Protests to continue as Romania searches for new government

Bucharest nightclub fire that killed 32 prompts wave of protests against corruption

Protesters demonstrate against the political class and Romanian authorities  in Bucharest. Photograph: Daniel Mihailescu/AFP/Getty Images

Protesters demonstrate against the political class and Romanian authorities in Bucharest. Photograph: Daniel Mihailescu/AFP/Getty Images

 

The biggest protests in Romania since its 1989 revolution are expected to continue this weekend, as the country’s president and political parties hold talks to find a new government capable of tackling chronic corruption and cronyism.

Discussions yesterday between President Klaus Iohannis and party leaders failed to produce a candidate to succeed Victor Ponta, who resigned as prime minister on Wednesday, bringing down his cabinet amid an outpouring of public fury at the way Romania is being run.

Many thousands of people rallied peacefully each evening this week in Romania’s capital Bucharest and large crowds also thronged the centres of other cities around the EU member state of 20 million people.

The spark for the wave of protests was a fire in a Bucharest nightclub last Friday that killed 32 people and injured almost 200 others.

Three co-owners of the club have been questioned on suspicion of “grave negligence and responsibility” for a blaze which, for many Romanians, provided horrific evidence of corruption, greed and incompetence at all levels of power.

Widespread poverty

Romanians are weary of widespread poverty and gross inequality – highlighted by the lavish lifestyle of a small elite that dominates politics and business – and the daily need to pay bribes for even the most basic services. Hope for a cleansing renewal of Romanian public life largely rests with Mr Iohannis, a member of Romania’s dwindling ethnic-German community, who forged a reputation as a clean, decent and competent politician when serving as the mayor of the Transylvanian city of Sibiu for 14 years.

He was elected president last year, defeating Mr Ponta, who was subsequently embroiled in a corruption scandal but refused to quit as premier.

“I followed the protests and I have an important message for all those who were in the street . . . I saw you, I heard you and I will consider your demands,” Mr Iohannis said after launching talks to find a new prime minister.

Romanians wanted “profound change”, Mr Iohannis said, as he pledged to take the views of civil society groups into account during talks with party leaders.

Mr Iohannis named education minister Sorin Cimpeanu as interim premier on Thursday, after which he has 45 days to nominate a new prime minister: the candidate then has 10 days to form a cabinet and win a confidence vote in parliament; if two nominees fail that test, snap elections are triggered.