Expert: It’s Time for Maia Sandu and PAS to Stop a Race Through a Minefield

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Sergiu CEBAN
Recent weeks were marked by a chain of major scandals that have painfully affected both the ruling regime as a whole and Maia Sandu personally
The authorities continue active preparations for the electoral autumn: during a snap session of the parliament, the amendments to the Electoral Code drafted by Maia Sandu’s office were voted on. In particular, the head of state proposed to the elected officials to hold the referendum on accession to the European Union on the same day as the presidential election, as well as an amendment to postpone the deadline for setting the date of elections from 90 to 60 days. Joint actions of the presidency and parliament show that the ruling regime has a clear plan to ensure the most favorable conditions for holding the vote. Despite the criticism of the opposition and reputable public organizations, the authorities are adamantly pursuing their cherished goals without regard for anyone’s objections, and at the same time solving tactical problems the way they can. In addition, the election campaign of the incumbent president seems to have been launched. Yesterday, Maia Sandu took part in a solemn event dedicated to the completion of works on roads in three settlements in the north of the country. It is hard to imagine what infrastructure rehabilitation has to do with the office of president, except for electoral benefits. Meanwhile, the unofficial start of the election campaign is unfolding amidst several major scandals that have painfully affected the government, the parliament and Maia Sandu personally. It is too early to draw conclusions about how seriously the events of January will affect the ratings of the entire regime. But it is obvious that we are talking about such a large concentration of negative moods that there is no need to talk about the probability of increasing Sandu’s electoral potential. On the contrary, the cumulative effect of these high-profile events may lead to irreversible consequences and gradual loss of the leading position of the incumbent president and her party. Another award to Maia Sandu, this time Timisoara for European Values, which was presented by the mayor of this Romanian city, did not bode anything bad, but, in fact, turned out to be one of the strongest reputational blows to the institution of the Moldovan presidency and Sandu personally. An unremarkable award from a group of Romanian businessmen provided a bonus of 30,000 euros, which the head of state accepted as if nothing had happened, without even bothering about the national legislation’s opinion on that. For this nonsense, which looks like blatant bribery of the state’s leader, Sandu came under criticism not only in Moldova and her own party, but also in Romania, where local politicians, experts and journalists were exercising sarcastic assessments and definitions of events in Timisoara. Having realized the scale of the blunder, the president’s advisers decided to fix the problem by asking the National Anticorruption Centre to clarify whether the president could accept such a generous cash gift. Such a foolish decision, of course, only fueled the fire and made Sandu look like a greedy politician who does not want to lose a cheque from Romanian businessmen until the last moment. Although, it would be wise to donate these funds to a social institution or an orphanage. No matter how this story develops further, credibility in Maia Sandu has suffered a lot. She should learn one important lesson from what happened – the political nerve of the Moldovan electorate is so strained that under the current circumstances any move of the president is put literally under a microscope. Therefore, it is crucial to change the political lifestyle: it will no longer be possible to travel around the world carelessly collecting awards and bonuses as before. Another nuisance, which could well have been avoided in a difficult pre-election year, was the desire of the government and parliament to reactivate the Transnistrian issue by partially introducing customs and fiscal requirements for left-bank economic agents. The intention to get a few additional millions of dollars to compensate the budget expenditures for social services to the inhabitants of the Transnistrian region, as Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Serebrian said at his press conference, may end up with serious political costs for the whole government. Two weeks after Tiraspol decided to retaliate against Chisinau, the crisis began to take on new forms and content. As a result, the scandal is gradually evolving at the internal political level, since the issue of the Ukrainian agricultural products’ transit, which has been actively pedaled by our agrarians since the beginning of the year, has been joined by demands to find sources to cover the damage faced by agricultural producers cultivating land on the left bank of the Dniester. Considering that last year the authorities only partially allocated funds to pay compensation to farmers, Serebrian’s bold statements that the Cabinet will provide all necessary support may end up turning into another political problem. The intelligence scandal that broke out over the weekend, which could cause significant damage to Moldovan-Ukrainian relations, also appears to be the result of a complete confusion in the backstage of our bureaucratic machine, despite the absolute concentration of this very power in the hands of one political force. The documents presented to the public show that the Security and Intelligence Service of Moldova conducted secret surveillance of Ukrainian diplomats, initiating it on the eve of the European Political Community Summit in June. The operation started with a letter from the director of the Moldovan state security service to the acting prosecutor general requesting that a criminal case of espionage be opened as part of efforts to prevent the disruption of the summit. However, the surveillance of the Ukrainian diplomats and their family members continues to this day, coordinated by a high-ranking SIS officer. It’s quite possible that exactly these recent events itself have spurred centrifugal processes in PAS. The most high-profile event was the resignation of MP Olesea Stamate as head of the Parliamentary Commission for Legal Affairs, Appointments and Immunity, which was preceded by her criticism of both Prime Minister Dorin Recean and Maia Sandu herself over the notorious Timisoara Prize. Stamate is known as one of the president’s closest associates, having headed the Ministry of Justice during her premiership. In addition to openly criticizing the leadership, in her “farewell” message Stamate declared her belief that Moldova should have an objective, professional judicial system that acts in the interests of the citizen and protects the law. In this way, the MP indirectly confirmed that the government’s record in justice is, to put it mildly, disastrous, and she does not intend to be held responsible for this. At the same time, MP Galina Sajin left the faction of the ruling party, motivated by personal reasons. However, the next two applicants on the PAS list (a school teacher and a village head) for the vacant seat refused such a “gift of luck”, apparently believing that they were not worthy of being part of the “successful” pro-European team. All these negative factors combined is undoubtedly a bad sign for the ruling regime, which needs to come out of the New Year holidays and stop running through a minefield in order not to lose even its loyal voters and not to plunge the country into collapse. Nevertheless, the last weeks will obviously influence the authorities, and their most important outcome was the total desacralization of Maia Sandu’s political image. It’s safe to say that from now on she is no longer trusted even by her own associates, for she also appeared to have usual human vices and lust for money. With the only exception – she is ready to accept them in an atmosphere of solemnity rather than in a bag like her predecessor.