Ex-PM Ponta threatens to quit PSD amid rumours of power struggle in Romania's ruling party

Ex-PM Ponta threatens to quit PSD amid rumours of power struggle in Romania's ruling party
By bne IntelliNews March 8, 2017

Former Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta said on March 8 he will hand an undated resignation letter to Social Democratic Party (PSD) leader Liviu Dragnea.

Ponta’s threat to resign from the party raises the pressure on Dragnea and could weaken his position within the PSD. The party has lost popularity recently after the government adopted an emergency decree partly decriminalising abuse of office but was then forced to revoke it after mass protests. The move was seen as tailored to help Dragnea, who is being tried for instigation to abuse of office. 

Ponta told journalists that he will hand his undated resignation to Dragnea who can submit it whenever he “upsets” him badly.

“If I disturb him, and I have seen I do, I will send Mr. Dragnea – you know I don’t want to be ousted from the party - my undated resignation and when I upset him badly, he can submit it and get rid of me. But I will not keep silent, I cannot do it at my age when I have seen things and I know things and I see them with concern,” Ponta said, according to Mediafax news agency.

Lately, Ponta, a former PSD leader, has repeatedly criticised Dragnea over the way he leads the party, while Dragnea ironically called Ponta’s comments “constructive criticism”, suggesting the relationship between the two politicians has deteriorated, though he has never admitted this openly. Ponta, meanwhile, said on March 8 that the two are “no longer friends”. 

"Dragnea is a politician, he has to say yes [we are friends]. I am no longer a politician, I can say no," Ponta commented. 

Ponta’s move is likely to create additional tension within the party. Dragnea is seen as leading the PSD with an iron fist, but there have already been other voices inside the party who have criticised him since the debacle over the emergency decree.

Dragnea’s position was initially undermined after President Klaus Iohannis made it clear after the December 2016 election that he would not nominate the PSD leader as prime minister due to his criminal conviction for voter manipulation. Dragnea’s first choice for prime minister - his close ally Sevil Shhaideh - was also turned down, and instead Sorin Grindeanu was appointed.

Dragnea said he will not activate Ponta’s resignation, adding that he is trying to understand why he is upset.

“Victor Ponta can support the party, can join the government. Nobody is pushing him out and I hope he will no longer be upset. He is an experienced man, he has been party leader, a prime minister,” Dragnea said.

Critics of Dragnea have not fared well within the PSD. Iasi mayor Mihai Chirica lost his PSD vice president and branch leader posts in February after he criticised Dragnea and the government’s decisions on the controversial decree. In addition, former Chamber of Deputies speaker and PSD executive president Valeriu Zgonea was expelled from the party last year following his suggestion that Dragnea should resign after he received a two-year suspended prison sentence. 

However, Ponta remains an influential figure within the party, despite being forced to step down as prime minister in November 2015 after street protests over a Bucharest nightclub fire triggered yet another government crisis.

Ponta has criticised the way the government is led, and Dragnea’s involvement from behind the scenes, and is rumoured to have reached out to Grindeanu. “I know something, I was prime minister for so long, if the government is not led by a single person, it collapses […] If Grindeanu leads the government it will all be well, if all of us want to lead it, it will be bad,” Ponta said in February, according to a previous report from Agerpres news agency.

Lately, there have been rumours that the relationship between Dragnea and Grindeanu has deteriorated following the scandal around the emergency ordinance. There has even been speculation in the local media that Grindeanu made the decision to repeal the government decree without Dragnea’s approval. However, Grindeanu said in February that his relationship with Dragnea remained unchanged, according to an earlier report from digi24.ro.

Meanwhile, Hotnews.ro reported on February 13 that Grindeanu and Ponta had a meeting at the government. On March 5, Ponta said in a television interview that Grindeanu talks with him but continues to do what Dragnea says, according to News.ro.

 

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