UPDATE: On February 6, the government took a step back and repealed the ordinance that brought people to the streets. Protests however continued. Sunday, February 5, Romania saw its biggest protests from the last decades. Over half a million protesters demanded the resignation of the government and asked for transparency and safeguarding of judicial independence. In social media people are now saying they will continue to come out on the streets.
For the past two weeks, Romania has been the scene of unprecedented clashes between the Social Democratic Party (PSD), which won the election in December 2016, and everybody else.
Less than one month after the PSD took power, hundreds of thousands of Romanians have taken over the streets after the government adopted, during the night of January 31 to February 1, an emergency ordinance that decriminalized certain forms of corruption, such as abuse of power and deeds that caused damages worth less then 45,000 euros.
The act favors many politicians who are being investigated for corruption or who have been convicted for such crime.
Among these politicians is the PSD leader, Liviu Dragnea, who already received a suspended sentence of 2 years and who is currently under investigation for abuse of power. Although his party won the election, he could not become the prime minister, at least not officially, because of his criminal record.
The outrage of the Romanian people is shared by the Romanian justice system and by the Romanian president. All of them strongly criticized the stealthily adopted act. This opinion is shared by the prosecutor general of Romania, Augustin Lazar, the head of the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA), Laura Kovesi Codruţa, President Klaus Johannis, and associations of judges and prosecutors.
They all believe that the ordinance will negatively impact the fight against corruption because it decriminalizes corruption committed by politicians and civil servants, rendering void the work carried out by DNA’s anti-corruption prosecutors in more than 2,000 investigations that are currently being carried out.
Protests at home and abroad
People are angry particularly because prior to the adoption of the ordinance, Romanians had already held three rounds of large-scale protests in Bucharest and in 20 other cities against it, as well as against another act aimed at collective pardons. That act was officially justified as necessary in order to fight against prison overcrowding.
The government then decided, without the mandatory opinions of some judicial institutions, to temporarily drop the act on collective pardons, but to go ahead with the corruption ordinance.
In these circumstances, the streets of the Romanian capital and many other cities both big and small were flooded with protesters demanding the withdrawal of this act, which is to enter into force on February 11.
Solidarity protests have also been organized by the Romanian diaspora in many European cities, and many European leaders have expressed their concern for the fate of the Romanian fight against corruption, warning that the government shouldn’t erase the progress made in the past year in this field. The European Parliament discussed the situation on February 2 and continues to monitor developments in the country. Romania is still under EU supervision under the European Cooperation and Verification Mechanism because of corruption.
Even the Romanian Orthodox Church, known for being a PSD ally and generally in support of politicians who hold power, has issued a statement in which it acknowledges the importance of the fight against corruption and demands that the government withdraw the ordinance.
There have also been several resignations from the PSD, including members of the party, mayors and the business minister, all of whom said they don't support the ordinance.
Judiciary to the rescue?
Despite all the protests and the domestic and international criticism, the leader of the PSD, Liviu Dragnea, and the government have announced that they will not withdraw the ordinance, stating that the opposition is lying and that all the ordinance does is to adapt criminal law to the Constitution.
In the meantime the ordinance was challenged before the Constitutional Court by the president of Romania, the Superior Council of Magistracy and the ombudsperson. Everybody is now waiting for the decision of the Court, hoping it will be issued before the entry into force of the ordinance, on February 11.
Until then, hundreds of thousands of Romanian will continue to take to the streets in peaceful protests, and among are many people who voted for PSD candidates in the last election. Every evening, in temperatures often below zero, people go out in the streets, with children, pets and placards, gathering in central squares to show their discontent towards the government.