Iulian Ernst -
Romania’s parliament has rejected lifting Prime Minister Victor Ponta's immunity so that the prosecution office can open an investigation into an alleged conflict of interest. The National Anti-Corruption Directorate is also investigating Ponta for suspected forgery and money laundering, for which, as it allegedly took place before he became premier, it does not need the Chamber of Deputies' consent.
The rejection, by 231 votes to 120, indicates that the majority ruling coalition will defeat the non-confidence motion to be discussed in parliament on Friday, June 12. Nevertheless Ponta's position will remain in doubt and the political scene in turmoil, because replacing him with another candidate from the Social Democrats would not be straightforward, given the centralised structure of the senior ruling party.
The crisis occurs at a particularly difficult time, when the government has embarked on major fiscal reforms and the country needs to speed up the absorption of EU funds. On top of this, political instability is likely to prevent any improvement in the functioning of the stand-by arrangement with the IMF and the parallel Balance of Payments programme with the European Commission.
On Friday lawmakers are scheduled to vote on the non-confidence motion submitted last week by the main opposition party, the National Liberal Party (PNL), initially on the grounds that the ruling coalition is allegedly blocking the enactment of adequate legislation for voting by Romanians living abroad. The procedures for Romanians living abroad to vote was a hot issue in last November's presidential elections, which eventually helped Ponta’s challenger Klaus Iohannis to win the second ballot.
In a sign that the government fears that political tempers could boil over, Minister of Justice Robert Cazanciuc has urged the opposition to refrain from encouraging public protests. “I warn PNL leaders that organising illegal political manifestations, with the aim of impeding the full use of their powers by the government or by the parliament, falls under the category of criminal deeds,” Cazanciuc specified in the document revealed by Mediafax.
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