President appoints new PM-designate as Moldova faces third coronavirus wave

President appoints new PM-designate as Moldova faces third coronavirus wave
Moldova’s President Maia Sandu appointed Ion Grosu, the vice-president of her Action and Solidarity Party (PAS), as prime minister-designate.
By Iulian Ernst in Bucharest March 17, 2021

Moldova’s pro-EU President Maia Sandu appointed Ion Grosu, the vice-president of her Action and Solidarity Party (PAS), as the second prime minister-designate on March 16, after the ad-hoc majority formed in parliament around the pro-Russian Socialists rejected her first nomination, Natalia Gavrilita.

The move may lead to early elections if lawmakers reject the nomination and Sandu dissolves the parliament, or to the formation of a government with fragile support in parliament but full power if lawmakers approve the nomination.

The second nomination occurred a couple of days after Sandu asked the government, following a State Security Council (CSS) meeting, to initiate procedures to set in place a 14-day state of emergency aimed at addressing the rising spread of coronavirus. The country has barely any vaccine doses, a government without full capacities and its economy received scarce support during the crisis last year when the country's GDP plunged by 7%. An executive with full power, as opposed to the interim government in office since the end of 2020, would be more capable to address the third coronavirus wave that has hit the country.

Former president Igor Dodon’s Socialists don’t want early elections, at least not before the health crisis subsides. But the party insists it controls a majority in parliament hence it is entitled to appoint the prime minister. In fact, the Socialists’ demand to form the government was supported by the Constitutional Court.

However, an awkward situation occurred on March 16 just before Sandu made the second nomination: the Socialists’ candidate Mariana Durlesteanu turned down her candidacy for the prime minister seat previously put forward in the name of a majority of lawmakers in parliament. She announced this on Facebook, from London where she is now, exactly at the time when Dodon was negotiating with Sandu. This came as a surprise for Dodon who was pressing to appoint his own candidate to the prime minister seat.

Durlesteanu’s surprising resignation, and particularly the timing, allowed Sandu to make a new appointment while avoiding the Constitutional Court’s recommendation to accept the Socialist majority's nomination: at that time, the Socialists were left without a candidate. Whether the Constitutional Court will accept this second nomination, if asked by Socialists to rule on it, remains uncertain. But further legal complications would prevent appropriate management of the health crisis.

The reasons behind Durlesteanu’s resignation remain unclear. She served as ambassador in London and finance minister for the Communist regimes before the pro-European alliance won the elections in Moldova in 2009. Later, she developed a career as a financial expert within KazMunayGaz and served for nearly two years as a banker at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). The investigative publication RISE Project published, minutes before her resignation, an article about Durlesteanu’s two properties in London.

In her message, Durlesteanu said that she does not want to be involved in political conflicts. She also said that she is not stepping out of politics.

Visibly surprised by the resignation, said that his party would not back the new candidate appointed by President Sandu for the prime minister seat. He has not yet appointed his own new candidate, though.