The executive committee of Romania’s Social Democratic Party (PSD) decided on June 15 to file a no-confidence motion against its own prime minister, Sorin Grindeanu, and expel him from the party, PSD leader Liviu Dragnea has announced.
The PSD’s decision deepens the political crisis that erupted the previous day, following rumours of a rift between Grindeanu and Dragnea. With a majority in the parliament, the PSD and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (Alde) have the power to remove the prime minister, but the longer Grindeanu refuses to resign, the more damaging for Dragnea and other PSD leaders the drama will be.
The no-confidence motion will be debated and voted on by the parliament on June 21. Dragnea said the PSD will hold talks with other parties to persuade them to back the motion.
The decision to file the no-confidence motion and expel the prime minister from the party was made after Grindeanu refused on June 14 to stand down, even after the PSD and Alde withdrew political support for him and his cabinet.
All the government’s ministers have said they will resign, according to Dragnea, leaving Grindeanu in a virtually impossible position if he wants to form a new government. Dragnea has already announced that any PSD member who agrees to be part of a government led by Grindeanu will be expelled from the party.
During a press conference on June 15, Dragnea made the surprising suggestion that there was “professional coordination” behind Grindeanu’s actions.
“He is no longer himself. I am telling it with regret, but in our opinion Sorin Grindeanu is just a tool. It is very difficult to realise whose tool he is. My colleagues who watched him on TV last night said he acted as if there was somebody behind him making him say those things,” Dragnea said, without elaborating on who might be influencing the prime minister.
Grindeanu himself held a press conference on June 15, in which he reiterated he will resign if Dragnea resigns from the post of PSD leader.
“I am asking Liviu Dragbea to think well and assume responsibility for this crisis until Monday. After Dragnea resigns, I will resign too,” Grindeanu said.
He added that he has received “many” resignations from ministers. However, despite Dragnea's claim the entire cabinet had stood down, Grindeanu said some “are missing" and that he will hold talks with PSD members in the coming days.
While he is almost certain to be removed, Grindeanu enjoys his own support within the PSD, although it is very modest compared to Dragnea’s, raising the possibility of a split within the party. Originally seen as a proxy for Dragnea, he has shed this image by standing up to the powerful PSD leader from within an organisation where most members toe the party line.
His allies include former Prime Minister Victor Ponta, one of Dragnea’s most vocal critics, who Grindeanu reportedly wants to appoint as general secretary of the government. In addition, on June 12, the Social Democrats from the Timis county branch signed a resolution to support Grindeanu, a document they planned to send to the party leaders, Hotnews.ro reported.
Highs and lows
The crisis has emerged just six months after Romania’s largest party won a landslide victory in the December 11 general elections. However, its short term in office has been plagued by scandal, with the adoption of an emergence decree aimed at weakening Romania’s anti-corruption fight sparking the largest protests since the fall of communism earlier this year.
While Dragnea is expected to emerge victorious in the current standoff with Grindeanu, the extremely public spat is also likely to weaken both the party and Dragnea’s authority. Grindeanu has already indicated that Dragnea has tried to bribe him to stand down by offering him several posts in state institutions.
Meanwhile, Grindeanu has warned there is a risk the PSD might lose power, and urged PSD members to decide wisely.
“There is an imminent risk that the PSD loses governance and at the moment we are actually transferring all the power to President Iohannis,” Grindeanu wrote on Facebook. “We cannot accept this situation! I propose you a broad consultation within the party, with those who work and really believe in PSD! I want you to weigh well what you decide today. We have duty towards Romania,” he wrote before the PSD meeting.
The ongoing political turmoil is also set to have a damaging impact on the Romanian economy.
Earlier in the day, the Romanian presidency said through its spokeswoman that it will start procedures to appoint a new candidate for the prime minister post when the constitutional requirements are met. Reportedly, President Klaus Iohannis — who hails from the PSD’s main rival the centre left National Liberal Party (PNL) — has asked the ruling coalition to solve the crisis rapidly in order to avoid political instability.
When the prime minister post becomes vacant, either as a result of the prime minister’s resignation or by adoption of a no-confidence motion in parliament, the president of Romania will start procedures to appoint a candidate for the post, the spokeswoman said.