Romania's ruling Social Democrats (PSD) government urged an end to mass protests which have continued for more than a week - despite the withdrawal of a controversial decree that would have shielded politicians from prosecution on certain corruption charges. The rallies, however, continued especially in the capital Bucharest, where some 250,000 protesters congregated one week after the original start of the protests and chanted: "We don't believe you, we won't give up."
The PSD government's intended measure to decriminalize official misconduct had resulted in the largest demonstrations in the country since the fall of communism in 1989 - which came barely one month after the current administration had taken office. The new government was eventually forced to back down from the emergency ordinance that would have decriminalized abuse in office if the amount involved was less than 200,000 lei (about $48,500, 44,000 euros).
Some of the protestors said that the new government's resignation was the only solution to the crisis. Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu meanwhile acknowledged that "the act had led to division," signaling a change in direction.
Justice minister in crosshairs
The PSD-led government might likely still hold on to plans to introduce another version of the law in parliament, where it has a majority. Justice Minister Florin Iordache told reporters that he would publish the details of a new, alternative bill to change corruption provisions in the criminal code. His own ministry later contradicted him, saying the justice ministry was not planning to draft such a bill. Prime Minister Grindeanu meanwhile also threatened to fire the justice minister.
The government had claimed that the easing of corruption laws were design to bring the Romanian criminal code into line with rulings by the Constitutional Court and EU legal directives on legislation. However, the opposition, anti-corruption prosecutors, magistrates and hundreds of thousands of Romanian protesters believe it had been tailored to give amnesty to dozens of politically-affiliated public officials convicted or accused of abuse of office in one of the poorest and most corrupt members of the EU.
Romania's Constitutional Court meanwhile is expected to rule on the proposal later in the week.
A 'tense state'
Social Democrat Party (PSD) leader Liviu Dragnea reiterated his party's support for Prime Minister Grindeanu, saying that his "legitimately elected" government had no reason to resign.
"As long as this tense state continues in Romania no one has anything to gain," he told reporters. "All the PSD can do is to urge calm. Besides the protesters in the square, there are other Romanians also shouting that their vote must be protected," he said, in reference to his party's big win in a December election.
Later in the week, the government faces a no-confidence vote filed by the opposition Liberals and Save Romania Union; however, with the PSD holding a majority in parliament along with its liberal junior partners ALDE the motion against the PSD and party leader Liviu Dragnea is considered to be symbolic at best. Meanwhile, the government's decision to withdraw the decree on corruption will require the approval of the PSD/ALDE-majority parliament.
Come-back kid Dragnea?
Dragnea, the major power-broker in the government, also announced that he was still hoping to govern the country himself. Dragnea had been banned from being prime minister because of a conviction in April 2016 for vote rigging. However, the 54-year-old revealed he was now seeking to have the guilty verdict overturned on a technicality.
Dragnea said that the court had failed to send him the verdict against him in print within the legally binding 30-day deadline, adding that he had petitioned for the annulment of the final ruling.
If the petition were to succeed, Dragnea's two-year suspended sentence would be erased from his criminal records, clearing the way for him to become prime minister. Romanian law bars people with criminal convictions from assuming government posts.
ss/rt (AP, Reuters, dpa)