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Embattled Romanian PM survives no-confidence vote

Daniel Mihailescu, AFP | Romanian Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu addresses parliament in Bucharest on January 4, 2017.
4 min

Romania's defiant Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu easily survived a no-confidence vote on Wednesday as his left-wing government battles nationwide unrest over its attempt to weaken corruption laws.


The motion, submitted by the centre-right opposition, failed to garner the required 233 votes in parliament where Grindeanu's left-wing Social Democrat party (PSD) holds a solid majority after winning elections only two months ago.

The prime minister had appeared defiant ahead of the vote and vowed not to quit.

"We have a duty to the people who gave us their trust during the election and to continue to govern," the 43-year-old told lawmakers in Bucharest.

For more than a week, hundreds of thousands of people have protested against an emergency decree approved on January 31, which critics say would have protected the corrupt from prosecution.

Although the measure was scrapped late Sunday, the marches have continued, with some protesters vowing not to stop until the government steps down.

While the crowds have noticeably shrunk from the half a million people thronging cities and towns on Sunday -- the largest rallies since the fall of communism in 1989 -- they are expected to grow again over the weekend.

"Every action the government took in the last week proves that they are not honest at all. So we cannot trust them," protester Danchiric, who works in advertising, told AFP at Bucharest's Victory Square where 3,000 people had gathered on Tuesday night.

Political arm-wrestling

"Romanians don't want corrupt politicians to be pardoned and shielded from justice. We call on you to stop acting against the law," read the motion filed by 123 opposition MPs, dozens of whom wore armbands reading "Quit".

Observers say much of the public anger is directed at the graft-riddled political establishment, which includes powerful PSD head Liviu Dragnea.

The 54-year-old was barred from running for office because of a voter fraud conviction and is currently on trial for alleged abuse of power, a charge he denies.

"The government has understood the demonstrators' message. Other measures will be taken to end this conflict," Dragnea said on Wednesday.

The street protests have also grown into political arm-wrestling between the PSD and the opposition-backed President Klaus Iohannis who has championed the mass rallies.

In a parliamentary address Tuesday, Iohannis had hinted that the government should quit.

"The repeal of the decree and the possible sacking of a minister is too little. Early elections are too much," Iohannis said.

"If the PSD, which has created this crisis, fails to resolve the crisis immediately, I will summon all the political parties for talks. You've won, now govern and legislate -- but not at any price," he warned.

In response, around 2,000 pro-government supporters gathered outside the presidential palace on Tuesday evening chanting "traitor".

Grindeanu also lashed out at the president on Wednesday, accusing him of displaying a "strong desire to quickly install his own government".

'Difficult marathon'

Despite backtracking on the corruption law, the government still aims to free some 2,500 people serving prison sentences of less than five years, via a separate decree to be reviewed by parliament.

Grindeanu has argued the measures were meant to bring penal law into line with the constitution in the European Union member and reduce overcrowding in prisons.

But critics see the moves as a brazen attempt to let off the many lawmakers who have been ensnared in a major anti-corruption drive in recent years.

That push has seen almost 2,000 people convicted for abuse of power, and a serving prime minister and a string of ministers and lawmakers go on trial.

The government's latest manoeuvres have sparked alarm in Brussels and Washington.

The European Commission, which had previously praised Romania for its efforts, warned Wednesday that a U-turn in "this incredibly difficult marathon" against corruption would be a "disservice" to the country.  


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