Romania: A Government in Crisis

The Ruling Party Ousts its Own Government: On 21 June 2017 Sorin Grindeanu (born Nown Social Democratic Party (PSD) On 14 June the PSD had announced that they were withdrawing their support from Grindeanu’s government accusing him of being responsible for delays in the reform process. When Grindeanu proved reluctant to resign the PSD moved to oust him. This conflict within the ruling party had flared with apparent rapidity but its roots can be traced back to events which took place in the aftermath of the previous year’s parliamentary election.

 

The Origins of the Crisis: The Romanian Social Democratic Party (PSD) under the leadership

of Liviu Dragnea (born 1962) won the December 2016 election convincingly with 45.48% of the vote. Their nearest rivals the centre-right National Liberal Party (PNL) led by Alina Gorghiu (born 1978) gained only 20.04% of the vote. The newly formed Union for the Salvation of Romania (USR) led by Nicusor Dan (born 1969) gained 8.87%of the vote. After the elections Liviu Dragnea and the PSD formed a coalition government with Calin Popescu Tariceanu (born 1952) and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats. Liviu Dragnea was, however, prevented from becoming Prime Minister in the new administration by his May 2015 conviction, and suspended sentence for, electoral fraud. Dragnea instead chose Sevil Shhaideh  (born 1964) as the PSD nominee for Prime Minister. Sevil Shhaideh would, had she been confirmed, have been Romania’s first woman and first Muslim to be Prime Minister. She was, however, also a loyal PSD official with little political experience who could be counted on to do as instructed by Dragnea. On 27 December Klaus Iohannis (born 1959), the opposition aligned Romanian President, rejected Shhaideh’s candidacy. A confrontation between the parliamentary majority and the presidency briefly appeared imminent. On 28 December, however, the PSD proposed Sorina Grindeanu as their alternative candidate for the premiership, and his candidacy was subsequently approved by Klaus Iohannis.

 

Sorin Gindeanu took office as Prime Minister on 4 January 2017. As with the previous PSD nominee Dragnea appears to have counted on being able to exert effective control over Grindeanu’s government. In February 2017 the Grindeanu administration was confronted by a significant challenge to its authority. Significantly, however, this came not from the political opposition but rather from citizens organising on the streets of Bucharest and other Romanian towns. Late on 31 January Grindeanu’s government issued an emergency ordinance decriminalising several offences, and making abuse of office an offence which would be punishable by imprisonment only if it involved a sum greater than £38,000 ($48,000) The government justified this measure on the grounds that it was needed in order to reduce overcrowding and poor conditions in Romanian prison. Many members of the public, however, saw it as an attempt to undermine the anti-corruption campaign in Romania. Hundreds of thousands of protestors, angered by the ordinance came out onto the streets across Romania. In the face of growing public discount the government revoked the ordinance on 5 February. On 8 February the government survived an opposition instigated no-confidence motion. Te protests continued for several days after the withdrawal of the ordinance protests before gradually losing momentum. An attempt to

re-introduce these measures in early May through parliament was rapidly brought to a halt in the face of renewed, although limited, street demonstrations.

 

Although this crisis was largely of their own making Grindeanu’s government drew some satisfaction at having survived this challenge to their authority. They will have been aware that the previous PSD government had been forces from office by similar anti-corruption street protests.  Sorin Grindeanu appears to have been increasingly emboldened to assert his independence from Liviu  Dragnea. Grindeanu was encouraged in this by Victor Ponta (born 1972), the former PSD Prime Minister and opponent of Dragnea from within the party’s ranks.  A total of 241 PSD and ALDE MPs voted for Grindeanu’s dismissal, while 7 PSD MPs broke ranks and supported him. All the opposition MPs abstained. The summary dismissal of Grindeanu provides a demonstration of Deagnea’s continuing dominance of the PSD, and through its structures the Romanian government, although not the presidency which under Klaus Iohannis operates as a separate institution and alternative power centre. The blatant nature of Dragnea’s actions, thinly concealed behind an apparent concern for reform may, however, also contribute to a gradually undermining of his position.

 

A New Prime Minister: On 28 June Klaus Iohannis announced theat the new Prime Minster would be Mihai Tudose (born 1967) who had been Minister of the Economy in Grindeanu’s government. The Romanian media remarked on the high degree of continuity between the new government and the administration it replaced. Over half of the ministers named as part of the new government had also served in Grindeanu’s recently displaced administration.

 

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