On 30 January 2018 Viorica Dancila (born 1963) was sworn in as the new Prime Minister of Romania. Viorica Dancila is the third individual to hold this office since the left-wing Social Democratic Party (PSD) secured victory in the December 2016 election. Dancila’s predecessors were Sorin Grindeanu (born 1973) who was Prime Minister from January to June 2017 and Mihai Tudose (born 1967) whose term in office lasted from June 2017to January 2018. The explanation for this instability can be found within the internal party structures of the PSD. Liviu Dragnea (born 1963), the leader of the PSD, was found guilty, in April 2016, of electoral fraud. Dragnea is also current also facing charges of embezzlement of EU development funds in the period from 2001-2012 when he was head of Teleorman council, and using of appropriating Child Protection Office funds to pay PSD party staff. Dragnea’s sentence means that he is unable to occupy the position of Prime Minister himself. As a consequence he seeks to nominate PSD officials for the office of Prime Minister who he believes will be easy to control from outside of the government. The problem with this strategy is that once Dragnea’s nominees are installed as Prime Minister they increasingly show themselves to have minds of their own, bringing themselves into conflict with Liviu Dragnea and the party structures he controls. Sorin Grindeanu was removed from office after in June 2017 after he failed to pass a ‘performance review’ instituted by the PSD. Grindeanu responded to this move by he accusing Dragnea of ‘seeking to concentrate all power in his hands.’ Grindeanu initially sought to hold on to his position but eventually departed after he lost a parliamentary no-confidence vote in which the PSD and its allies voted against him, and the opposition parties abstained. Grindeanu’s successor, Mihai Tudose, appeared at first to be more successful in assert his independence from Grindeanu. In October 2017 was able to secure the resignations of three government minister, Sevil Shhaideh, the Deputy Prime Minster, Rovana Plumb, Minister for European Funds, and Razvan Cuc, the Minister for Tansport. Both Sevil Shhaideh and Rovana Plumb were under investigation for the illegal transfer of land close to the Danube into the control of the Teleorman County Council. They were also considered to be close allies of Liviu Dragnea. The reshuffle was nevertheless endorsed by the PSD. In January 2018 open conflict developed within the government between Mihai Tudose and Carmen Dan, the Minister of the Interior. Tudose accused her of lying to him, and sought her resignation. When it became clear, however, to Tudose that he did not have the support of the PSD structures it was he who, on 15 January, offered his resignation. Carmen Dan is widely seen as having been supported by Dragnea in this power struggle. On resigning from government Mihai Tudose stated that he was ‘leaving with my head held high.’ Viorica Dancila, Tudose’s successor, had prior to her nomination as Prime Minister been a, low profile, MEP since 2009, and had also held regional positions within the PSD including President of the PSD in Telemoran and President o the Telemoran Women’s Organisation. Significantly she comes from the same region of Romania as Liviu Dragnea. Viorica Dancila’s background as an MEP was presented by the PSD as a potential asset in terms of repairing strained relations with the EU. Viorica Dancila was, however, conspicuously absent from a significant debate in the European Parliament on Romanian judicial legislation on 7 February.
These frequent changes of Prime Minister reflect instability within the PSD, but do not mean that the party’s overall grip on power is under immediate threat. The PSD remains the party with the highest level of popular support amongst Romanian voters. An opinion poll conducted in early 2018 put the PSD on 42%, only 3% down on its support in the December 2016 elections. The same opinion poll shows that the National Liberal Party (PNL), the main centre-right opposition has increased its support by 7% since 2016. On 27% of popular support, however, it still trains behind the PSD. Support for the other opposition parties, according to the poll, stood at 6% for the People’s Movement Party (PMP), 5% for the liberal Union to Save Romania (USR), and 2% for the Romania 100 Movement led by former Prime Minister Dacian Ciolis. Significant social and economic cleavages underlie these poll figures. Support for the opposition is concentrated in major urban centres, such as Bucharest, Iasi and Cluj-Napoca while support for the PSD is found in small towns and rural areas. The opposition has the greater capacity to mobilise its urban supporters, but the PSD, at present, predominates electorally.
Klaus Iohannis (born 1959), the Romanian President, provides the main institutional alternative to the PSD dominated administration. Klaus Iohannis, the centre-right former Mayor of Sibiu, was elected as President of Romania in November 2014 after a surprise second round win over Victor Ponta (born 1972), the PSD candidate and incumbent Prime Minister. The key legal and judicial institutions fall within the ambit of the President rather the PSD controlled government. The PSD led government has sought during 2017/2018 to pass legislation which would threaten to bring the legal and judicial institutions under political control, and blunt the impact of the on-going anti-corruption drive. The PSD has persistently claimed that Romania’s anti-corruption drive is a politically motivated, in spite of the fact that it has led to charges being brought against individuals from across the political spectrum. On 30 December 2017 Radu Mazare (born 1968), the former PSD Mayor of the Black Sea port of Constanta, who had faced investigation on graft charges fled to Madagascar, where he owns a surfing resort, and sought political asylum there. On 12 January 2018 it was reported that Victor Ponta, the former Prime Minister, who was also under investigation on corruption charges had gained Serbian citizenship. In February 2017 the PSD led government backed down in the face of mass protests in major urban centres and withdrew a decree designed to decriminalise some corruption offences. In late 2017/early 2018 the street protests were renewed following the government’s attempts to bring in changes which were seen as compromising the independence of judiciary. The next Presidential elections in Romania will take place by December 2019.