it is not always up to Him”. The fourth MP to leave Pro Moldova was former health minister Ruxanda Glavan, who promised to join forces with ”all those who are against Dodon”.

The party responded that its members are ”free to leave when they are no longer Pro Moldova” and promised that its stance remains unchanged: ”Dodon must leave”.

PAS MP Lilian Carp claims to have heard two weeks ago that five Pro Moldova MPs were to leave the party and form a new parliamentary majority with the Socialists, the Șor Party and two unaffiliated MPs should Igor Dodon win the presidential elections.

Candu & Co’s former colleagues in PDM are not very happy with their current alliance with Igor Dodon and PSRM. Democrat leader Pavel Filip said that ”this coalition exists just barely, it’s very fragile” and expects a reconfiguration of political forces after the presidential ballot or after early parliamentary elections. PDM won’t endorse any presidential candidate this time around. At a meeting with US Ambassador Dereck Hogan, Filip told him that the Democrats can be ”a mediator among the political forces after the election”.

The lottery of justice

This week, we were treated to the news that the prosecutors dropped the charges against the judges who were under investigation for their role in the Russian Laundromat. The news is actually a month old, but the authorities didn’t bother to notify the public. These judges are still under trial for several illegal decisions, but these charges might be dropped as well as they are connected to their participation in the Laundromat. Some of the magistrates, previously suspended for the duration of the trial, have now requested to be restored to their positions.

Prosecutor General Alexandr Stoianoglo was keen to show that he is not only pulling the plug on some investigations, but also starting some new ones. He announced that his underlings will look into how the National Lottery obtained a monopoly on the gambling market. The PG says that employees of the Ministry of Economy and the Public Property Agency, as well as ”yet unidentified persons” are involved in this scheme, which cost the public budget over €20 million in 2017-2019.

Stoianoglo also informed that his office sent extradition requests for Vlad Plahotniuc to Cyprus and Saudi Arabia, after a previous request had been sent to Turkey. While several journalists and politicians in Chișinău have indeed claimed that the fugitive oligarch had recently been to Turkey and Cyprus, the third country that was talked about wasn’t Saudi Arabia, but the United Arab Emirates.

The Church vs the Republic

Even though religion and the state are supposed to be separated in Moldova, as enshrined in the Constitution, the Orthodox Metropolitan Church has a long history of meddling in political affairs. Party leaders and officials like Voronin, Pasat, Urechean and Filat have sought Metropolitan Vladimir’s endorsement and forgave all his sins to get it. The last in this long line of pious politicians is Igor Dodon, who allowed priests to disregard with impunity all of the Government’s anti-Covid restrictions. Add to this the fact that the Metropolitan Church of Moldova is subordinated to the Moscow Patriarchate, whose ties to Russian secret services are well-documented, and the clergy’s political activity could reasonably be considered a threat to Moldova’s national sovereignty and security. Our colleague Cristian Doroftei analyzes these issues and potential solutions in his piece ”The Church vs the Republic: an electoral story during the pandemic” (available only in Romanian).

More news, in one sentence

◾ Farmers în Hîncești renewed their protests, demanding more subsidies for Group II cultures (sunflower, corn, etc.), and warned the Government that farmers in other districts will join them if their requests remain unanswered.

◾ Expert-Grup published their State of the Country Report for 2020, which predicts that the Moldovan economy will shrink by 7.5% by the end of the year, while the budget deficit will grow to 8-10%.

◾ After numerous criticisms that he was using the City Hall to aid Igor Dodon’s re-election efforts, Mayor Ion Ceban took a formal leave to freely campaign for Dodon and left the city in Deputy Mayor Ilie Ceban’s hands.

◾ Chișinău contracted a €9 million loan from the EBRD to modernize its solid-waste management system and the Municipal Council decided to gradually triple the waste management fee over the next 8 years for those who live in Chișinău.

◾ In Washington, US State Secretary Mike Pompeo and Romanian Foreign Minister Bogdan Aurescu discussed the still unfunctional Iași-Ungheni-Chișinău pipeline in the context of Romania’s plans to start the extraction of natural gas from the Black Sea shelf with US support.

◾ Advocates of Moldova’s reunification with Romania have a reason to celebrate – the share of those who support this idea grew to 33.3%, according to the latest BOP poll, and Dorin Chirtoacă even estimated the cost of such an endeavour: €10 billion per year, of which two would be Moldova’s own contribution, while the remaining 8 would be covered by Romania and the EU.

◾ The value of all public property in Moldova increased by €750 million this year, according to the Public Property Agency, without taking into account the assets managed by the Ministry of Culture and Education, which failed to present its report because of the pandemic.

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