Romania reshuffles cabinet as graft woes and power struggle rumble on

Social Democrats beset by crises since sweeping to power last December

Romanian prime minister Mihai Tudose leaving the Social Democrats’ headquarters after consultations over his cabinet reshuffle in Bucharest, Romania, on Monday. Photograph: Robert Ghement/EPA

Romanian prime minister Mihai Tudose leaving the Social Democrats’ headquarters after consultations over his cabinet reshuffle in Bucharest, Romania, on Monday. Photograph: Robert Ghement/EPA

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Romanian premier Mihai Tudose has pushed ahead with a cabinet reshuffle after the latest corruption scandal to rock the government revealed a rumbling power struggle among the ruling Social Democrats (PSD).

After a six-hour meeting of its leaders late last week, the PSD announced the resignations of deputy premier and development minister Sevil Shhaideh and European Union funds minister Rovana Plumb, who are under investigation over a suspect land deal, and of Razvan Cuc, whose performance as transport minister was widely criticised.

The office of Romanian president Klaus Iohannis said on Monday he had received a formal request to approve Paul Stanescu as development minister, Marius Nica as minister for EU funds and Felix Stroe as transport chief.

The populist PSD-led government has been dogged by problems of its own making since it secured a landslide parliamentary election victory last December.

Its attempt to weaken anti-corruption legislation last winter sparked the biggest street protests in Romania since the 1989 anti-communist revolution, and it was forced to back down.

In June, PSD deputies voted against their own government in a no-confidence motion, toppling the cabinet of then prime minister Sorin Grindeanu, who was locked in a battle for influence with party leader Liviu Dragnea.

Mr Dragnea cannot hold high office due to a conviction for vote rigging, and his alleged attempts to run the government from behind the scenes led to conflict with Mr Grindeanu and have stoked tension with his successor, Mr Tudose.

Strained relationship

Mr Tudose said last week that his relationship with Mr Dragnea was not in a “happy moment” and suggested he might step down if the cabinet shake-up was blocked – something that could have set the stage for snap elections.

“If this government were to fall as well, then I would certainly ask myself very seriously whether the PSD still has the capacity to govern,” Mr Iohannis said last Thursday. “For now, we are not in this position.”

Ms Shhaideh is a close ally of Mr Dragnea, and he nominated her to be prime minister after the PSD’s election victory, only for Mr Iohannis to reject the proposal.

Both Ms Shhaideh and Ms Plumb deny wrongdoing in the land deal now being investigated by prosecutors, but Mr Tudose said his government must remove every shadow of doubt to reassure the EU that Romania was fighting corruption.

“We have a reality and a perception,” he said.

“The reality is the presumption of innocence, but the perception in Brussels is completely different.”

Mr Tudose failed to secure the resignation of another minister who is under investigation, however, when the PSD’s junior coalition partner staunchly defended its minister for relations with parliament, Viorel Ilie.

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