Liviu Dragnea, leader of the Romanian Socialists, was sentenced to three and a half years in prison for abuse of power in a case involving fictitious jobs on Thursday. The head of the Social Democratic Party (PSD), who aspires to the post of prime minister, will appeal his conviction, the second in less than three years. “Mr Dragnea has to leave public life,” said Dacian Ciolos, former technocrat prime minister and European commissioner for agriculture. A politician sentenced by justice can not remain at the head of Romania.”
Despite the victory of the PSD in the 2016 legislative elections, 55-year-old Liviu Dragnea has been barred from occupying the post of prime minister because of a previous conviction for electoral fraud. As the Speaker of the House in the Chamber of Deputies, he has repeatedly tried to change the laws to weaken penalties for corruption, but he has encountered a wave of anti-government protests.
The government has also embarked on a process of dismissing the head of the National Anti-Corruption Agency, Laura Codruta Kovesi, who symbolises the independence of the Romanian judiciary in the fight against political malfeasance. The Constitutional Court has approved Kovesi’s dismissal, a move that is currently blocked by President Klaus Iohannis.
On Thursday night, more than 10,000 Romanians protested to demand the resignation of Liviu Dragnea, as they had done the day before. “People are coming out on the streets because those who should defend them are stealing from them, those who should be guiding them are deceiving them,” said Dacian Ciolos. That’s enough. We have only one solution in three stages: the resignation of the government, a referendum on the judiciary and early elections.”
Brussels and Washington are also worried about legislative backsliding in Romania. The United States sent to Assistant Secretary of State, Wess Mitchell Bucharest on Monday to monitor developments. “The United States supports Romania’s anti-corruption institutions,” he said. Romania has made significant progress and this is not the time to backtrack.”