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Europe

Romania political crisis remains after government survives no-confidence vote

media Mass protests against the Romanian government's moves to decriminalise corruption in Bucharest, 1 February 2017. Inquam Photos/Octav Ganea

Romania’s government survived a vote of no-confidence on Wednesday, called amid protests over controversial moves to decriminalise corruption offenses, but it now faces the spectre of more mass demonstrations as well as a challenge in the Constitutional Court.

The ruling Social Democratic Party and its coalition partners control a majority in parliament, there was no chance the government would not survive the vote.

But the government of Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu is no more secure than it was the previous day.

“The problem is the street, and the street is not controlled,” says political researcher Octavian Milewski, referring to the largest gatherings of protesters the country has seen since the end of communism in 1989.

The government originally bypassed parliament and decriminalised corruption offenses in an emergency order last week, but backed down on Sunday following nightly demonstrations of hundreds of thousands of people.

Since then, the numbers of protesters have gone down, but Milewski believes they will return come the weekend.

“For the ordinance that was abrogated, there was a proposal to replace it with an ordinance that was almost a copy-and-paste from the previous one, and the protesters know this,” he says. “They are probably gathering new forces to step up the protests.”

Constitutional dimension

With the scrapping of the emergency order, the slate of proposals therein have been tabled in the government-controlled parliament.

But this has come about because of a constitutional dimension, in which the order itself disappears but the proposals effectively remain intact.

“Our constitution provides that every emergency decree must be approved by the parliament,” says Cristi Danilet, a judge in Cluj-Napoca who helped draft a complaint to the Constitutional Court over the order.

“The first emergency order is withdrawn, but the second emergency decree, that withdrew the first, must be approved by the parliament,” he explains. “From the theoretical point of view, the parliament has the possibility to reject the second emergency decree. The effect will be that the first emergency decree will be reborn.”

In this scenario, even if the Constitutional Court rules that the government did not have the legal grounds for the order, the order’s contents could still end up becoming law.

In a more political take on the situation, Octavian Milewski says the government is attempting a strategy that he predicts will fail.

“They are trying to gain time, and in this way to push the protesters towards a sort of fatigue, but by the end of the week, we are sure to get something like what we had the previous week,” he says.

“And a part of the crowd has radicalised its demands, saying they want nothing less than the resignation of the Grindeanu government.”

 

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