Romania’s president rebukes cabinet but rejects snap election

President Klaus Iohannis tells government to solve crisis after huge protests in Bucharest

Romanian president Klaus Iohannis addresses the joint chambers of the Romanian parliament, in Bucharest, Romania on Tuesday. Photograph: Inquam Photos/Octav Ganea/Reuters

Romanian president Klaus Iohannis addresses the joint chambers of the Romanian parliament, in Bucharest, Romania on Tuesday. Photograph: Inquam Photos/Octav Ganea/Reuters

 

Romania’s president Klaus Iohannis has lambasted its government over a crisis that sparked the nation’s biggest protests in a generation, but stopped short of backing demonstrators’ calls for the cabinet’s resignation and snap elections.

The ruling Social Democrats (PSD) are under huge pressure just two months after easily winning a parliamentary election and one month after taking power, amid a huge public outcry against their bid to soften anti-corruption legislation.

The cabinet met last Tuesday night to rush through an emergency decree – bypassing parliamentary debate and presidential approval – to decriminalise certain graft offences to the benefit of many politicians and businessmen.

Protesters rallied shortly afterwards in Bucharest and other cities across Romania, and their numbers swelled over subsequent nights that saw hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets despite freezing weather. The peaceful demonstrations were Romania’s biggest since its 1989 revolution against communist rule.

The government scrapped the decree on Monday, but tens of thousands of people gathered again in Bucharest that evening to demand snap elections.

“Romania needs a government that is transparent, which governs by the light of day, not sneakily at night,” Mr Iohannis said in parliament on Tuesday, to cheers from some deputies and jeers from the PSD, who walked out during his address.

“What can we do to get out of this deadlock? You won the election and now you must govern . . . Romania needs a strong government, not one that timidly obeys party orders,” Mr Iohannis told the PSD.

Major beneficiary

Liviu Dragnea, leader of the PSD, would have been a major beneficiary of the decree. He is facing abuse-of-power charges and is barred from high office due to a conviction for election fraud.

The government claimed the changes were needed to ease prison overcrowding and align Romania’s legislation with its constitution, but the decree enraged many Romanians who are sick of facing corrupt practices every day.

“With a strange ‘kamikaze’ strategy you collided head-on with a large part of Romanian society. In the election campaign you promised one thing, and in [the government’s] first days you did something else. Your main concern was to deal with the criminal files, and Romanians are indignant and revolted,” Mr Iohannis said.

“If the ruling party doesn’t solve the crisis fast, I’ll call talks with parties to find ways to do so. We must keep our democracy alive and our country clean,” he added.

One minister has resigned over the crisis, and Mr Iohannis said this was “definitely too little” to resolve the impasse while “early elections are at this stage too much.”

“Who should find a solution? Naturally, those who caused the problem – the PSD,” he declared.