Only six months after winning the parliamentary elections, Romania’s Social Democratic Party is in turmoil following an attempt by the party’s leader, Liviu Dragnea, to remove the current Prime Minister, Sorin Grindeanu. With the party set for a key parliamentary vote on whether to keep the Prime Minister in power, it seems that both Grindeanu and Dragnea’s political futures now hang in the balance.
Romania’s Social Democrats won the country’s parliamentary elections in December in 2016. But their first six months in power have turned out to be an extremely bumpy ride. The latest drama has seen the party enter a spiral of crises that follow a failed attempt by their leader, Liviu Dragnea, to sack Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu, who was, until recently, perceived to be something of a political puppet for Dragnea.
The situation came as a surprise, especially after the cabinet managed to survive protests in February, when hundreds of thousands of Romanians hit the streets in a reaction to the government’s attempt – allegedly under Dragnea’s influence – to decriminalise certain corruption offences. The crisis is even more surprising given the fact that the government has actually experienced solid economic results in recent months. However, the relationship between the leader of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) and the new Prime Minister – who has refused to obey party orders – has, nevertheless, deteriorated rapidly. Indeed, events unfolded at a staggering speed – in just a little over two days.
The shock decision of the PSD’s leadership to try to remove Grindeanu came less than a month after Dragnea publicly declared that he was satisfied with how the government was working. When the Prime Minister refused to leave office, he was ousted from the PSD outright and Dragnea asked the PM’s cabinet members to submit their resignations. However, despite facing immense pressure and a hostile leadership within his own party, Grindeanu is now trying to form a new cabinet, and has the support of several vocal Social Democrats who have repeatedly spoken out against Dragnea’s allegedly authoritarian rule.
These supporters include MEP Cătălin Ivan, and Mihai Chirica, the mayor of Iași (one of the biggest municipalities in Romania), as well as former minister and MP, Aurelia Cristea, all of whom were isolated by Dragnea over their critical stances against his leadership style. But there seem to be many more who have kept their silence, until now, but who could manifest their disapproval with their leader, at any point. The fate of the government will remain uncertain until the clash between these divergent views inside the PSD is settled. Two distinct shades of red within the party have now come to the surface.
An evaluation that Liviu Dragnea produced, together with his close collaborators, (which he used as the basis for the reasons he considered the government should resign) was nothing short of an absurdity, as the document was a simplistic mathematical representation of the number of decisions taken by the government in its first six months. The numbers were compared with the entire sum of decisions that the government was expected to take during its whole four-year-term: Of course this showed that only some of what was expected had been implemented so far.
The Prime Minister criticised the document and declared he would not resign on the basis of such an ill-founded paper. He added that, given Dragnea’s substantial contribution to establishing the portfolios in the cabinet, he should also assume part of the guilt in not having the party manifesto properly implemented. He was backed by former Prime Minister, Victor Ponta, a staunch opponent of Dragnea.
Moreover, Ponta pledged his full support to Grindeanu, promising that he would devote time and effort to persuading MPs, who remained faithful to him, to support the Prime Minister, now left without a cabinet. But Dragnea fought back and the PSD leadership will now ask for a vote of no-confidence in the Parliament. Romanian politics is experiencing a novel situation, as a party is preparing to vote against its own government and is asking the opposition to do the same.
However, simply adding up numbers, yet again, might produce a distorted image. Although, theoretically, the PSD and its junior coalition partner would have enough votes to topple the government, the situation is more complicated, precisely because it is still unclear whether Dragnea can rely on the votes of all the Social Democrat MPs. A number of them are unhappy with the fact that key positions are held by those who, until not so long ago, came from outside the party, i.e. mostly from the Greater Romania Party (PRM).
Even Dragnea has been reminded that he was initially a member of a competitor’s party (the PD), before joining the PSD. If Grindeanu manages to pull enough support from those who are uneasy with Dragnea as party leader, he might just manage to survive. It would be a disastrous scenario for the current leadership of the PSD, which would then, almost surely, find itself in the situation of having to call for a congress within the party. This would open up competition for the leadership. In this potential weakened position, it might be the beginning of the end for Dragnea’s political career.
Ultimately, the crisis will only end once things are settled, one way or another, within the PSD. Should the government fall, following the vote in parliament, Dragnea will cleanse the party of all those who spoke out against him. He will then form a genuine ‘puppet cabinet’ which he will scrutinise even more closely than he did the current one. However, if the government survives the vote of no-confidence, the situation will continue to linger until the victors remove Dragnea and his team from their positions. Regardless of how events unfold, both the government and the PSD will be fragile until a new leadership, with or without the current key figures, regains full legitimacy through a proper congress.
The views expressed in this opinion editorial are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Emerging Europe’s editorial policy.
The editorial is an edited version of the article published on the LSE’s EUROPP.