Romania's turbulent ruling party topples its own government

Talks on new prime minister set for Monday after parliament ousts Sorin Grindeanu

Romania’s prime minister, Sorin Grindeanu, prepares to leave Parliament Palace  after addressing the lawmakers of both parliament chambers as he faces a no-confidence vote in Bucharest. Photograph:  Robert Ghement/EPA

Romania’s prime minister, Sorin Grindeanu, prepares to leave Parliament Palace after addressing the lawmakers of both parliament chambers as he faces a no-confidence vote in Bucharest. Photograph: Robert Ghement/EPA

 

Romania’s parliament toppled the government of Sorin Grindeanu on Wednesday, backing a no-confidence motion brought by his fellow Social Democrats amid a bitter power struggle within the party.

Social Democrat (PSD) leader Liviu Dragnea accused the cabinet of failing to fulfil its reform pledges, but Mr Grindeanu said he was being punished for not showing sufficient obedience to his party boss during less than six months in office.

Despite sharp criticism of Mr Dragnea from some prominent current and former PSD members, the no-confidence motion passed with 241 votes in parliament, eight more than were required to bring down the government.

“This is a sad day for us. The premier did not perform . . . It didn’t go badly, it went quite well, but that’s not enough,” said Mr Dragnea, who is barred from being premier due to a conviction for vote-rigging.

The PSD were backed by their coalition partner, the smaller Alliance of Liberals and Democrats, and they will now discuss whom to propose to lead a new government. That nomination must be formally made by Romania’s president, Klaus Iohannis, and approved by parliament.

Root cause

“I do not understand why we are here today [for a no-confidence vote] and I believe many Romanians don’t understand either. I want you to think about the real reason we are here,” Mr Grindeanu said in parliament, having previously made clear he sees Mr Dragnea’s desire for power as the root cause of the crisis.

“I hope today’s vote in parliament will not be a big mistake, and I also hope the PSD will nominate the next prime minister. What is important is that we overcome this blockage,” he added.

“The PSD does not mean Liviu Dragnea, just as the PSD does not mean Sorin Grindeanu either. The party should stay united.”

Critics say the PSD has made life remarkably hard for itself since comfortably winning elections last November and amid solid economic growth.

Street protests

The initial blow came when Mr Iohannis rejected the PSD’s first nomination for premier, and then the party’s attempts to soften anti-corruption laws sparked Romania’s biggest street protests since the 1989 anti-communist revolution.

The reforms were scrapped, and the embarrassing failure soured relations between Mr Grindeanu and Mr Dragnea which deteriorated further with each subsequent sign of his growing independence from his party boss.

Mr Iohannis, a former member of the opposition Liberal party, scheduled talks on a new government for Monday, and Mr Dragnea said he intended to propose a new premier then.

“To deliver on the promises we made to the people during the campaign, we need a very good government and this is what we want to achieve,” Mr Dragnea said. “So we took the hard decision to try to make things right.”