3½ Years a President. Part One: Igor Dodon’s legislative and diplomatic achievements
This is a translated and slightly adapted version of an article originally published in Romanian on September 4.
Seeking re-election on November 1, President Igor Dodon has recently presented a report accounting for his 3½ years in office, where he claims he has fulfilled “80-90%” of his electoral promises. sic! took a look at the 41-page compilation and found that, for all its length, its content is rather thin. And because the President’s report deserves all the attention it can get, we shall analyze it in two parts. In the first one, we’ll look at how successful President Dodon’s legislative and diplomatic work has been.
I have an idea
A significant part of what the president touts to be his achievements are in fact ideas, proposals or initiatives that never came to life.
In the concluding part, Dodon lists 24 legislative initiatives, i.e. law proposals submitted to Parliament. As many as 14 of them were rejected, 1 was withdrawn, and 3 others are still pending examination. Of the 6 remaining, 5 concern pensions and welfare payments. We’ll get back to them in the next part.
Igor Dodon is eager to put a feather in his cap for things like, for example, “express[ing] objection to the opening of a NATO Liaison Office in Chișinău on 8 December 2017.” We explained at the time why there’s nothing wrong with that Office and why cooperation with NATO is already beneficial for Moldova even if we never become a member country.
A similar boast is the development of guidelines for a future policy document which would seek international recognition for the principle of Moldova’s permanent neutrality. Speaking of which.
The president insists that our neutrality must be recognized internationally, but the thing is, nobody is really challenging this status. The principle is enshrined in our Constitution, and until that article is amended by a two-thirds majority in Parliament or by a national referendum, Moldova remains as neutral as can be.
President Dodon claims he had “high-level informal consultations (Moscow, Vienna, Washington, Berlin, Paris) to promote international recognition of Moldova’s permanent neutrality.”
Those consultations have been pointless, of course. The nations which have diplomatic relations with Moldova recognize the Moldovan Constitution as it is. An additional treaty cannot protect this principle better than the Constitution already does: withdrawing from an international treaty requires a simple majority in Parliament, meaning it would be easier than amending the Constitution.
An advantageous relationship with Russia
Igor Dodon’s frequent journeys to Moscow have almost become a commute and, per his report, this helped to restore the “advantageous relationship” with Russia. Thanks to his diplomacy, “in 2019, exports of vegetables rose by 6.6 times, of apples by 67%, of canned goods by a factor of 1.5, and of wine and spirits by 52%.”
But perspective is important here. In 2019, exports to Russia did increase by about $31 million. With the increment included, they represent but a third of the Moldovan exports to Romania ($765 million) and only 13.7% of our exports to the European Union ($1.8 billion, including Romania). From 2016, when Igor Dodon became president, exports to Russia in 2019 rose by just around $17 million. Meanwhile, exports to the EU increased by $500 million, with Romania accounting for half of that amount.
Bottom line, despite President Dodon’s efforts and claims, Moldovans export more to Europe, not to Russia. Well, at least Igor Dodon has stopped advocating the annulment of the Association Agreement with the EU and the accompanying Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement.
Dodon’s frequent trips to Moscow didn’t even make gas much cheaper for Moldova. The economic publication Mold-street notes that, in the second quarter of 2019, we bought gas at a higher price ($168.28/1,000 cu.m.) than the Commonwealth of Independent States average (136.8$) or the EU average ($110.1).
Moreover, end consumers in Moldova now pay between $0.28 and $0.3 lei per cubic meter, whereas the Ukrainians, who are practically at war with the Russians, will pay $0.19 already after a 45% hike in price.
For all the effort invested by the president in the relationship with Russia, the results leave much to be desired.
Good relations with both the East and the West
After Igor Dodon and his Socialists brought down the Sandu Cabinet and invested Ion Chicu, previously a presidential adviser, as prime minister, Moldova’s relations with the European Union and with Romania have soured considerably. The final installment of a macrofinancial assistance package from the EU was never disbursed because the Moldovan government failed to meet the conditions.
Moreover, Ion Chicu caused a bit of a diplomatic scandal after naming the Romanian MEP Siegfried Mureșan, chairman of the European Parliament’s Delegation to the EU-Moldova Parliamentary Association Committee, “a good-for-nothing ball boy with a cushy job in the European bureaucracy.” And, to add fuel to the fire, Chicu went on to criticize Romania in general for corruption and for how it handles the coronacrisis. We explained here why the prime minister’s comments were off the mark and why Moldova wasn’t doing better than Romania in fighting the pandemic.
It’s no surprise then that the Romanian Prime Minister Ludovic Orban is calling the current government in Chișinău “transient authorities”.
What about our immediate neighbor to the east? President Dodon has never been on an official visit to Ukraine. Instead, he was reported to have visited the annexed Crimea with a plane from Vladimir Putin’s fleet, which Dodon’s spokesperson denied.
Quite surprisingly, the cabinet supported by Igor Dodon has a good relationship with the International Monetary Fund, with the last program completed successfully and a new one coming up and bringing along $550 million, which would make it the largest deal ever to be struck by Moldova with the IMF.
Another accomplishment of Igor Dodon’s diplomacy, of course, would be the good relations with the Turks, who in 2018 renovated the Presidential Palace. Dodon’s move into this impressive building, which was ransacked during the April 2009 “Twitter Revolution,” catered to his ambitions of seeking greater presidential powers. The Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan himself visited Moldova. On the ugly side of this relationship there is the drama of the seven Turkish teachers who were illegally abducted and sent to prison in Turkey on bogus grounds. But there’s no place for them in Igor Dodon’s report.
The president mentions eight meetings with Transnistria’s de facto leader Vadim Krasnoselski and their results: neutral plates for Transnistria-registered cars, the permission for Latin script schools to continue operating on the eastern side of the Nistru River, and unhindered access of Moldovan peasants to their plots in the buffer zone, among other things.
The protocols were signed back in 2017, when the government was in Plahotniuc’s hands and Dodon professed opposition. The achievements now touted by President Dodon were described at the time by experts as being the result of an informal deal between Vlad Plahotniuc and oligarch Viktor Gushan, owner of the powerful Sheriff Holding.
A personal accomplishment of Igor Dodon, though, one Plahotniuc cannot dispute, is that he recognized the separatist leader Krasnoselski as “the president of Transnistria.”
The formal negotiations between Chișinău and Tiraspol have continued with the traditional ups and downs. Particularly noteworthy was the indignant outburst of Alexandru Flenchea, former Deputy Prime Minister for Reintegration, after a meeting with Tiraspol’s chief negotiator Vitali Ignatiev, who he accused of “arrogance, cynicism and puerile behavior.”
Flenchea was then replaced by Democrat Cristina Lesnic, who had held the position in the Filip Government. The cooperation between the two banks during the pandemic hasn’t improved though, with a crisis emerging after Tiraspol unilaterally installed a string of checkpoints on the pretext of containing the spread of the virus.
While the head of state is invested with the power of legislative initiative, Igor Dodon hasn’t been a very successful or prolific drafter of law proposals. In diplomacy, there’s nothing much the president can boast either. Despite his frequent trips to Moscow, trade with Russia grew to a much lesser extent than with the EU and Romania, while gas prices remain higher than what our neighbors pay. As for our immediate neighbors, Igor Dodon has visited neither of them. As a guarantor of sovereignty and territorial integrity, Dodon has made little progress in advancing the reintegration of Transnistria and, quite the opposite, recognized the separatist leader as president.
In the next part, we will look at how Igor Dodon and his government has handled the coronacrisis, how effective his “social measures” have been and what is wrong with the president’s philanthropy.
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Raport de activitate al Președintelui Republicii Moldova, presedinte.md ↩︎
Guvernul vrea să împrumute încă 550 de milioane de dolari de la FMI, mold-street.com ↩︎
Vladimir Soloviov: „În negocierile transnistrene a apărut un format nou oligarhic din umbră”, moldova.europalibera.org ↩︎
Tiraspolul instalează noi posturi de control și reține persoane sub pretextul carantinei, moldova.europalibera.org ↩︎