What on earth is going on in Romania?

The political crisis in Romania reads more like a House of Cards script than real life. Here’s the story behind the latest controversy.
Romania Protest in front of Cotroceni Palace, Bucharest on February 7
Protest in front of Cotroceni Palace, Bucharest on February 7

In December 2016, elections in Romania resulted in a coalition between the PSD (the Social Democrats) and the ALDE (the Liberal Democrats), who made up a strong majority in parliament and formed a cabinet under Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu.

Liviu Dragnea, the leader of the PSD and one of the most influential politicians in Romania, was not eligible to be nominated Prime Minister due to a previous legal conviction for electoral fraud. He claims the allegations are false.

Sorin Grindeanu eventually took the position and appointed ministers from the PSD. President Klaus Iohannis rejected the party’s original female nominee – Sevil Shhaideh.

In late January, the PSD government went through a critical moment when they tried to pass a law to decriminalize certain corruption offences. Massive protests began and the legislative initiative was dropped, but the cabinet and its leader, Sorin Grindeanu, remained in power seemingly unblemished by the affair.

Less than a month ago Liviu Dragnea, the PSD leader, stated that he was pleased with the work of the Prime Minister – and fellow party member – but he sparked a political crisis when he attempted to have Grindeanu sacked and replaced.

PSD leader Liviu Dragnea Romania
PSD leader Liviu Dragnea

Prime Minister Grindeanu was not willing to resign and – despite facing immense pressure and hostile leadership within his own party – he tried fighting back by seeking to form a new cabinet. He had the support of several Social Democrats, such as former Prime Minister Victor Ponta, MEP Cătălin Ivan and former minister and MP Aurelia Cristea, all of whom were dissatisfied with what they saw as Dragnea’s authoritarian rule.

However, last week all but one of the cabinet ministers resigned, even though Grindeanu only sent two ministerial resignations to the President’s office, proving the PSD’s desire to pressure Grideanu into resigning.

In response, Grideanu removed the majority of the Government’s General Secretariat, and appointed Victor Ponta, a supporter of his, as Secretary General. Ponta declared his commitment to Grindeanu, promising that he would devote time and effort to finding MPs who remained faithful to the Prime Minister, who now found himself without a cabinet.

Ponta also stated that the crisis inside the PSD would only benefit President Klaus Iohannis, a political rival with the authority to appoint a Prime Minister with parliament’s approval.

The PSD expelled Grideanu from the party, stating that he has failed to implement the PSD’s broad governing agenda since being appointed Prime Minister. His subsequent refusal to step down deepened internal rifts within the PSD and produced yet another political crisis.

The Dragnea-Grindeanu conflict has cleaved the PSD in two.

Seeing that pressure to resign was not enough to get rid of the Prime Minister, PSD leader Dragnea stated that no Government could remain in power without the support of the parliamentary majority, and that Romania was witnessing a coup d’Etat.

‘Romania’s ruling leftists filed a no-confidence motion in parliament last Sunday against their prime minister, Sorin Grindeanu,’ said Reuters, ‘escalating a conflict which government critics say reflects internal rifts over anti-corruption policy.’

As a last resort, the PSD has asked its members for a no-confidence vote in another attempt to remove Grindeanu from office and nominate someone else for this position.

The last resort of PSD was the no-confidence vote, which is scheduled for Wednesday. In order to win the vote – scheduled for Wednesday – and remove the government, the Social Democrats need 233 of a possible 465 votes.

The PSD and its ally the ALDE have enough seats for the motion to succeed, although several PSD members could switch allegiances and decide to support Grindeanu.

The fate of the government depends fundamentally on the outcome of the no-confidence vote.

But regardless of the outcome, the crisis has hugely damaged the PSD’s image. Former Prime Minister Victor Ponta, a Grindeanu ally, said the no-confidence vote was symptomatic of the ‘atomic war between the Social Democrats and the Social Democrats.’

Former Prime Minister, and Grideanu ally, Victor Ponta Romania
Grideanu ally, and former Prime Minister, Victor Ponta.

And of course, the result of the no-confidence vote is vital for Dragnea’s political career. Anything less than victory will most likely trigger an even greater conflict inside the party, lead to calls for a full-party conference. This scenario would open up competition for the PSD leadership. Dragnea would stand a good chance of losing his current position, and considerable power.

If the no-confidence vote gets a majority, however, the party conflict will be settled and Grindeanu supporters will become pariahs.

But regardless of the result of the vote, the crisis has tarnished the PSD’s image. The high levels of public support that propelled them to victory in the Parliamentary elections 6 months ago are waning, and the party is looking increasing fragile