Moldova Weekly: First round in brief, coalition reshuffle, intensive wash
The first round of election in brief
Maia Sandu of the opposition party PAS won the first round of voting with 36.16% and will duel with incumbent Igor Dodon (32.61%) in the runoff slated for November 15. Mayor of Bălți Renato Usatîi came in third with a strong 16.9%, followed by Șor Party’s Violeta Ivanov with 6.49% and PPDA’s Andrei Năstase with 3.26%.
Overall, Maia Sandu was voted by ~490,000 people, which is 60,000 less than in the first round of the 2016 election. Igor Dodon got ~440,000 votes, a staggering 240,000 fewer than four years ago.
Despite the pandemic and the rainy weather, voter turnout was similar to the first round in 2016: ~1.35 million now, ~1.42 back then.
The vote abroad
A big chunk of these votes came from Moldovans living abroad, who turned out in record numbers – about 150,000. Over 70% of them voted for Maia Sandu, 17.25% for Renato Usatîi and about 3.6% for Igor Dodon and Andrei Năstase each.
The latter, around afternoon on election day, demanded the resignation of the foreign minister and the electoral authority head because of what he believed was a defective organization of the vote abroad, especially for not opening enough polling places.
Truly, in many European cities, Moldovans formed long queues to vote and several polling stations had to extend voting by two hours so that all those who had lined up outside could vote.
Igor Dodon wasn’t exactly happy with the diaspora’s impact on the election result: “these preferences of the diaspora are in disagreement with the preferences of the majority population that lives and works here, in Moldova”.
The vote from Transnistria
In turn, the center-right candidates were unhappy with the vote of citizens from the separatist region of Transnistria. Last Wednesday, Andrei Năstase called on “all the able men” of the country to mobilize and prevent the organized transportation of the Transnistrian voters to polling stations.
Several groups of veterans and protesters indeed came out to meet the voters from the left bank. PAS deputy chairman Igor Grosu used his car to block the road to a polling station. Despite several other minor incidents, the police kept things under control and prevented more serious clashes from happening.
PAS representatives say they did encounter cases where voters from Transnistria were transported to polling stations in an organized manner. Several videos appeared on the web, seemingly showing that some of these voters turned out for cash. Former justice minister Olesea Stamate said PAS might ask the authorities not to count the votes from Transnsitria.
Promo Lex observers did document several instances of voter transportation, but considerably less than at the 2019 parliamentary elections.
The first reactions
Igor Dodon congratulated Maia Sandu, but also asked her to apologize for her ”fake claims about electoral fraud”. The incumbent also said he is now open to confronting Sandu in a presidential debate.
Maia Sandu thanked her voters and also the polling station workers and observers for ”defending the vote”.
The other center-right candidates – Andrei Năstase, Dorin Chirtoacă, Octavian Țîcu and Tudor Deliu – either endorsed Sandu directy or advised their supporters to vote against Dodon in the runoff.
Renato Usatîi, who is at odds with Dodon but has a similar voter base, said he talked on the phone with Maia Sandu and would meet with her today, November 3. Usatîi’s main public request so far is to trigger early parliamentary elections as soon as possible.
Șor Party’s Violeta Ivanov is yet to make any statement regarding the runoff.
From abroad, Romanian Prime Minister Ludovic Orban congratulated Maia Sandu on her result and said she could move Moldova “firmly on the European path”. In Moscow, the Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Rudenko said Russia would cooperate with whoever won the election in Moldova.
Other news in brief
While Covid cases surged in Europe last week, Moldova seemed to continue enjoying a relative improvement of the situation, at least compared to the record-high week Sept. 28 - Oct. 4. Health minister Viorica Dumbrăveanu said, among other things, that the weekly number of critical cases dropped and that there were enough beds in hospitals, including in intensive care. But on Friday, the Ministry reported a near-record number of new cases, with as many as 31% of tests coming back positive, a sign that the improvement is not going to last.
Igor Dodon said there would be a major staff overhaul in the government if he got re-elected. While the coalition agreement with the PDM is still theoretically valid, Dodon added, the eroded Democratic group has too few seats in Parliament for it to be actually functional (at present, the PSRM-PDM coalition has 48 out of 101 votes in the legislature). Democrat Oleg Țulea already tendered his resignation as foreign minister to retake his ambassadorship in Hungary.
Meanwhile, the former speaker and Plahotniuc crony Andrian Candu complained that Igor Dodon was stealing his MPs to form a new coalition. On Monday, the five lawmakers who recently defected from the Pro Moldova Party (itself a splinter group that broke away from the Democratic Party) announced they were forming their own group in Parliament, called “For Moldova” and invited others to join them. The former Communist-turned Democrat-turned Pro Moldova-turned For Moldova lawmaker Serghei Sîrbu stated the new group’s credo as “We all have one party: the Republic of Moldova, and one political duty: to serve the people of this country.”
Prime minister Ion Chicu shifted part of the blame for the failure to secure the agreement of the IMF board for a $558M deal (it was initially expected in late September) onto Parliament. But Newsmaker found out that the Government didn’t even got around to pre-approving a set of legislative proposals demanded by the IMF for consolidating the independence of the central bank. Earlier, critics accused the prime minister of prioritizing Dodon’s campaign over implementing the IMF agreement requirements and thus running the risk of ending the year with a huge budget hole. But Chicu says he is “very optimistic” that the agreement will be approved by the end of the year.
With four days left until the presidential election, the energy regulatory agency ANRE sanctioned a 12.2% gas rate cut for domestic users (even if the utility Moldovagaz requested a smaller reduction). President Igor Dodon said the price reduction was not related in any way to the upcoming election and stressed that, unlike Moldovans, Ukrainians got a price increase instead (omitting the fact that natural gas is still cheaper there even with the increase). While the price at which Moldova imports gas from Russia dropped in the spring, Moldovagaz waited until September to formally ask ANRE to review prices for domestic consumers, so the electoral motive is hard to deny.
Also last week, energy experts Sergiu Tofilat and Tudor Șoitu of the NGO Watchdog.MD presented a study which finds that the debt owed by Moldova, Transnistria excluded, for the Russian gas had been “artificially inflated” by nearly one billion dollars over the years by Gazprom “in complicity” with the Moldovan authorities. The experts expressed their concern over an older statement made by president Dodon, where he suggested that the debt could be repaid by conceding gas infrastructure, and also over the Moldovan authorities’ failure to properly investigate the claimed fraud.
Last Monday, the investigative project Rise Moldova published another piece of the #Kremlinovich series with new details about the support that top Moldovan Socialists seem to have received from Russian intelligence. According to the investigation, among other things, the Kremlin’s ‘Moldovan unit’ redacted Irina Vlah’s campaign kickoff speech when she sought and eventually won the Gagauzia governor’s post back in 2015, and coordinated with Igor Dodon his speech at the Munich Security Conference in 2019. Rise also quotes an analytical brief which says that the installation of the “technocratic” Chicu Cabinet creates favorable conditions for Moldo-Russian relations and which advises the Kremlin to develop a network of NGOs in order to push a soft power agenda in Moldova. A teaser from Rise promises another installment this week, this time about the apparent involvement of Kremlin strategists in Ion Ceban’s successful campaign for Chișinău mayor last year.
Anticoruptie.md also published an investigative piece which claims that an offshore company linked to the criminal boss Grigory ‘The Bulgarian’ Karamalak owns a property carved out of the presidential pension in Holercani, on the bank of the Nistru River. The unfinished, multi-story building, which is now under construction, was privatized in 2009 by the Greceanîi Cabinet and the then economy minister Igor Dodon.
Five judges previously prosecuted for their role in the so-called “Russian Laundromat” are returning to the bench under a decision of the High Council of the Judiciary, which also states that they will receive their full salaries for all the four years of suspension. In October, ZdG found out that a month earlier the Anticorruption Prosecution Service dropped all charges against 13 out of 15 judges suspected of having facilitated the laundering of billions of dollars through the Moldovan judiciary. After four years of investigation, the prosecutors found that the judges’ actions “did not amount to a crime.” Reportedly, one of the reasons put forth is that the judges’ rulings hadn’t been challenged by other courts and hence were not found to be illegal.
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