Moldova, Explained by ZdG. October 28, 2019.

HAPPENING THIS WEEK

Greetings from Chișinău! Here’s what’s happening this week: our feature investigates the grounds for two criminal investigations targeting the President of Moldova’s Supreme Court – one for illicit enrichment and the other for undermining judicial autonomy. We explain the unexpected success of the Democratic Party in nationwide local elections, as well as the geopolitical dimension of the vote in Chișinău and how it might impact the second round of voting in the capital’s mayoral race. We also feature an exclusive interview with Moldova’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration, Nicu Popescu. All of that and more in this week’s newsletter. Happy reading!

THIS WEEK’S FEATURE

SUPREME COURT TROUBLE: Moldova’s prosecution is investigating Ion Druţă, the Chief Justice at the Supreme Court, for illicit enrichment and interference in the execution of justice. Over the past five years, the magistrate’s family members have purchased several pieces of real estate in Chișinău valued at over 742,000 dollars. And according to the prosecutors, these pricey properties don’t cross-check with the family’s declared income. Meanwhile, a second criminal case is pending after a search of Judge Druţă’s office revealed memos instructing judges to make specific rulings in a number of high profile criminal cases. ZdG’s own investigation found the properties Druţă’s family members acquired in recent years and obtained access to several incriminating memos from the magistrate’s office. 

FROM THE EDITORS

EXECUTIVE COMMENTARY: In an exclusive comment for the newsletter, our Executive Director Alina Radu breaks down the upcoming second round of elections in Moldova’s capital city: “The voters will be forced to choose between a pro-Western candidate and a pro-Eastern one, as if that makes a difference for better roads, parks, a cleaner city and more  engaged city dwellers. And while in a state with a normal democratic system and politically educated people the best manager would’ve become the mayor of the capital of Moldova, Chișinău’s electorate is continuously fighting to maintain a European mayor.”
 

MOLDOVA BETWEEN TWO WORLDS: The October 20 local elections in Moldova showed that the ousting of the oligarchic regime in June did not significantly change voter preferences. Despite being recently marred by scandals involving their leaders’ involvement in the Billion Case, the Democratic Party (formerly led by oligarch Vlad Plahotniuc) and the Shor Party obtained easy victories in city halls across the country. The Democratic Party in particular won the biggest number of mayoral posts in the first round. And soon the second round of voting will break the ties in cases where less than a majority voted for one candidate. The main electoral battlefield, the capital city, is currently captured by a traditional for Moldova geopolitical divide, with the ACUM Bloc candidate Andrei Nastase and Socialist Party candidate Ion Ceban preparing for a face-off in the second round by rallying their pro-E.U. and pro-Russian electorates, respectively, writes ZdG’s Politics Editor Petru Grozavu.

THE FOREIGN BRIEF

RUSSIAN LANGUAGE: The Russian Ambassador to Moldova has proposed a legal strengthening of the status of the Russian language in Moldova, including maintaining Russian language instruction schools. Up until 2018, Moldova still had a law on spoken languages from the Soviet period that made Russian the lingua franca among ethnic minorities. The Constitutional Court then declared the law outdated in 2018 and concluded that ethnic minorities can use any language for communication, claiming that making Russian the default language of interethnic communication was discriminatory. According to the 2014 census, around 14.5 percent of Moldova’s population is Russian, while less than 10 percent of the population speak Russian as their first language. 

DOING BUSINESS: Moldova places 48th among 190 countries in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 report, which assesses business regulations around the world. Although the country has fallen four spots in the last two years, Moldova has made improvements to the business climate through reforms related to dealing with construction permits, paying taxes and enforcing contracts that are making it easier to do business. This puts Moldova ahead of countries like Romania and Ukraine, and in the same league as some E.U. countries like Belgium and the Netherlands. Read the World Bank’s full report here

ZDG INVESTIGATES

ZDG ASKS: “The battle for good governance is eternal,” says Minister of Foreign Affairs and European Integration Nicu Popescu, and as a part of the governing ACUM Bloc-Socialist Party coalition that came to power in June 2019 he is continuing to experience this first hand. As Foreign Minister, Popescu has been working with Prime Minister Maia Sandu to re-open communication channels with the European Union and institutions like the International Monetary Fund, as well as restoring their financial support. Now, the West has new hopes for Moldova implementing reforms to the justice system and fighting corruption, but according to Popescu there’s still a long way to meeting E.U. standards. “We, as a country, have missed many chances to become a functioning European state,” the Foreign Minister said. Here’s what else he told ZDG in our exclusive interview

  • On Moldova’s East vs. West foreign policy: “There is a complete consensus [in the governing coalition] in favor of implementing the Association Agreement, normalizing relations with Russia, developing the agreement with NATO, strategic partnerships with Romania and Ukraine. So on all these subjects I do not feel major differences.”
  • On Moldova’s reforms to-do list: “We have good laws, but they are not applied and are not respected… I believe that, in the coming years, the main battle will take place for justice reform.” 
  • On joining the European Union: “[The discussion] about when we can join the E.U. remains theoretical because you cannot go to Brussels and say – we want to join the E.U., but we are in 117th  place in the world in the perception of corruption.”
  • On reintegrating Transnistria: “The Transnistrian region has already chosen to approach Europe because the E.U. market is the biggest that wants to buy what Moldova, including the Transnistrian region, produces. When we make progress towards European integration, I am sure, our fellow citizens from the Transnistrian region will follow us.”

ELECTION COSTS: Despite Moldova adopting new transparency procedures for party funding this summer, donations to the local electoral campaigns were not uncontroversial. The Central Election Committee found that while one party received donations that exceeded the cap, others received generous sums from donors who had no official source of income. Nevertheless, when analyzing the correlation between money invested in electoral campaigns and local halls won, ZDG concludes that despite investing the least, the Democratic Party got the most out of the elections. Meanwhile, the Socialist Party invested the most, but still got less town halls than the Democrats. 

MOLDOVA IN WORLD NEWS

DEMOGRAPHIC DECLINE: “If demography is destiny, the Balkan future is bleak — but it is not unique. From Greece to Poland, almost all Eastern, Central and Southeast European countries are wrestling with the same problems,” writes Tim Judah for Balkan Insight. In this context, Moldova is no exception – with the country’s population reduced to just 3.5 million and over one million Moldovans living abroad, mass emigration has left the country critically depopulated. And access to the European Union, Judah argues, is only making it worse.

SPOTTED THIS WEEK

MOLDOVA’S FORESTS: Moldova’s forests underwent a 532 hectare expansion on the National Day of Greening the Homeland, October 26. Members of the Government, political parties and non-governmental organizations came together to mark the occasion and planted trees. At just 11 percent, Moldova’s territory has the lowest amount of forest coverage in the region – but according to Prime Minister Maia Sandu, who also helped with the tree planting, the country is hoping to reach at least 16 percent forest coverage by 2030. 

ENVIRONMENTAL INITIATIVE: The British Government has started a new project aimed at reducing and preventing environmental and health risks caused by the continued use of obsolete pesticides in Moldova. At the launch event on October 25, the British Ambassador to Moldova, Steven Fisher, explained that the goal of the project is to strengthen the dialogue between Moldova and the breakaway region of Transnistria through this joint initiative.

Thank you for your continued interest!  To keep up with our Moldova coverage throughout the week, you can like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter@ZiarulDe or check in at zdg.md/eng for our latest stories in English. More subscription options coming soon. Until next time!

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