Romanian government rejects protesters’ call to resign

Confusion over beleaguered cabinet’s controversial reform plans

 

Romania’s embattled new government has rejected calls to resign amid the country’s biggest protests in a generation, but it is unclear whether it will try to revive a hugely controversial bid to soften anti-corruption legislation.

Prime minister Sorin Grindeanu agreed on Sunday to scrap an emergency decree that would have freed many politicians and businessmen from jail and protected others from prosecution, after several nights of massive demonstrations.

Hundreds of thousands of people braved freezing weather to protest against the decree in Bucharest and other cities, while the European Union and United States condemned the government for undermining Romania’s fight against graft.

Many Romanians have vowed to continue protesting and now demand the resignation of the government, which only took power last month after the populist Social Democrats (PSD) won a resounding election victory in December. The country of 20 million people has not witnessed protests of this size since the 1989 revolution that ended its communist dictatorship.

“We decided to take a step back because we don’t want to split the country in two. But we have a programme that we want to move forward with,” Mr Grindeanu told Romanian television.

“We won the elections fairly with millions of votes and I’m not going to resign,” he declared.

That defiance was echoed by the leader of the PSD, Liviu Dragnea, who would have been a beneficiary of the decree: he is fighting abuse-of-power charges and is barred from office due to a conviction for election fraud.

“The government has no reason to resign, it was legitimately elected,” he said. “As long as this tense state continues in Romania, no one has anything to gain.”

The emergency decree – which was rushed through late last Tuesday night, bypassing parliamentary debate and approval by Romania’s president – would have de-criminalised abuse-of-power offences involving amounts less than 200,000 lei (€44,000) and loosened rule on conflict of interest when awarding contracts.

The government also sought to amnesty some 2,500 prisoners serving sentences of less than five years for non-violent crimes, which would have freed hundreds of people jailed for graft  and potentially halted current investigations.

The government insists the reforms are needed to align Romania’s legislation with its constitution and ease overcrowding in its prisons.

After saying on Monday morning that it would submit a draft law on the reforms to parliament, the justice ministry said later that it would wait for the constitutional court to give its opinion on the legality of the proposals.