Three Questions with Maia Sandu, President-elect of Moldova

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Photo Credit: Alexandros Michailidis / Shutterstock
On December 17, German Marshall Fund Senior Fellow and Director of Democracy Initiatives Jonathan Katz spoke with Moldova’s President-elect Maia Sandu for a discussion focused on her priorities as she prepared to be sworn in on December

On December 17, German Marshall Fund Senior Fellow and Director of Democracy Initiatives Jonathan Katz spoke with Moldova’s President-elect Maia Sandu for a discussion focused on her priorities as she prepared to be sworn in on December 24. These priorities include addressing the socioeconomic and health impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on Moldovans, advancing democracy, countering corruption, and renewed efforts to strengthen relations with the United States, the EU, and other international partners of Moldova.

What are the challenges facing Moldovans that you want to address immediately as president of Moldova?

Moldovans are facing a lot of challenges, unfortunately, and not all of them can be addressed by the president directly, but I do want to contribute and lead efforts to helping people and this is firstly related to the COVID crisis. This is about helping all Moldovan’s and the frontline health sector get through this difficult situation so that people continue to have access to needed medical and health services. And this is about getting a vaccine and support for equipment, for personal protection, because it does look that Moldovans and those addressing this challenge in Moldova will continue to face at least for another few months the current COVID situation.

Another priority is to help the hard-hit, distressed economy and especially workers and small and medium enterprises to survive through these difficult times. In Moldova, we have almost one-third of small and medium businesses on the edge of bankruptcy. These are usually led or populated by younger Moldovans, though not exclusively, who if they lose their businesses and jobs would leave the country, and this would add to the already large number of Moldovans leaving the country. So, these are the immediate issues that need to be addressed but fighting corruption in Moldova is also the main priority on my agenda as president. This issue is why an overwhelming majority of Moldovans voted for me, because they want us, the government, to start the real fight against the corruption.

Moldova’s current government and members of parliament hold significant levers of power to either support or prevent needed reforms that you have outlined as priorities, including stalled democratic, rule-of-law, and anti-corruption reforms. How can Moldovans, who voted for you and your vision for Moldova’s future ensure needed progress and changes, and a better future for your nation? How can you overcome internal political challenges to achieve these goals?

Today we do not have a majority of deputies in the parliament who would support a reform agenda and especially justice-sector reform, because many of these people have been involved in corruption, and they fear independent justice. But, at the same time, the vote that I got at the election was a vote for anti-corruption action, and Moldovans do understand that we need to clean up the parliament as well, and we need to have snap parliamentary elections. This is high on my agenda to push for early parliamentary elections early next year, so that people could ascend to the parliament, honest deputies who would represent Moldovans, not corrupt clans as it is the situation today. It is not going to be easy, and there are things that I will be doing before the parliamentary elections, but the sooner the snap parliamentary elections happen, the greater the chances to speed up the reforms and to make more substantive efforts and implement the anti-corruption agenda.

How can partners of Moldova—including the United States, the EU, and the international financial institutions—best support your vision for a democratic, secure, and prosperous Moldova?

Well, starting with the immediate challenges, we hope that we will get U.S., EU, and international support to help the most vulnerable parts of Moldovan society survive this difficult time because of the COVID crisis. For example, unfortunately, the current government has not done much to actually prepare to get the COVID vaccine for the people and we have to start from scratch. We do need immediate support from our development partners in getting access to a vaccine, at least for some categories of the population, especially for the health workers, but also for vulnerable categories of people, because otherwise it might take a very long time to get this access. This is going to have significant implications for Moldovans and the country if we do not move quick enough.

We also need help for the ailing Moldovan economy, including to the agriculture sector, which was hit by a very bad drought this summer. At the same time, we want to work with partners, including the United States and the EU, to continue the efforts to strengthen the capacity in important Moldovan institutions, to help us with justice-sector reforms, to help us with investigating the biggest corruption cases, to help us with asset recovery, to help us find the people who were involved in the banking sector fraud and in other big corruption cases. Because concrete real progress in these investigations is going to help us recover people’s trust in the state and country. And this is the biggest challenge—that we must recover people’s trust. Then they would not leave the country. I want them to stay here and build their life in Moldova.