Rank them by importance as you like.

This is a translated and slightly adapted version of an article originally published in Romanian on December 30.

ACUM won’t enter into any coalition with Socialists or Democrats

On 21 February 2019, parliamentary candidates for the bloc ACUM formally vowed not to enter into any alliance with the Democrats, the Socialists, the Shor Party or Our Party. In other words, with none of the parties capable of winning seats in Parliament. That meant that ACUM either had resigned themselves to being in opposition no matter the outcome or naively hoped to win a majority of seats. Or they simply lied. And they did so theatrically, too, by pledging to quit as MPs should they ever become embroiled in an ignoble coalition.

The promise was then repeated several times after the elections, until ACUM eventually decided – under pressure from civil society and foreign ambassadors – that Dodon and the Socialists were the lesser evil and that Plahotniuc could be toppled. The PSRM-ACUM alliance was so hard to stomach for many pro-European voters at least in part because of this almost solemn promise.

A month has exactly 30 days

Unwilling to admit defeat, the Democratic Party turned to the Constitutional Court, which had been stuffed with loyalists a couple of months before the elections. Per the Constitution, Parliament has three months to appoint a Cabinet or face dissolution. All the parties involved in the government formation talks used the delay tactics in a bid to gain an upper hand, and PSRM and ACUM eventually struck a deal only when one day was left until the three months’ deadline. Little did they know. The Constitutional Court found a provision in the Civil Code that defined “half a month” as 15 days. Ergo, one month must have 30 days and three months 90 days exactly, which according to the CC put the newly invested Sandu Cabinet one day past the deadline. Moreover, the Court construed the President’s privilege to dissolve the legislature past this deadline as an obligation.

Eventually, even the Venice Commission called out the Constitutional Court for this absurd and biased interpretation. The judgment was reversed and everyone can now go back to using the knuckle trick to see how many days are there in a month.

There is no PSRM-PDM coalition

In the spring, Socialists were uncompromising in their negotiations with ACUM – it’s either a formal deal or no deal. Hence the corollary – if an alliance doesn’t exist on paper, it doesn’t exist at all. We’ve seen this approach in the revival of the PSRM-PDM alliance in November, this time with the Socialists taking the majority partner’s role. After the common vote to oust the Sandu Government and the one to invest the Chicu Government, the informal alliance revealed itself at the local level, too, where Socialists and Democrats elected heads of districts together. In Parliament, PSRM and PD took hold of the most influential committees, often at the expense of the Socialists’ former allies ACUM. The “technocratic” government and many public institutions saw the return of officials who previously served Plahotniuc’s regime and schemes.

The horoscope for next year says that if Aquarius is able to convince the general public that the three roses irreversibly exited the House of Capricorn, the alliance could be formalized. There’s even a recent opinion poll blessing the union. President Dodon has told the Russian news agency Tass that PDM is “still quite toxic” for a coalition, where “still” means that it could stop being so in the future, and “rather” means that the devil is not so black as he is painted. With the Socialists’ foreign policy now “balanced”, even the ideological gap with the Democrats seems to have narrowed. Meanwhile, the current PDM leader Pavel Filip nonchalantly admitted that the oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc would dictate every single decision in the party and everyone obeyed, as if they didn’t have a choice. With the pile of cash dwindling, PDM has found its moral compass underneath. That’s great news, but we don’t buy it.

Either formal or informal, the PSRM-PDM alliance means that the only thing Dodon disliked in the Plahotniuc regime, with all its autocratic and oligarchic ways, was Plahotniuc himself.

The Sandu Cabinet was dismissed because…

The Socialists cited a number of reasons for why the Sandu Cabinet had to go: Maia Sandu’s defiant decision to preselect herself candidates for the Prosecutor General’s position, an alleged lack of progress in social and economic matters and … that Sandu chickened out in the position of prime minister and begged for it. The first reason would have seemed the most legit hadn’t President Dodon spilled the beans by saying that the Government would have been ousted anyway. This statement renders invalid all the Socialists’ rant against the “unconstitutional” handling of the prosecution service reform by the Sandu Government. It just had to go, and the proof is that a replacement cabinet with a program and all was found overnight. It also underscores the falsity of Dodon’s earlier assurances that the Socialists would be happy to continue with ACUM if the bloc backpedalled on the prosecution reform.

As for the socioeconomic argument, it should be recalled that the Government was voted out shortly after then-minister of finance Natalia Gavriliță announced a so-called “Budget of Solidarity”, which included a number of social measures to help low-income households. Besides, the PSRM-ACUM coalition was created with the primary goal of dismantling the captured state left behind by Plahotniuc. This was the coalition’s common top priority, at least officially, and everything else should come second. By issuing a Declaration on the Captured State in June, both ACUM and PSRM acknowledged that no economic progress could be achieved without first freeing the country from that captivity, which includes focusing on the judiciary and the rule of law. This process was far from being over at the moment of the no-confidence vote against the Sandu Government and seems to be moving backwards today.

The technocracy of the Chicu Government

The informal PSRM-PDM alliance then tried to convince everybody that, look, we are giving you a nonpartisan and technocratic Cabinet. In other words, that they didn’t oust the Sandu Government to give the ministerial jobs to party members, but to independent professionals. PM Ion Chicu, for example, was finance minister in the PDM government, attended party rallies, refused to vacate his office when PSRM and ACUM voted in the Sandu Government, and was loyal to Plahotniuc and the Democrats in a crucial, electoral year. He didn’t become a party member, though, and so he is presented to the public as an independent, technocratic and nonpartisan bureaucrat.

Among the new ministers we also find former state secretaries from the Filip Government, like Anatol Usatîi or Viorica Dumbrăveanu, who zealously went with the Democrats on a whistle-stop campaign tour. But a state secretary’s position is officially nonpolitical, so they must count as nonpartisan and technocratic, right? The minister of justice’s previous job was legal counsel to the Socialist Party, but since Fadei Nagacevschi wasn’t a party member, he claims to be nonpartisan and technocratic, too. And so on. Most ministers come from the entourage of President Dodon or the Democrats, so excuse us if we doubt their capacity and freedom to act in technically sound ways (as the definition of technocracy implies) rather than according to party guidelines.

Read more: All the President’s Technocrats in the Chicu Government

Ion Chicu doesn’t need money

After the Democrat minister Chicu became presidential adviser Chicu, he constantly criticized the Sandu Government for “panhandling”. Proud of his achievements as minister of finance, Ion Chicu claimed that the budget flourished thanks to him and that Moldova didn’t need the aid (conditioned on reform) offered by the West. After becoming prime minister, Ion Chicu softened his self-reliant economic vision and, after his first prime-ministerial visit to a foreign country, namely Russia, he announced a potential loan of half a billion dollars. President Dodon then mentioned potential loans from China. More recently, the president has come up with this crazy idea of taking some money out of the central bank’s foreign exchange reserves. That’s how much Ion Chicu doesn’t need money.

Fadei Nagacevschi’s radical reform

Back when he was the Socialists’ counsel, Fadei Nagacevschi was among the fiercest critics of then-minister of justice Olesea Stamate. He criticized the proposed reform of the judiciary for not being incisive enough and even demanded a “shock therapy” approach. But that was then. After replacing Stamate at the ministry, Nagacevschi backtracked on his trenchant vision. In his version of the reform, he wants an appraisal of judges based on existing mechanisms, the ones that periodically evaluate the performance of the great majority of judges as excellent or very good. Nagacevschi also relies on the cooperation of influential members of the judicial community, the ones who Nagacevschi the counsel considered to be captured and accomplices of the Plahotniuc regime, but who now turned out to be honest professionals for Nagacevschi the minister.

Dodon/Sandu freed Filat

Vlad Filat’s release on parole caused quite a stir. President Dodon and the Socialists were quick to point the finger at Maia Sandu, accusing the freshly ousted prime minister of freeing her former party boss during the last days of her tenure, while Sandu hit back by saying that “Dodon’s judiciary” was to blame. As Filat himself explained, his lawyers started the procedure during the time of the Filip Government, continued it during the Sandu Government, and finished it already when Ion Chicu took over as PM. This was possible thanks to a law that compensates inmates for the inadequate conditions in the Moldovan prisons. This was the magical deduction that allowed the ex-prime minister to get out of jail much earlier than the general public expected. Although pointing fingers at each other, neither Maia Sandu, nor Igor Dodon had anything to do with that law, which was adopted during the PDM government. The compensatory mechanism was adopted in reaction to a demand by the European Court of Human Rights, where Moldova would get fined over and over for poor detention conditions. Instead of an improvement of said conditions, the quick fix found by the Democrats was to make inmates eligible for parole earlier.

Dodon – a president according to the Constitution

Recently, president Dodon has promised to Patriarch Kirill that all the branches of power will promote “traditional values”, inviting His Holiness to drop by next year, a visit he hopes will boost his reelection chances. The Constitution contains two commandments which the pious president constantly ignores: first, thou shalt not mix the state and the church and second, thou shalt not mix the three branches of power among each other. The Constitution and other Moldovan laws reserve a modest role to the president, that of an impartial arbiter. But these laws are uncomfortably narrow for president Dodon – he wants to be everywhere and be the one to make all the important announcements. When the president’s role isn’t helpful, he activates the avatar of the informal leader of the Socialist Party. Dodon negotiates alliances, builds airports, announces candidates, and gives advice, not instructions, to the prosecutor general.

Bonus: Chisinau will always vote for the right

Rather a myth than a lie, it collapsed spectacularly when Socialist Party’s Ion Ceban won the latest mayoral election in the capital. After the Liberal Party’s Dorin Chirtoacă had won three times in a row, it seemed the pro-European right could not possibly lose Chisinau. In the worst-case scenario, there were always the suburbs to provide the winning votes in the second round. Still, Andrei Năstase and Ion Ceban managed to achieve the impossible. If the televised debates were any indicator, Năstase was the embodiment of self-important ignorance, making Ion Ceban look temperate and very competent by contrast. Chisinau went on to elect the Socialist candidate and not event the suburbs were able to alter the outcome. The lesson is simple: whoever will try to win Chisinau in the future should know that being on the “right” side of the line between the pro-Europeans and the pro-Russians is not enough. How you perform during the campaign also matters.

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