Romania may scrap graft decree after street protests

People holding cardboard cut-outs of figures from the ruling Social Democrats during a protest on Friday in front of the government headquarters in Bucharest, against the controversial decree that will decriminalise abuse-of-power offences involving
People holding cardboard cut-outs of figures from the ruling Social Democrats during a protest on Friday in front of the government headquarters in Bucharest, against the controversial decree that will decriminalise abuse-of-power offences involving sums below 200,000 leu (S$67,227).PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BUCHAREST • The leader of Romania's ruling Social Democrats (PSD) said yesterday the government might withdraw a corruption decree that has triggered massive street protests and international condemnation since its approval earlier this week.

The decree to decriminalise some graft offences is seen as the biggest retreat on reforms since Romania joined the European Union in 2007.

If enforced, it would decriminalise abuse-of-power offences involving sums below 200,000 leu (S$67,227).

PSD chief Liviu Dragnea, who is viewed as leading the government policy, said he would meet other senior party figures to discuss the fallout from the decree.

"There may even be talks to withdraw it if the Prime Minister would want that," he told local news portal DCNews. "I feel I can't keep under control from the centre... the pressure from regional organisations that can bring one million people onto the streets of Bucharest," Mr Dragnea said in an exclusive interview.

LOSING CONTROL

I feel I can't keep under control from the centre... the pressure from regional organisations that can bring one million people onto the streets of Bucharest... As a result, I decided to meet coalition partners to propose a solution to solve the deadlock.

PSD CHIEF LIVIU DRAGNEA.

"As a result, I decided to meet coalition partners to propose a solution to solve the deadlock," he added.

Together with longstanding junior ally ALDE, the PSD has an overwhelming majority in Parliament.

Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu's PSD-led government has so far firmly rejected any calls to rescind the decree, though splits in the Cabinet emerged on Thursday with the resignation of a minister and a call from a vice-president of the PSD for the measure to be withdrawn.

The PSD leader picked Mr Grindeanu to head the government after Mr Dragnea himself was barred by a previous vote-rigging conviction.

If the decree takes force, it could put an end to the ongoing trial of Mr Dragnea, accused of using his political influence to secure state salaries for two people working at his party headquarters between 2006 and 2013.

Dozens of other political figures from all parties stand to benefit from the decree.

The country's biggest protests since the Communist era were set for a fifth day yesterday, with hundreds of thousands expected to demonstrate against what they see as a government retreat on corruption.

Demonstrators planned to gather in central Bucharest in the afternoon and march noisily, with whistles, drums and vuvuzela horns in the national colours, to Parliament and form a human chain.

On Friday night, an estimated 250,000 people demonstrated nationwide calling for the government to repeal the decrees decriminalising certain graft offences and freeing corrupt officials from prison.

The scale of the protests on Friday were close to the size of demonstrations on Wednesday night, which were the biggest since 1989, when people power toppled communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.

Demonstrators have vowed to rally daily until Feb 10 when the contentious abuse of power decree, issued by the government late on Tuesday, is due to enter into force.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 05, 2017, with the headline 'Romania may scrap graft decree after street protests'. Print Edition | Subscribe