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bne IntelliNews – BALKAN BLOG: Suspension of Balti mayoral race highlights Chisinau’s autocratic approach to reform

The Central Election Commission (CEC) of Moldova invalidated on December 3 the candidacy of Marina Tauber, favorite in the ballot for the seat of mayor of Balti, the second city of the country, on the grounds that her electoral expenses exceeded the legal limit.

Tauber is a leading member of the Sor Party, founded and led by fugitive businessman and politician Ilan Shor. His suspension – suspected of being motivated by the ruling Action and Solidarity Party (PAS) – damaged the credibility of President Maia Sandu’s party, with some observers drawing parallels with the actions of another politician and fugitive businessman, Vlad Plahotnuic, who a high degree of state capture in Moldova.

The expenditure overrun mentioned by the CEC is estimated at 9,514.80 MDL (less than € 500). The ordinary city court upheld the CEC’s decision, but as the appeal had not passed all possible stages by the election date (December 5), the ballot was suspended.

Tauber, who collected almost half of the votes in the first round (against a little more than 20% for her rival), pointed the finger at PAS and Sandu as being at the origin of the “abusive decision” taken by the CEC.

After its resounding victories in the last presidential and legislative elections, “the PAS cannot accept that it is not in a position to achieve major victories at the local level”, commented the political scientist Dionis Cenusa, opposing the decision of the CEC.

It was an excellent opportunity for the Socialist Party (PSRM) of former President Igor Dodon to loudly accuse the PAS of “seizing the state” in the same way that Plahotniuc did in the pass.

Tauber’s rival, however, is not a reformist PAS member, but the candidate of controversial politician and businessman Renato Usatii, who served as the city’s mayor for years.

The fugitive deputy and businessman Ilan Shor, founder of the Sor party, is the visible beneficiary of the money siphoned off from Moldovan banks in the so-called “the $ 1 billion theft” which took place in 2015. Despite this, voters love him enough to give him a seat in parliament in the July 11 general election.

Shor’s popularity stems from his activity as the former mayor of Orhei, a town that flourished after he became mayor in 2015. The Kroll Fraud Report naming him as the visible beneficiary of bank fraud did not not shaken its electoral support. . This provided Tauber, a leading member of Shor’s party, with a strong electoral platform in Balti.

The modest sum of money found by the CEC as illegal expenditure, in addition to provided by a transparent sponsor, is not the only peculiarity in this case which jeopardizes the credibility of the newly established Moldovan authorities: the money in question has been used to provide food for volunteers and not to bribe voters with in-kind donations.

This may not be relevant to the court’s final decision, but it hurts the credibility of Sandu and his party, who have taken responsibility for the fate of reforms in the country after securing a solid majority in parliament in July.

More importantly, Tauber’s candidacy was struck down not before the election, but after the first round she clearly won.

The case reveals the complex effects of the reforms promised by Sandu for justice and the entire state system. It is not clear whether CEC members were directly urged by the PAS to reject candidate Tauber, but they certainly have not ignored the way the new authorities are trying to impose the rule of law with rather autocratic means. And after 30 years of corrupt regimes replacing each other, the expectations are not high.

A relevant case is that of Attorney General Alexandr Stoianoglo, who is under investigation for mischief and poor performance. Ironically appointed by a committee overseen by Sandu, then prime minister, he was suspended and placed under house arrest after an impressive special forces operation, SIS, just before he was due to hold a press conference in early November.

Stoianoglo was far from pursuing major reforms in the attorney general’s office since his appointment, but it is also visible that prosecutors are struggling to find grounds to indict him. The investigations began on the basis of a document written by a PAS deputy, himself based on newspaper articles.

A court recently had to renew Stoianoglo’s 30-day police custody because prosecutors were unable to substantiate their claims except for a breach of regulations when extending certain benefits (returned more late) to an employee being investigated for corruption. As the indictment did not go as planned, the authorities relaunched the procedures for evaluating Stoianoglo’s activity. But there’s a catch: The ombudsman (Sandu’s former lawyer), a member of the prosecutors’ council supposed to assess Stoianoglo, was recently forced to resign after hiring a driver she had previously defended – unsuccessfully – on charges pimping.