Romania Ruling Party Faces Backlash after Anti-Graft Protests 

Balkan Insight

By Ana Maria Luca

Romania’s governing Social Democrat Party faces more turmoil after recent protests against its rule, as some members question its leader and the opposition seeks to ban politicians with corruption convictions from office.

The Romanian Social Democrat Party, PSD, faces internal friction as some well-known members have been questioning the ruling party’s leadership after the violent crackdown on anti-corruption protests on August 10 that left 452 injured.

Meanwhile as the ruling party is still considering who to run as a candidate the 2019 presidential elections against incumbent Klaus Iohannis, the opposition on Wednesday announced it was ready to submit a bill to parliament that would change the constitution to ban politicians convicted of corruption from public office.

A campaign entitled ‘No Criminals in Public Office’, backed by the Save Romania Union, the third force in the Romanian parliament, managed to collect over 750,000 signatures from 21 regions across the country, more than the 500,000 required by the law for a people’s initiative bill to change the constitution to be submitted to parliament.

Save Romania Union announced that the bill will be submitted before the end of 2018. It proposes to introduce an article in the Romanian constitution that would ban any politician with a criminal record from running for local, legislative and presidential elections unless they are rehabilitated or pardoned.

It is not clear if the opposition party will garner enough support in parliament to pass the bill, as the ruling Social Democrats together with their junior ally, the Alliance of the Liberals and Democrats, hold the majority.

However, the campaign is directed mainly at the Social Democrat Party which has been pushing for the past year-and-a-half for a relaxation of the fight against corruption, and has accused prosecutors of abusing their powers to indict prominent politicians.

Social Democrat leader Liviu Dragnea, plus other high-ranking party officials, have been convicted of graft in recent years.

President Iohannis has been a vocal advocate of anti-corruption efforts during the past year and has already announced that he will run in 2019 for a second mandate.

Meanwhile, the Social Democrats have been plummeting in opinion polls, after Romanians took to the streets to protest against criminal code changes that relaxed anti-corruption provisions.

A poll released on July 31 by the International Republican Institute suggested that only 26 per cent of Romanians would vote for the ruling party, as opposed to 32.5 percent in December 2017.

Another 24 per cent would vote for the Liberals, the main opposition party, and 22 per cent of respondents said they didn’t know who to vote for, according to the poll.

According to the latest opinion poll by Romania’s CURS research institute, Iohannis would win the 2019 presidential elections with 43 per cent, while Dragnea’s popularity dropped to 12 per cent from 22 per cent in May.

The Social Democrat leader has been facing opposition within his own party from some prominent members and also from former party members who quit the faction after disagreements with Dragnea.

Former Social Democrat MEP Catalin Ivan, who resigned from the party earlier, this year announced on Tuesday that he would officially ask the European Socialists to exclude the Romanian ruling party.

In the first gesture of its kind, former Education Minister Ecaterina Andronescu, who also serves as party vice-president, sent an open letter to Dragnea on Tuesday, asking him to do the “honourable thing and resign as party president” and to not “set the country and PSD [Social Democrat Party] on fire”.

“For the sake of Romania and the Social Democrat Party, the president of the party needs to take a step back, to show responsibility and maturity, show political dignity and courage and resign from the leadership,” Andronescu said in her letter entitled “SOS PSD”. 

Dragnea did not respond to her suggestion, but several Social Democrats who are close to the party leader slammed Andronescu for “attacking her colleagues” and siding with President Iohannis.

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