A guide to the Romanian protests

A guide to the Romanian protests
By Clare Nuttall in Bucharest February 6, 2017

As the anti-corruption protests in Romania continue to grow, bne IntelliNews provides a guide to the decree at the heart of the controversy, the main players and their agendas. 

What is Ordinance 13?

Emergency Ordinance 13/2017 was adopted by the government at a late night session on January 31. The decree amends Romania’s Criminal Code to partly decriminalise abuse of office, making it a criminal offence only if the damage caused exceeds RON200,000 (€44,500). 

On February 5 the government approved another emergency decree revoking Ordinance 13/2017. However, it is understood to have submitted a draft law to the parliament that would achieve the same goals as the original decree. 

In January the government also drafted legislation on pardons under which prisoners serving a sentence shorter than five years would get a full pardon, ostensibly to lessen prison overcrowding. The pardon would not apply to recidivists or people convicted of murder, rape and other violent crimes, or to those found guilty of giving or taking bribes or influence peddling. However, many other people convicted in corruption-related cases would automatically be pardoned. Partial pardons are planned for the over 60s, pregnant women and those who support children under five, including those who have committed serious crimes.

What do the protestors want?

 

When the protests started, protesters simply wanted the government to revoke the decree. After the government said on February 5 they would revoke it, they continued protesting to demand proof, as they don't trust the government. They are also now calling for a change of government, as they say that the current cabinet has forfeited its legitimacy through its attempt to legalise theft from the state. 

Who are the protesters?

Most (not all) of the protesters are urban, educated Romanians. The protests started in Bucharest, but are increasingly spreading to other cities and smaller towns, as well as among the diaspora. The protesters are overwhelmingly young people in their twenties, thirties and early forties who came of age after the fall of communism, and have spent most of their adult lives within the EU. They have exposure to western countries – many have lived abroad or work for foreign companies – which has given them the belief that it is time for Romania to move on from its corrupt past. 

Protester numbers rose from around 3,000 at the first protest on February 19 to an estimated 500,000 on February 5. 

While some PSD figures have claimed that the protests are organised (by whom is unclear), there are no clear leaders, and this appears to be a grassroots movement organised on social media, primarily Facebook

What is Romania’s record on corruption?

Romania’s National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) was set up to investigate and indict in cases of high- and medium-level corruption. It was based on the model used in Belgium, Croatia, Norway and Spain. Under its current head, Laura Kodruta Kovesi, appointed in 2013, the DNA has become highly active in bringing cases against top politicians and businesspeople. Those targeted include former prime minister Viktor Ponta and several other former ministers. 

The DNA’s work has been commended by international observers, including the European Commission in its annual Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) reports. Romania has also improved its position on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index in recent years. 

Who are the key players? 

Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu

The ruling Social Democratic Party’s (PSD) second choice for prime minister after its original pick was rejected by President Klaus Iohannis, Grindeanu has been in office for just one month. The former communications minister owes his career to Ilie Sarbu, father-in-law of former PM Victor Ponta. There is speculation that Grindeanu could now be planning to oust PSD leader Liviu Dragnea in a party coup, but this would be tricky, as he is understood to have lost the support of the party’s hardliners. 

PSD leader Liviu Dragnea

Dragnea was not eligible to become prime minister when his party won the December 2016 election because of his previous conviction for voter manipulation, but he pulls the strings behind the current government.

A former interior minister and deputy prime minister, he was forced to step down in May 2015 after his conviction, but he became president of the chamber of deputies – Romania’s lower house of parliament – in April 2016.

Dragnea has become the No.1 hate figure among the protesters, due to his key role behind the government, and because he would be the primary beneficiary of the ordinance; he is currently on trial for abuse of office. When the government was forced to revoke the ordinance, his position was weakened, but he should not be written off. 

Justice Minister Florin Iordache

Florin Iordache’s ministry drew up the controversial decree, and as such he is the most likely politician to lose his job should the PSD embark on a reshuffle in an attempt to appease protesters. Dragnea said on February 5 that discussions on Iordache’s future within the government were planned. 

President Klaus Iohannis

On the other side of the political divide is Klaus Iohannis, who has come into his own since the start of the crisis, becoming a key part of the opposition to the government. 

A relative political outsider and a member of Romania’s ethnic German minority, Iohannis served as mayor of the Transylvanian city of Sibiu for a decade before entering national politics. He unexpectedly won the November 2014 presidential election after a massive swing away from the PSD’s candidate Victor Ponta, whose government was accused of trying to block the diaspora from voting. 

Iohannis was seen as the “clean” candidate, leading some to dub him “Romania’s Obama”, but since his election he largely failed to live up to his supporters’ expectations. That is, until the current crisis, when he thwarted the government’s first attempt to adopt the decree, and has repeatedly spoken out against it, including addressing one of the protests. 

The PSD has responded with warnings that Iohannis has overstepped his mandate and threats of impeachment. 

Who's in the government? 

PSD

The Social Democratic Party (PSD), the leading coalition party that handily won the December elections, is the successor to Romania’s communist party. While it is part of the centre-left bloc in the European parliament, it combines populist economic policies with social conservatism. The party’s main support base is among pensioners, and residents of industrial towns and rural areas. 

Alde

The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (Alde), the junior coalition party, was created in 2015 through the merger of the Liberal Reformist Party and the Conservative Party. Co-president Călin Popescu-Tăriceanu, a former prime minister now the president of Romania’s upper house of parliament, has recently been an outspoken critic of Romania’s National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA). 

Which other parties are represented in Romania’s parliament? 

The second largest party in the parliament is the centre-right National Liberal Party (PNL), which backed Klaus Iohannis for president in 2014. The party is currently in disarray after its poor showing in the December elections, and is currently headed by interim leader Raluca Turcan after both its previous co-presidents resigned last year. 

The newly formed Union Save Romania (USR) came from nowhere to finish third in the election on an anti-corruption platform. Like the PNL, it is currently in opposition. On February 1, the two centre-right parties submitted a no-confidence motion against the government to the parliament. 

The two other parties represented in the parliament are the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR), which usually supports the government (though its leader Attila Korodi has criticised the emergency ordinance), and the People's Movement Party (PMP) recently founded by former President Traian Basescu. 

 

More from bne IntelliNews reports from the ground on Romania’s protests here: 

Romania's govt under pressure as protests force cancelation of controversial decree

Half a million Romanian protesters demand government's resignation

Children join parents in Bucharest anti-corruption protest

Romanian government to revoke controversial ordinance but protests continue

BALKAN BLOG: Romanian government’s ‘useful idiots’ line up to undermine anti-corruption drive

Bucharest protesters signal peaceful intent with flowers at latest mass anti-corruption rally

Violent incidents in Bucharest as up to 150,000 protest against corruption

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