Moldova

Transitional or Hybrid Regime
35
100
DEMOCRACY-PERCENTAGE Democracy Percentage 35.12 100
DEMOCRACY-SCORE Democracy Score 3.11 7
Last Year's Democracy Percentage & Status
35 100 Transitional or Hybrid Regime
The ratings are based on a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 representing the highest level of democratic progress and 1 the lowest. The Democracy Score is an average of ratings for the categories tracked in a given year. The Democracy Percentage, introduced in 2020, is a translation of the Democracy Score to the 0-100 scale, where 0 equals least democratic and 100 equals most democratic.

header1 Executive Summary

By Victor Gotișan

The political turmoil that began with the February 2019 parliamentary elections continued in 2020. During the year, the oligarch Vladimir Plahotniuc and his Democratic Party of Moldova (PDM), which had long controlled politics in the country until the formation of a new government after the 2019 balloting, were gradually replaced by President Igor Dodon and the Party of Socialists of the Republic of Moldova (PSRM). However, Dodon was defeated by pro–European Union (EU) opposition candidate Maia Sandu in the November presidential election. Sandu’s three key priorities—bringing the country out of international isolation, justice reform and clear actions to fight corruption, and overcoming the coronavirus crisis—were expected to produce an impact both internally and externally.

The COVID-19 pandemic presented the country with a serious challenge. It was immediately clear that Moldova was poorly equipped to deal with the spread of the virus. The PSRM-led government of Prime Minister Ion Chicu was erratic and reactive in its policymaking, and most of its decisions regarding the pandemic were politically driven. Inefficient management of the health crisis worsened the economic situation, which led to an even bigger gap in development compared with other countries in the region and weakened the population’s trust in the state. There was a sharp cutback in remittances from abroad,1 gross domestic product was projected to shrink significantly,2 and a sharp rise in the unemployment rate was also expected.3

Political processes at the national level were dominated by the PSRM and its informal leader, President Dodon. The latter tried to consolidate power in his hands, but by end of the year, he had failed to recreate a Plahotniuc-style power vertical, as demonstrated by his loss in the presidential election. The year featured two governing coalitions: an open one formed in March between the PSRM and the PDM, which fell apart in November on the eve of the second round of the presidential election, and an undeclared one comprising the PSRM, the Shor Party, and Shor Party allies in the Pentru Moldova group, which voted at the end of the year to adopt several controversial laws, including the repeal of an antipropaganda law, a measure granting special status to the Russian language, and a transfer of control over the Security and Intelligence Service (SIS) from the presidency to Parliament. The year ended with the resignation of the Chicu government. Political camp-switching continued, and the migration of lawmakers among different factions changed the composition of Parliament, including through the appearance of new parties like Pro Moldova. The opposition, mainly Sandu’s Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS) and the Dignity and Truth Platform Party (PPDA), was active in supporting democratic initiatives; their main achievement was a successful legal challenge to a proposed €200 million ($225 million) loan from Russia, which they argued was a vehicle for Russian influence.

The main factors behind Sandu’s second-round victory over Dodon in the November presidential election included rhetorical attacks launched by the incumbent president against the diaspora and corruption cases in which he was implicated, even as Sandu focused on anticorruption initiatives and an end to Moldova’s international isolation. National and international monitoring missions found the elections to be largely free and fair, and that the electoral process was effectively managed.

Civil society activism was overshadowed during the year by an alarming level of intimidation and other pressure from official institutions, some PSRM lawmakers, and media outlets controlled by the PSRM. In October, PSRM member of Parliament (MP) Bogdat Țîrdea published a book in which he accused civil society organizations of being “foreign agents who captured the state.” This allegation was then disseminated via news programs and documentaries made by PSRM-affiliated media outlets. According to Țîrdea, the civil society sector was to be blame for the “catastrophic situation in the country” and for promoting the interests of other countries and individuals, including the US-based philanthropist George Soros.

The situation in the media sector continued to worsen. Although Moldova’s media are diverse, the sector remains extremely polarized and characterized by chronic politicization and the excessive influence of oligarchs. The media dominance exercised by the PDM until the February 2019 elections was taken over by the PSRM in 2020. Due to COVID-19, advertising revenues dropped dramatically, affecting the financial sustainability of the media. At the same time, authorities used the crisis to adopt decisions that hampered freedom of expression and limited access to information for journalists. Regulatory bodies – such as the Audiovisual Council – were still subject to political influence and were used by the PSRM-led government as a tool to intimidate independent outlets including TV8, Pro TV Chișinău, Ziarul de Gardă, and Rise.md.

Elected officials at the local level, especially those belonging to parties other than the PSRM and the PDM, also faced intimidation and legal harassment during the year. Plans to reorganize and reform the country’s local administrative units, which has been declared a priority by each government since 2016, were simply put on hold. In response to the economic effects of the pandemic, local governments were forced to adjust their budgets on the fly and reduce expenses. Moreover, in October the government introduced a proposal to cap local taxes. Local governments characterized the initiative as an assault on their functions and autonomy.

Attempts at reform of the justice system stagnated in 2020. National and international organizations, as well as experts in the field, have argued that while Moldova has a good legal framework, the key problems are political control over justice and a lack of genuine will to implement reforms.4 The integrity of judicial appointees continued to be a concern. President Dodon and the PSRM advanced controversial candidates for positions on the Superior Council of Magistrates (CSM) and the Chișinău Court of Appeal, and sought to reinstate people with dubious reputations in senior managerial positions at the Constitutional Court.

The anticorruption measures initiated by the former government headed by then prime minister Sandu between June and November 2019 slowed down under the Chicu government, which succeeded it. No successes were registered in combating either large-scale or petty corruption during 2020, and investigations into high-profile corruption cases—including the 2014 theft of some $1 billion from Moldovan banks, political corruption among MPs, and illegal funding of the PSRM from abroad—made little progress. However, individuals previously involved in major corruption cases were either released from prison or freed from further investigation under premature or suspicious circumstances; these included judges in charge of the so-called Russian Laundromat case, the controversial businessman Veaceslav Platon, and Shor Party MPs Marina Tauber and Reghina Apostolova.

In terms of foreign policy, President Dodon continued to focus almost exclusively on strengthening ties with Russia. During his four-year term, he did not make any official visits to neighboring Romania or Ukraine, but visited the Russian Federation more than 35 times. He and the PSRM continued to verbally attack Romania and the EU in 2020, and heavily promoted the COVID-19 support provided by Russia, Turkey, and China, even though it was considerably less substantial than the aid Moldova received from the EU, Romania, and the United States.

Sandu’s victory in the presidential election raised the prospect of a reset in Moldova’s domestic politics and a change in the country’s external orientation toward Romania, Ukraine, and the EU in 2021. No new governing coalition had emerged in Parliament by the end of 2020, meaning snap parliamentary elections were a possibility in the new year. At the same time, the economic and societal effects of COVID-19 were likely to accumulate further, driving Moldova toward a broader crisis.

  • 1. Unimedia.info, Expert economic: Dacă anumite magazine înregistrează o creștere a vânzărilor, alte sectoare se află în criză profundă cu riscuri de faliment [Economic expert: If some stores see an increase in sales, other sectors are in deep crisis with risks of bankruptcy], 5 May 2020, available in Romanian at https://unimedia.info/ro/news/aba7c4898e1d3852/expert-economic-daca-anu….
  • 2. Mold-street.com, Economia Moldovei va avea pierderi de 20,8 miliarde lei ca urmane a coronacrizei [Moldova's economy will have losses of 20.8 billion lei as a result of the coronavirus crisis], 4 May 2020, available in Romanian at https://www.mold-street.com/?go=news&n=10446.
  • 3. Mold-street.com, Economiștii comentează șansele limitate ale întreprinderilor mici pentru a depăsi pandemia [Economists comment on the limited chances of small businesses to overcome the pandemic], 30 April 2020, available in Russian at https://www.mold-street.com/?go=news&n=10429.
  • 4. Legal Resources Centre from Moldova, Nicio reformă a justiției nu va funcționa fără voință politică – concluzia participanților la Forumul „Reformarea justiției și combaterea corupției” [No reform of the judiciary will work without political will - the conclusion of the participants in the Forum ‘Reforming the judiciary and fighting corruption’], 26 September 2020, available at https://crjm.org/nicio-reforma-a-justitiei-nu-va-functiona-fara-vointa-….
National Democratic Governance 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Considers the democratic character of the governmental system; and the independence, effectiveness, and accountability of the legislative and executive branches. 2.503 7.007
  • The first quarter of the year was marked by the creation of a new governing coalition between the PSRM and PDM on March 16,1 the day before a state of emergency was declared in response to COVID-19.2 In early November, on the eve of the second round of the presidential election, the coalition fell apart, and PDM ministers were replaced with nominees proposed by the PSRM and President Dodon.3 In December, the Chicu government formally resigned,4 and the PSRM established an “undeclared coalition” with the Shor Party and its allies in the Pentru Moldova Platform. As incoming president Maia Sandu prepared to take office, this de facto parliamentary majority rapidly adopted a number of laws that risked damaging the country’s public finances, the stability of its social security system, its anticorruption institutions, and the media sector.5
  • For much of the 2020, President Dodon worked to increase his power over Parliament, the government, the media, and the justice system. However, as demonstrated by his defeat in the presidential election, he ultimately failed to recreate the sort of dominance that was long exercised by wealthy businessman and former PDM leader Vladimir Plahotniuc, who had left the country after the PDM was excluded from the government formed in June 2019.
  • Political camp-switching once again proved a major factor in Moldovan politics, and the PDM suffered the most. Following the elections in February 2019, the PDM held 30 seats in Parliament, but by the end of 2020 the party was left with only 11 MPs.6 Fourteen lawmakers who had left between February and August joined the new party Pro Moldova,7 founded by Andrian Candu, a close associate of Plahotniuc. Another three joined the Shor Party, and two were expelled from the PDM. After the presidential election, six MPs from Pro Moldova left the party and created Pentru Moldova Platform along with the eight Shor Party MPs.8 The PSRM remained the largest caucus with 37 MPs, after winning one more seat in a by-election held in March 2020.9
  • The government led by Ion Chicu mainly acted under the direction of President Dodon, who tried to use it to boost his presidential election campaign in November. The government proved reluctant to adopt strong measures to mitigate the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and those it did undertake were, according to one expert, “late and conveyed in conflicting messages that produced confusion and indecision” in terms of implementation.10
  • The opposition, led by the PAS and PPDA, initially showed openness and willingness to assist the government in addressing the pandemic, but after their proposals were rejected by the president and Prime Minister Chicu, opposition parties became extremely critical. One of the main achievements of the opposition during the year was a successful legal challenge that blocked a €200 million ($225 million) Russian loan agreement.11 Critics of the deal characterized it as a Trojan horse for Russian influence, citing opaque provisions that benefited Russian companies, among other concerns.12
  • The raft of laws adopted by the PSRM and its de facto coalition partners ahead of Sandu’s inauguration in December included the repeal of a 2018 law that restricted the broadcast of Russian-made news content, a measure that elevated the official status of the Russian language, and legislation that shifted control over the SIS from the presidency to the Parliament. The controversial package of laws was denounced as an attempt to sabotage Sandu’s presidency.13
Electoral Process 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Examines national executive and legislative elections, the electoral framework, the functioning of multiparty systems, and popular participation in the political process. 4.004 7.007
  • A by-election for a parliamentary constituency in Hîncești took place on March 15. The seat had been vacated by PDM lawmaker Alexandru Botnari, who resigned to serve as mayor of Hîncești.1 Of the eight candidates who initially announced their participation in the election, five were registered, two withdrew, and one—the Shor Party’s candidate—was eliminated by Central Electoral Commission (CEC) based on allegations of vote buying.2 Voter turnout was 23.3 percent. PSRM representative Ștefan Gațcan won the balloting with 39.45 percent, increasing the PSRM parliamentary faction to 37 seats.3
  • The presidential election was held in two rounds in November. Turnout for the first round was 42.76 percent, exceeding the validation threshold of one-third of registered voters. None of the eight registered candidates accumulated more than 50 percent of the votes cast, triggering the second round.4
  • According to the CEC,5 incumbent Igor Dodon, backed by the PSRM and the Russian government, won only 32.6 percent of the first-round vote, while pro-EU candidate Maia Sandu, leader of the PAS, led with 36.1 percent.6 Renato Usatii, the controversial populist leader of Our Party (Partidul Nostru), finished third with almost 17 percent.7 The other five candidates garnered less than 7 percent each.8
  • Turnout for the second round was 52.78 percent. Sandu won with 57.75 percent of the vote,9 and Dodon trailed with 42.25 percent. Sandu became the first woman to win election as Moldova’s president.10 She led among both domestic voters (52.6 percent to 47.4 percent) and those casting votes abroad (93 percent to 7 percent).
  • Monitoring organizations, among them the European Network of Election Monitoring Organizations (ENEMO) and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR),11 declared that the presidential election was competitive and was largely carried out according to the legal framework.12 The candidates were able to engage in campaign activities despite restrictions imposed due to COVID-19, and voters were provided with a wide range of options. The atmosphere on the days of the first and second rounds of voting was in general calm. However, there were accusations of improper influence of voters, first of all at the polling stations set up for those with a residency in the Transnistrian region. While some procedural irregularities were observed during the elections, they did not affect the legitimacy of the process overall.
  • The biggest impact on the results came from the diaspora, which showed very high mobilization and turnout rates following a series of rhetorical attacks by Dodon, who called the diaspora a “parallel electorate.” The votes of the diaspora practically decided Sandu’s victory in both rounds.13 Over 150,000 expatriate voters—some 12 percent of the total turnout—voted in the first round, and over 260,000 participated in the second round, accounting for about 16 percent of the total. This exceeded the record registered previously in the second round of the 2016 presidential election, in which some 140,000 voters from abroad participated.14 In both rounds in 2020, roughly 90 percent of diaspora votes went to Sandu.
  • Corruption allegations against Dodon were another major factor contributing to Sandu’s win. A video from June 2019 showing discussions between Dodon and Plahotniuc, in which the latter gives the former a plastic bag that allegedly contained money, circulated widely online and became the source of multiple jokes. “Kuliok” (plastic bag) was applied to Dodon as a sort of nickname, damaging his political image.15 He was also thought to have hurt his chances by using divisive rhetoric against Sandu.
  • The presidential election campaign featured harsh verbal attacks by the PSRM and Dodon against the civil society sector and the independent media, in addition to the diaspora. Meanwhile, monitoring reports found that that many television stations, such as Primul în Moldova, NTV Moldova, and Accent TV, overwhelmingly favored Dodon and disfavored Sandu in their coverage.16
Civil Society 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Assesses the organizational capacity and financial sustainability of the civic sector; the legal and political environment in which it operates; the functioning of trade unions; interest group participation in the policy process; and the threat posed by antidemocratic extremist groups. 4.755 7.007
  • More than 700 new civil society organizations were founded in 2020, increasing the country’s official total to 14,173.1 Compared with 2019, regional and local CSOs became more vibrant and active, engaging directly in local governing and monitoring processes. For example, they were vocal in drawing attention to controversial nominees for key positions at state institutions like the CSM, the Chișinău Court of Appeal, and the Audiovisual Council.2 The main factor behind this change was the support directed to the sector by donors and international organizations such as the EU, USAID, Sweden.3
  • In June, after more than two years of deliberation, Parliament finally adopted a new law on noncommercial organizations (NCOs).4 CSOs had lobbied for the legislation, publishing at least three appeals and requests during the first five months of the year.5 External pressure played a role as well, as the adoption of this law was one of the mandatory reforms that would unblock €30 million ($34 million) in EU financial assistance for the country.6 Even so, PSRM representatives created confusion about the measure on the eve of its consideration by Parliament. They introduced without consultation, and later withdrew, a series of amendments to the law, and promoted false narratives via allied media outlets according to which the legislation would supposedly allow foreign funders to interfere with domestic politics and support certain parties.7
  • The new law considerably improved the legal framework for NCOs and included the best practices and standards with regard to freedom of association that were recommended by the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission and the OSCE/ODIHR.8 According to the new provisions, the deadline for the Public Services Agency to make a decision on registration of an NCO is reduced from 30 to 15 days, and the NCO acquires the status of legal entity at the time of registration.9
  • Rhetorical attacks against the CSO sector from some political parties and from the government continued during the year, reaching the highest level in a decade. Intimidation campaigns against CSOs grew especially intense ahead of important events, such as the passage of the new law on NCOs in June and the presidential election.10 The organizations most often targeted by these attacks were Soros Foundation Moldova, Promo-LEX, Legal Resources Centre from Moldova (CRJM), the Independent Journalism Centre (CJI), and the Association of Independent Press (API). The intimidation came mostly from PSRM representatives, such as Grigore Novac and Bogdat Ţîrdea.11 The latter, shortly before the presidential election in November, published a book in which he accused CSOs of being “foreign agents” that sought to capture the state. The claims were then disseminated via PSRM-controlled media outlets, which blamed the civil society sector for the country’s problems and for promoting the interests of other countries and individuals, such as George Soros.12
  • A 2016 law that granted citizens the right to redirect 2 percent of their income tax to CSOs and religious organizations remained an important source of funding for the sector. But according to the State Tax Service, the number of people using the mechanism and the amount redirected were both lower in 2020 than in 2019.13
Independent Media 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Examines the current state of press freedom, including libel laws, harassment of journalists, and editorial independence; the operation of a financially viable and independent private press; and the functioning of the public media. 3.003 7.007
  • Politicized appointments to media regulatory institutions continued in 2020. In July, the governing PSRM-PDM coalition in Parliament confirmed the appointments of three new members to the Audiovisual Council.1 The opposition accused the governing coalition of engaging in a purely political recruitment process; one of those chosen, Ala Ursu-Antoci, was a PSRM member and a journalist at Accent TV, the media outlet owned by PSRM MP Corneliu Furculiță.2 In December, following the resignation of Dragos Vicol, Ursu-Antoci was elected as the new president of the Audiovisual Council.
  • The public broadcaster Teleradio-Moldova (TRM) continued to cover news events from the government’s perspective. The monitoring reports of the CJI have shown that the public television station Moldova 1 is still under political influence, openly favoring the PSRM and President Dodon in its newscasts.3
  • The authorities adopted several controversial decisions during the year that hampered the work of journalists. In March the Commission for Emergency Situations (CES) decreed that the deadline for responding to requests for information of public interest under a state of emergency was being extended from 15 business days to 45 business days, or 63 calendar days in practice.4 Also that month, the Audiovisual Council adopted a decision under which journalists were required during the state of emergency to refrain from airing independent opinions on the COVID-19 pandemic and instead rely on the “competent public authorities” as the “only reliable, truthful, impartial, and balanced sources” on the topic.5 The media community heavily criticized the provision, calling it an abusive act of censorship that limited freedom of expression. Two days later, under public pressure,6 the Audiovisual Council canceled its own decision.7
  • Also during the state of emergency, which lasted from March through the beginning of May, the government avoided questioning from journalists, with press conferences replaced by online briefings to which journalists were denied access.8 In early May, the government started to organize online conferences where journalists were able to ask questions. However, in September the government “temporarily” suspended press conferences again, and at year’s end they had not resumed.
  • Cases of intimidation and harassment of journalists and whistleblowers grew more intense during the year.9 Several verbal attacks were directed against independent media outlets like Ziarul de Gardă, Pro TV Chișinău, and TV8 by President Dodon, Prime Minister Chicu, and his former adviser Vitalie Dragancea.10 In September, the PSRM sued Pro TV Chișinău and journalist Lorena Bogza for defamation, citing Bogza’s discussion of an investigative report published by Rise.md regarding an offshore bank transaction that implicated PSRM members and a media company owned by Furculiță.11 Pro TV Chișinău and press freedom organizations denounced the lawsuit as an attempt to intimidate the press on the eve of the election campaign.12 Separately, in May, Dodon sued Ziarul de Gardă over reporting that detailed his “luxurious vacations” and raised concerns about undeclared wealth and assets.13
  • The dissemination of disinformation, false conspiracy theories, and fake news, especially related to the pandemic,14 reached new levels.15 A report published by the Romanian Centre for European Policies (CRPE) in July showed that Moldova was one of the European countries most affected by external disinformation campaigns, specifically from Russia, whose content is taken up and promoted by pro-Russian media outlets, politicians, and representatives of the Orthodox Church within Moldova.16 The final months of the year, before and after the presidential election, were rife with disinformation, information manipulation, and smear campaigns, primarily orchestrated via PSRM-affiliated media.17 However, Moldovans demonstrated significant societal resilience in the face of disinformation, with a majority of voters electing Sandu as president despite the countervailing false narratives and propaganda.
  • In December, the undeclared coalition of the PSRM, the Shor Party, and its allies in the Pentru Moldova parliamentary group repealed a law that had restricted local broadcasts of news and information content produced in the Russian Federation. Media researchers who opposed the change argued that the return of Russian broadcasts would pose a substantial risk to information security and to local media that produce their own content.18
Local Democratic Governance 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Considers the decentralization of power; the responsibilities, election, and capacity of local governmental bodies; and the transparency and accountability of local authorities. 2.503 7.007
  • Local governments faced the combined challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and political pressure from the central government during 2020. Among other problems, they had to bear huge financial expenditures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus that were not covered by the state budget.
  • In October, the Ministry of Finance proposed a law aimed at capping local taxes.1 The initiative was advanced without consulting mayors and other representatives of local public administrations.2 Under the draft law, the maximum amount of local taxes would be set based on an analysis of current revenues collected by local authorities. Critics warned that it would lead to the politicization of funding, and that the elimination of certain local taxes would have a negative impact on local budgets.3 Many mayors declared that the proposal was motivated by the central government’s desire to dominate the local authorities and put an end to their remaining autonomy.4
  • Cases of intimidation and legal harassment targeting local officials continued to be reported, with most directed against individuals who did not belong the ruling parties or had publicly criticized some government action or policy.5 For instance, in October, a court in Comrat ordered that Vulcănești mayor Victor Petrioglu, a harsh critic of the PSRM and President Dodon,6 be removed from his post for a period of 10 months. He was accused of abusing his office in connection with two public tenders for paving a sidewalk.7 The Congress of Local Authorities of Moldova (CALM) condemned the case as a clear attempt to intimidate local officials.
  • In September, the CEC organized elections for mayoralties in the commune of Tîrnova, Dondușeni District, and in the village of Nucăreni, Telenești District. These two mayoral positions became vacant following the resignation of the incumbents, who were elected as presidents of their respective districts.8 Three candidates in each locality were registered for the elections.9 PSRM representative Victor Bodorin was elected as mayor of Tîrnova, and the winner in Nucăreni village was Serghei Rusu, the PDM representative.10 In November, snap local elections were held in four other localities; the Shor Party, PSRM, PDM, and PAS each won a mayoral mandate.11
  • While a succession of different governments have expressed support for a reorganization of Moldova’s administrative units, no such reforms made progress in 2020. Unlike in previous years, when at least debates and public events were organized to discuss the topic, the government ignored it completely.12
Judicial Framework and Independence 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Assesses constitutional and human rights protections, judicial independence, the status of ethnic minority rights, guarantees of equality before the law, treatment of suspects and prisoners, and compliance with judicial decisions. 2.753 7.007
  • In October, the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) published a report on preventing corruption among lawmakers, judges, and prosecutors.1 According to its conclusions, Moldova had implemented satisfactorily only four out of 18 recommendations originally made in 2016. The biggest concerns were “the integrity requirements and testing of candidate judges for appointments and promotions,” which remained unregulated. The report also found a lack of transparency regarding judicial activity, judgments, and decisions.2
  • Appointments of controversial judges to key positions based on political criteria continued in 2020. In July, the CSM elected Vladislav Clima as president of the Chișinău Court of Appeal. President Dodon signed a decree confirming the appointment without announcing it publicly.3 Opposition leaders and experts criticized the move as part of a pattern of appointments of corrupt persons to key judicial posts.4 The media described Clima’s wealth and properties,5 as well as his contentious decisions in politically fraught cases. For example, in 2018, Clima upheld a decision to cancel the mayoral election in Chișinău after Sandu ally Andrei Năstase emerged as the winner.6
  • Also during the year, well-regarded judge Viorica Puică, nominated by the CSM for the position of magistrate at the Supreme Court of Justice, was rejected by the PSRM-PDM coalition in Parliament, which voted against her without explanation. The opposition and members of the legal community characterized the vote as an attempt to sideline a jurist who had maintained her integrity and denounced lack of impartiality in the justice system.7 In 2007 Puică had been designated as the best judge in Moldova, and in 2017 she criticized President Dodon for withdrawing the Moldovan citizenship of former Romanian president Traian Băsescu.8
  • In April, the Constitutional Court voted to dismiss Vladimir Ţurcan as its chair, and Domnica Manole was appointed to replace him.9 The change occurred after a phone conversation in which Ţurcan informed Dodon about four members of the CC who voted for the suspension of a law backed by the government.10 This conversation was seen as a violation of the court’s independence. Ţurcan contested his dismissal,11 while the PSRM submitted several requests to the CSM demanding the removal of three judges who voted for his ouster.12 The CSM rejected the PSRM’s requests, stating that the matter was not within its purview.13 The episode suggested that Dodon and the PSRM were attempting to regain control over the Constitutional Court.14
  • In February, Parliament announced a competition for the selection of CSM candidates. A total of 18 applications were received, and 17 were admitted to the final stage.15 In March, the PSRM-PDM coalition chose four new members of the CSM, with the opposition rejecting the competition as a mockery.16 In May, the alternate magistrate Anatol Pahopol was appointed as a CSM judge and immediately became interim chair due to his seniority, in keeping with a law recently adopted by the PSRM-PDM coalition.17 Observers noted that greater influence at the CSM could give the political leadership more control over judicial appointments more broadly.18 At the end of September, however, Pahopol resigned as CSM interim chair amid a legal challenge against the legislation that elevated him to that position.19
Corruption 1.00-7.00 pts0-7 pts
Looks at public perceptions of corruption, the business interests of top policymakers, laws on financial disclosure and conflict of interest, and the efficacy of anticorruption initiatives. 2.252 7.007
  • In January, the government approved regulations for implementing a 2018 law on whistleblowers. However, there was no clear deadline for implementation, nor were other related laws, such as the Ombudsman Law, revised.1 In May Parliament approved legislation that transposed the provisions of EU directives on the prevention of money laundering and the application of sanctions.2
  • The media reported on cases of alleged bribery among MPs during the year, but there were no further official investigations.3 In June, Parliament unanimously voted to condemn party switching, though the declaration had only symbolic value.4
  • Investigations into several cases of grand corruption remained stalled. There were no concrete decisions in the so-called Bahamas case,5 which was initiated in November 2019 based on suspicion of illegal funding of the PSRM from abroad. The General Prosecutor’s Office limited itself to questioning a number of people, including three PSRM MPs, and submitting requests for information to the State Tax Service and the National Integrity Authority (ANI).6 Separately, the General Prosecutor’s Office decided not to investigate the “plastic bag affair”—the widely circulated video from June 2019 in which President Dodon was shown receiving what was suspected to be a bag of money from former PDM leader Vladimir Plahotniuc. According to General Prosecutor Alexandru Stoianoglo, the video was illegally recorded and could not be used as evidence.7 Finally, there was no progress in the case of the “billion-dollar theft,” the 2014 scandal in which a criminal group tied to oligarch and Shor Party leader Ilan Shor borrowed and then neglected to repay almost $1 billion in loans from three Moldovan banks. Court hearings in the criminal case against Ilan Shor were postponed several times during the year.
  • Some officials who were previously implicated in major corruption cases were released from prison, or investigations against them were dropped.8 Veaceslav Platon, sentenced in 2017 to 18 years’ imprisonment for embezzling funds from the Banca de Economii, was released in June based on a request submitted by General Prosecutor Stoianoglo, who said the case against him was falsified.9 In October, prosecutors ended an investigation linked to the “billion-dollar theft” case that had focused on Marina Tauber and Reghina Apostolova, MPs from the Shor Party.10 According to opposition representatives, these prosecutorial decisions indicated opaque agreements between President Dodon on the one hand and Platon and Shor on the other.11
  • The ANI, the institution responsible for checking officials’ asset declarations to identify unexplained or illicit wealth and conflicts of interest, became more active during the year. However, its findings were largely related to infringements of the filing rules, such as late submission, as opposed to violations regarding the declared assets themselves.12 For example, in 2019–20, the ANI checked the compliance of all judges and prosecutors. As a result, six investigations were initiated in the case of magistrates, and there were 16 contravention cases for late submission of statements. Yet the agency did not find anything illegal about the declarations of Supreme Court judges Ion Druță and Oleg Sternioală or Chișinău Court judge Oleg Melniciuc, all of whom were facing pending criminal cases for suspected illicit enrichment and money laundering.13

Author: Victor Gotișan is a media and politics researcher focusing on such issues as public media, media funding, media ownership, media law, and digitalization.

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    61 100 partly free