“Not our MAN”: Why PAS Did Not Appreciate Pro-European Choice of Ion Ceban

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Christian RUSSU
Being unable to win in the political struggle with Ion Ceban, PAS apparently decided to eliminate the unwelcome mayor of the capital using familiar methods and involving government and law enforcement agencies. Full support of the pro-European vector by the former socialist was not enough for the authorities.
The fact that Maia Sandu’s party cannot gain control over the Chisinau municipal council became clear back in autumn, when Ion Ceban held out in a public battle with one of the PAS leaders Andrei Spinu. Then the general mayor withstood the sharp blows of the former deputy prime minister, who was trying to claim mantle of the capital head, and could prides himself on a small victory over the ruling regime after the Spinu’s de facto exile to the President Office. This year, the mayor managed to wiggle out of the Apa-Canal crisis imposed on him, and showed attention to the high-profile accident with Marcela Paladi. The strengthening of Ion Cheban’s political positions, the creation of the MAN pro-European party, which has reached potential “passing score” in the next parliamentary elections in just a few months and claimed to participate in the presidential elections, could not help but worry the authorities. However, it was not possible to resist the bird from the nest of socialists, “fledged” in the mayor’s office. Natalia Gavrilita’s plans for the position of the head of Chisinau failed, but the PAS found no other candidate to be able of competing with the MAN leader. Meanwhile, the situation for the authorities worsened after Ion Ceban, in response to the initiative of Maia Sandu to convene the National Assembly named the “European Moldova”, proposed to sign the “Chisinau Pact” on the European integration consensus between the country’s political forces (the Romanian 1995 Snagi Declaration was taken as an example). In fact, he echoed the demands of the right-wing opposition to the PAS to demonopolize the European integration agenda. The faceless attempts of the party in power to stigmatize Ion Ceban as an agent of Russian influence seemed to only provoke him, and he continued active public activities. Moreover, he announced the full organizational and logistical support of the meeting on May 21 from the mayor’s office and his party. By the way, such assistance to the authors of this action turned out to be very useful, given the complete confusion with technical issues, responsible persons and other important points. From bad to worse. Wisely Ion Ceban attended also to the fate of the European Political Community Summit to be held in June, and he acted with an alacrity (sometimes gibbetted). Thus, the capital mayor’s office paid free travel tickets for members of delegations, prepared transport to provide logistics, designing streets and squares with banners and flags. Ion Ceban even had the opportunity to confirm his support for “pro-European” events at a face-to-face meeting in the President Office with members of the Administrative Council of the Moldovan Local Authorities Congress. However, according to its results, the mayor made it clear that his openness and zeal were not appreciated, and they were waiting for more, pushing the mayor to violate the law. Direct accusations were made against the pro-Europeans from the president’s entourage and her personally in involvement in the theft of a billion and the scandalous concession of the airport. The next day, the security forces in response got under the skin of the mayor, almost disrupting the city social forum in Chisinau with searches in the mayor’s office and the detention of the head of the Health Department, Boris Gilca, one of the event’s speakers. He was charged with stealing external aid intended for refugees, and photographs with boxes of food, household chemicals, hygiene products and household appliances were presented as evidence. The PAS, in fact, admitted that the actions of the security forces on the forum day had political motives (although they looked more like petty dirty tricks), expressing in a regular press release dissatisfaction with the fact that the mayor’s office spends 3.5 million lei on the political PR of Ion Ceban. Moreover, this example of using law enforcement agencies against the current general mayor is not the first. Every time when Ion Ceban does things that, according to PAS, are not characteristic of the mayor, the controlled authorities are involved. It was after the proposal of the MAN leader to sign the Chisinau Pact for European integration. A few days later, the National Anti-Corruption Authority announced that it had found violations in Ceban’s 2017-2019 tax declarations and demanded his deprival of the right to hold public office for three years. Until recently, the sporadic power pressure on the capital’s mayor evidenced that the ruling party has not made a final decision on how best to gain control of the capital and topple its uncomfortable head. And they reacted only to Ceban’s political maneuvers. However, taking into account the upcoming national and international events in Chisinau, the authorities are faced with a difficult choice: either to achieve full cooperation from the city authorities and the political silence of the mayor using threats, or to remove him, trying to independently administer the upcoming forums. In the latter case, the issue of political control over the capital can finally be solved for PAS and an inconvenient politically right competitor can be put aside. It can be assumed that European partners will also help the authorities in this matter, if, for example, they include the MAN leader in the list of persons involved in the destabilizing actions in the Republic of Moldova and subject to sanctions in accordance with a recent decision of the EU Council.