Romania’s president lambasts ruling party chief as political crisis deepens

Liviu Dragnea urged to ‘just disappear’ from politics after second criminal conviction

Romania’s ruling Social Democratic Party leader Liviu Dragnea: sentenced last week for involvement in an abuse of office scandal. Photograph: Inquam Photos/Liviu Florin Albei

Romania’s ruling Social Democratic Party leader Liviu Dragnea: sentenced last week for involvement in an abuse of office scandal. Photograph: Inquam Photos/Liviu Florin Albei

 

Political tension in Romania is rising after ruling party chief Liviu Dragnea vowed to push ahead with deeply controversial reforms, despite President Klaus Iohannis urging him to “just disappear” from public life after a second criminal conviction.

Mr Iohannis, opposition parties and Romanians who are have joined a major protest movement against the government accuse it of trying to gut anti-corruption law for the benefit of Mr Dragnea and other members of the scandal-plagued Social Democrats (PSD).

The party claims its reforms are in fact aimed at defending democracy and the rule of law, and protecting people – including Mr Dragnea – from the supposed predations of a “shadow state” led by Mr Iohannis and anti-corruption prosecutors.

Mr Dragnea was sentenced to 3½ years in jail last week for involvement in an abuse of office scandal, further tainting his reputation following an earlier conviction for vote rigging that bars him from becoming prime minister.

He plans to appeal the latest conviction and his party’s executive committee backed him as its leader – a post that he uses to control the government, having engineered the dismissal of two PSD premiers who showed signs of independence.

“I intend to go all the way . . . We must not hesitate in finishing the fight to normalise the justice laws [and] penal codes,” said Mr Dragnea (55).

‘Shadow state’

“My objectives remain the same: implementing the governing programme and crushing the shadow state. And it will be crushed,” he added.

Since taking power in January 2017, the PSD-led coalition has sought to soften anti-graft legislation, boost government control over the judiciary and sack Romania’s internationally respected top anti-corruption prosecutor, Laura Codruta Kovesi.

The proposals last year sparked Romania’s biggest street protests since its 1989 anti-communist revolution, and demonstrations against the government now take place almost every weekend in Bucharest and other cities.

The government’s denunciation of certain prosecutors, magistrates and judges, and its peddling of conspiracy theories against opponents, are fuelling EU concerns that it is taking the same populist, illiberal path as Hungary and Poland.

Fraud suspect

“After a second conviction, Dragnea should just disappear from political life,” Mr Iohannis said on Saturday, of a PSD leader who is also suspected of fraud involving EU funds.

“What seems a bit more serious to me, is that the PSD does not realise that it should send Dragnea home. We are in a really unhappy phase, in which an entire party has become a pressure group, a lobbyist for a criminal,” he added.

“Now, with this . . . irrational, illiberal, undemocratic behaviour, we are actually being thrown many years backwards. Romania is losing respect that was hard to earn in Europe and the world, and investors are losing all their confidence.”

Mr Iohannis has resisted government calls to sack Ms Codruta Kovesi, prompting some PSD members to suggest that they could try to impeach him.

Dacian Ciolos, who served as a technocrat prime minister from 2015 to 2017, on Sunday called for snap elections to end the crisis and accused an “incompetent and shameful” government of running Romania in a “mafia style”.