What we have (not) heard from the Ceban-Năstase debates
This is a translated and slightly adapted version of an article originally published in Romanian on October 29.
Ion Ceban and Andrei Năstase have finally met each other face to face for televised debates – last Thursday on ProTV and this past Monday on Jurnal TV – with more duels scheduled over the course of this week before the Chisinau mayoral runoff is held on Sunday. Sadly, instead of a clash of ideas, voters in Chisinau were treated to heaps of unsubstantiated accusations, the main course of this and past elections. At least on paper, however, both candidates’ mayoral manifestos are quite good. Below are our remarks on what we’ve heard during these first two debates and, perhaps more importantly, on what what we haven’t heard.
What was discussed
The parking mess
Among the few debated issues actually related to city management was that of parking spaces, with anarchic parking being at present one of Chisinau’s greatest nuisances for pedestrians and vehicle traffic alike. During the first debate, both candidates proposed building multi-story car parks on the city’s outskirts, and allotting parking spaces in courtyards and along secondary streets to relieve thoroughfares. Andrei Năstase underlined that the problem cannot be solved in principle without first updating the city’s General Plan. Following up on the issue, Năstase said on Monday he wanted a moratorium on allotting municipal land for real estate development until such a Plan was adopted.
Money and connections
During both debates, the two candidates talked about plans to attract funding. Andrei Năstase claimed he would be able to bring in large amounts of investment (as much as 1 billion euros, as he promised earlier in his campaign) from Romania and the EU, given the presumed support he enjoys with a number of Romanian mayors and thanks to the good relations that ACUM bloc, of which his PDA is part, has with the European Union. Ion Ceban claimed he had many friends in Romania and EU as well, upping the ante by promising to secure funding from both the EU and Russia.
This isn’t Jeopardy!
The rest of the time, however, the debates were less about city management and more about bickering, attempting to score points on zingers, and avoiding straight answers. On Thursday, for example, there were at least two occasions when Ion Ceban asked concrete questions – one to define the notion of sustainable urban mobility, and the other to tell how many low-income households were receiving municipal aid to cover heating costs – with Andrei Năstase answering “We’re not on Jeopardy!” This happened again on Monday, when Ceban asked Năstase to name the book (Michael Bloomberg Initiative’s Global Street Design Guide) which Năstase himself had brought into the studio just a couple of days earlier, or to name some specific problems of some particular suburban towns. Again, the PDA leader was lost for answers and could only summon the “we’re not on Jeopardy!” line.
The invalidated election
Andrei Năstase instead accused Ion Ceban of playing a crucial part in the invalidation of the snap mayoral election that the PDA leader won in June 2018. The Socialist candidate, who came in second, denies this, saying that he publicly denounced the invalidation and regrets how everything played out. While not asking for the invalidation expressly, it was Ceban’s campaign staff that complained in court over what they believed had been a violation by Năstase of silence restrictions. A district court went on to decide that Năstase’s “get out the vote” post on social media was impactful enough to swing the outcome in his favor, and instead of fining him, overturned the results altogether. Later, when the matter reached the Supreme Court, the Socialists insisted that only Năstase’s votes should be scrapped, while Ceban should be declared the winner. So Năstase has every reason to doubt the sincerity of his rival’s regret.
Other accusations are less verifiable. Ceban offered backroom details from power-sharing negotiations, claiming that it was Năstase who proposed Nicolae Robu as acting Prosecutor General. No wrongdoing here in itself, unless it’s true, as Ceban suggests, that Robu is a Năstase crony. While the investigative paper Ziarul de Gardă did report earlier that Năstase is a godfather to the prosecutor Vera Chironda, and Chironda is a cumătra of Robu (more on the cultural kinship of “cumătrism” here), the allegation of cronyism/nepotism seems speculative without more evidence.
During the debates, Ceban also criticized Interior Minister Năstase for appointing Gheorghe Bălan, a cumătru, as acting Chief of Police. Năstase replied that Bălan was there only as a caretaker and got the job for his merits of being a dissenting judge, “a fighter” during the Plahotniuc regime. Bălan plans to return to the Bench anyway, Năstase insists, after a replacement is appointed in a merit-based competition. Prime Minister Maia Sandu vouched for this promise earlier.
The Real Estate Mafia
Andrei Năstase, for his part, recalled an audio recording where someone appeared to solicit a large bribe on Ion Ceban’s behalf for calling back a protest against an illegal development project in Chisinau. Ceban replied saying that the recording was a fake and that it had been “leaked” through a Telegram channel famous for spreading other fakes. The PDA leader also accused Ceban, formerly the leader of City Council Socialists, of facilitating sweet deals by offering cheap municipal land to real estate developers. Ceban reminded Năstase that he lost a libel lawsuit once over such accusations. The second debate kicked off with the Socialist serving his opponent with a notice in a new lawsuit.
City crime rates
Ion Ceban read out some crime statistics, apparently on the rise, in an attempt to paint his rival as a bad interior minister. Năstase replied saying that the crime rates were actually slightly lower compared to the similar period last year. But even if the opposite were true, deriving a conclusion from growing numbers alone, without looking at other factors, would be wrong. Higher crime rates may very well indicate, for example, that the police are doing a better job or that people have become more confident to report.
Andrei Năstase, assisted by the moderator at the Jurnal TV debate, tried to corner Ion Ceban by asking him what he thought about President Igor Dodon’s proposal to “remove the suburbs from Chisinau Municipality.” That’s actually inaccurate. When last June the suburbs once again predominantly voted against the leftist candidate to provide the critical votes for Ceban’s defeat, a disgruntled Dodon, the informal Socialist leader, proposed that the suburbanites maybe should not be allowed to vote for the mayor of the city proper, and vote instead for the mayor of the respective towns (currently the suburbs vote for the Municipality’s general mayor plus the respective mayors). Because neither Năstase nor the moderator quoted Igor Dodon correctly, Ceban was able to get out of check unscathed by simply dismissing it as a falsehood and without saying what he believed about the actual idea. For all that matters, Ceban said he had friends and relatives living in the suburbs and was a constant supporter of development in suburban areas (in many parts, living standards are still below what they are in the city). He went on to accuse Năstase of stealing his idea of appointing a deputy mayor to oversee the suburbs. The PDA leader denied borrowing it from the Socialist, but Ceban was indeed the first to mention the idea in public during the previous election.
What we wanted to hear, but haven’t
The General Urban Plan
Andrei Năstase did mention the need of adopting an updated GUP during both debates and... that’s it. Ion Ceban promises in his program to develop and adopt a GUP in 18 months or earlier. ACUM’s program also promises Zonal Urban Plans for each of the city’s districts, or sectόr as we call them. Perhaps more interesting is the promise to “Conceive a new set of rules and adopt them, by a referendum if necessary, to regulate the real estate development of our city.” It would have been great if we saw the two candidates debate their visions on the GUP – how it should be developed, who should develop it, where Năstase and Ceban agree and where they disagree, and so on.
Both candidates’ manifestos envision a rejuvenated and larger fleet of buses and trolleybuses. The Socialist candidate’s program explicitly foresees bus-only lanes, while ACUM candidate’s program plans to merge the bus and trolleybus operators into a single company. We’d like to hear more about these and other proposals. For example, when will e-ticketing be finally introduced, will the proposed unified travel passes cover shared taxis (colloquially known as rutiera) as well, will those filthy, overcrowded, unsafe traffic clots of rutieras be around for much longer, etc.?
Water, waste, environmental issues
Chisinau’s wastewater treatment station smelled really bad this summer. So much so that many failed to see the real problem behind the thick veil of stench, which is, of course, pollution and the municipal authorities’ chronic failure to do anything about it. It could have made a great topic for debate. But no, the problem seems to stop being of current interest if it stops smelling.
Anyhow, Andrei Năstase’s program proposes replicating the model used in the Romanian city of Oradea for water and wastewater treatment. Too bad we haven’t had the chance so far to hear more about it or whether Ion Ceban has any alternative solutions. Many parts of the city get flooded constantly every time it rains because the city lacks functional rainwater drainage. Perhaps we should pray for rain for the candidates to broach this subject during the remaining debates.
Both candidates promise a cleaner, healthier, safer city and plans for sustainable development. We’d like to hear a discussion on green spaces, energy efficiency, measures to reduce pollution, waste management and recycling, or other subjects with ramifications for both wellbeing and economy.
Both Ion Ceban and Andrei Năstase promise to attract investment and foster economic growth. However, we don’t know how each of them sees the future of Chisinau’s economy: whether there are industries or activities that will be put on the priorities list, what measures the mayor or the City Council could pass, whether the candidates have any specific targets for economic growth, and so on.
There is still hope
Ion Ceban and Andrei Năstase are likely to meet again for other televised debates before the Sunday election and hopefully the other moderators are more successful in reining the mayoral hopefuls toward a more meaningful debate focused on their proposed solutions for the city. Arm yourselves with patience and watch the coming debates. And go vote on Sunday.
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Dezbateri electorale ProTV Chișinău de pe 24.10.2019, youtube.com ↩︎