Moldova in brief, week #45, November 2-9.

Presidential onslaught

After a relatively self-restrained presidential campaign up to November 1, Igor Dodon went on the attack for the runoff election. He accused the Moldovan diaspora in Europe of being transported in an organized manner to the ballot stations, which would be illegal, and even suggested that Moldovans living abroad represent ”a parallel electorate” that should not decide the fate of those inside the country. Of course, his message for the Moldovan diaspora in Russia was exactly the opposite. He not only encouraged them to get out and vote, but almost openly blackmailed them. Dodon said the Russian amnesty for violations of migration laws would happen only if he was re-elected. Moreover, he stressed that priority would be given to those who have a stamp in their passport as proof of having voted.

As regards his opponent Maia Sandu, the incumbent candidate launched a plethora of fake accusations. Among others, he overstated the number of schools closed during her stint as Minister of Education, he said she attended LGBT marches – which is not actually something bad, but is simply not true, he accused her of raising the retirement age, which is actually a reform initiated by the PDM Cabinet, and so on.

Igor Dodon also tries to frame the runoff as a civilizational battle, with him being the defender of the heterosexual family, traditional values, Orthodox Christianity and Moldovan statehood, while Sandu is painted as a puppet of Western interests who wants to destroy Moldova with gay parades and forced Romanianiazation. The Socialists’ chief conspiracy theorist Bogdan Țîrdea even wrote that with such high stakes all the corruption scandals concerning Dodon simply do not matter.

However, Dodon doesn’t expect Moldova to disappear immediately if Sandu wins and insists she will have to negotiate with the Socialists after the elections. He sees three scenarios – a minority cabinet, a large coalition with at least one of PAS and PPDA or early parliamentary elections. A few months ago, Dodon was an ardent proponent of the latter idea, but he doesn’t seem so keen on this scenario anymore.

To make his case, the independent candidate laid his cards on the table: the Socialists have 21 out of 34 district heads, the mayor of Chișinău (which recently gave up on his promise to avoid politics), the bașkan of Găgăuzia (which ran as an independent as well), and the prime minister „who was my adviser” (formally a technocrat). So Sandu would have to negotiate with the Socialists even if she becomes president, says Dodon.

The affront-runner

Sandu’s campaign reacted to some of the fakes spread by their opponents by asking TV and radio stations across the country not to broadcast a ”defamatory and libellous” ad that ”incited hate”. Dodon’s spokeswoman Ludmila Muntean cried censorship and said Sandu should be ”shamefully withdrawn” from the presidential race. Bogdan Țîrdea also complained that Facebook censored one of his homophobic posts and accused the social network of siding with Sandu.

The PAS candidate did not debunk Dodon’s accusations in detail, but called him a corrupt liar that spreads hate and polarizes the whole of society to gain more votes. She went on to say that Dodon and Veaceslav Platon, an oligarch recently freed from jail, were preparing a new massive banking fraud. Platon threatened to sue her and complained that she was using the same tactics as Plahotniuc.

Sandu and Dodon were to respond to each other’s accusations in a public debate this week. However, Sandu announced on Monday she would not attend the debate because of the sheer amount of falsehood targeted at her by Dodon’s campaign.

Meanwhile, the PAS leader is having meetings with the candidates who dropped out after the first round of the election. The center-right quartet Năstase, Chirtoacă, Deliu and Țîcu have already told their supporters to vote against Dodon, but it’s likely that Sandu and her campaign hope for more active involvement from them. She also met with Renato Usatîi, who won 17% of the vote in the first round and is widely seen as a potential kingmaker in the runoff election.

Wooing Usatîi

The mayor of Bălți said he would negotiate only with Sandu and sees Dodon as the bigger evil in this election. Usatîi is unhappy that the Socialists labelled him a clown and a gopnik in previous weeks, yet are now trying to woo his voters. He also complained that Dodon’s entourage is trying both to buy him and to intimidate him with threats of criminal investigations. A Russian far-right party terminated its cooperation agreement with Usatîi’s Our Party and the politician says this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Usatîi says he has never been a fan of Sandu, but at least she was not corrupt, unlike Dodon. However, despite showering criticism on Dodon, he stopped short of directly endorsing the PAS candidate. Usatîi wants Sandu and her team to come up with a plan to trigger early parliamentary elections as soon as possible. Should they fail, Usatîi said he would propose his own plan. In the meanwhile, he invited all the interested legal experts to send him their suggestions.

Brownian MPs

Andrian Candu, who recently saw his new party broken in two, ramped up his criticism of Dodon. Candu, who is affinal kin with Vlad Plahotniuc, said Igor Dodon won the 2016 election with the oligarch’s help and thanked him personally. The Democrats’ role in Dodon’s victory has been an open secret for years, but this is the first time a current or former PDM member has admitted it in public. Officially, in 2016, PDM supported Maia Sandu.

The former speaker also promised hard evidence to support his revelations. However, this is not the first time Candu threatens Dodon with such ”evidence” – in May, he teased proof of Dodon’s involvement in illegal schemes only to claim that was merely a personal hunch a couple of months later

Sergiu Sîrbu and the other four MPs who quit Candu’s Pro Moldova announced a new political enterprise, creatively called ”For Moldova”. Two days later, the Șor Party joined this platform. Rumor has it that ”For Moldova” is meant to help the Socialists maintain a parliamentary majority even if Dodon loses the presidency. The latter responded that PSRM would not enter an alliance with any other party than PDM, PAS or PPDA.

Pavel Filip announced on Saturday that PDM would remain neutral in this election and that the party would withdraw its ministers from the current Cabinet. after the runoff. He threw a not so subtle dig at Igor Dodon and Vlad Plahotniuc: ”Perhaps somebody thinks this is a very sophisticated chess game, but we can see the threads of the puppeteers that move the pieces from one side to the other”.

PM Chicu and President Dodon did not wait for the resignations of PDM ministers and fired them on Monday. The candidates to replace them are as follow: Olga Cebotari – deputy PM for reintegration, Anatol Usatîi – minister of economy, Aurel Ciocoi – minister of foreign affairs, Victor Gaiciuc – minister of defense, and Lilia Pogolșa – minister of education, culture and research.

Meanwhile, another hearing in the trial of Ilan Șor has been delayed yet again.

Accusations of electoral fraud

The ENEMO observation mission found that the first round saw no major irregularities able to affect the legitimacy of the process, but noted the accusations of voter influence and organized transportation of voters from Transnistria. PAS complained to the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Ministry of the Interior, while the Socialists asked prosecutors to investigate PAS vice president Igor Grosu for blocking the access to a polling station for Transnistria residents.

In Gagauzia, Serghei Cernev, a member of the local legislature, claimed that budget sector employees in the autonomy, in particular teachers and doctors, were forced to snap their ballot papers and were transported in an organized manner to the polls, while the authorities tacitly or directly facilitated the fraud. Gagauzia Governor Irina Vlah, who was involved in Igor Dodon’s campaign, denied all the accusations.

In any case, the Central Electoral Commission validated the results of the first round and increased the number of ballots for the diaspora, with most of the 139 polling stations abroad to receive 5000 ballot papers each. However, the electoral authority refused to open more polling stations abroad, explaining that their number has to be decided no later than 30 days before election day.

More Kremlinovich

In a new piece of the #Kremlinovici series, Rise Moldova documents the presence of a team of Russian political consultants in Igor Dodon’s campaign staff. Some of them also helped Socialist Ion Ceban win the Chișinău mayoral election last year. Although hiring foreign consultants wouldn’t be illegal per se, Dodon’s campaign denied any cooperation with the Russian strategists and failed to indicate it in the financial reports presented to the electoral authority (the law requires candidates to report even services offered pro bono). Rise suggests the work of the Russian strategists was likely coordinated with the Kremlin, without presenting any direct evidence though.

Also last week, PDA lawmaker Iurie Reniță promised to present new evidence in the so-called Bahamas case. In particular, Reniță claims he can prove that Socialist MP Corneliu Furculiță took out an undeclared loan – not of 1 million lei, but six times larger – from his own company “Exclusiv Media”, and subsequently channeled the money into Igor Dodon’s presidential campaign four years ago. Reniță also says he possesses similar evidence about the Socialists Corduneanu, Lebedinschi and Filipov.

Covid changes its mind

After four weeks of a relative improvement, last week Moldova was back to +1000 new daily Covid cases. There were reported 1020 cases on Wednesday, 1059 cases on Thursday, and a new record high, of 1174 new infections, already on Saturday. Record numbers were reported by both our neighbors as well as by Russia.

The Ministry of Health bought an additional 100,000 tests, which is not so much really, given the weekly rate of 18,000 tests. Tatiana Zatîc, head of the Ministry of Health’s Emergency Medicine Department, said the government could reintroduce tougher restrictions, up to a national lockdown. But the incumbent president Igor Dodon has promised to his voters that he won’t allow the closure of businesses and schools and that he “will manage the situation”.

The surge in coronavirus case numbers was to be expected after the first round of the presidential election. In our new article on sic!, Eugen Muravschi explains how voting could have been safer during Covid times and what we can learn from other countries.

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