By Ana Maria Touma
In a bizarre political twist, Romania’s ruling Social Democrat Party, PSD, on Wednesday has moved to bring down the government led by Sorin Grindeanu – who comes from the same party.
It is the first time in a decade that a ruling party has attempted to oust its own government, and raises fresh concerns about political stability.
Grindeanu refused four times in five days to resign, despite pressure to do so from PSD leader Liviu Dragnea and other party leaders. But after a five-hour-long meeting on Wednesday night, the PSD Executive Committee decided to withdraw support for the Cabinet. Ministers were asked to resign, or face exclusion from the party.
The junior ruling coalition ally Alliance of Liberal and Democrats also decided to stop supporting Grindeanu’s government.
Analysts said the crisis had less to do with the cabinet’s performance in its first six months, and basically concerned Dragnea’s drive to reassert his control over the party.
In fact, PM Grindeanu asked for Dragnea to step down on Wednesday and stormed out of the PSD meeting, refusing to hand in his own resignation.
“The real reason Dragnea wants to change the Prime Minister and several ministers has been the same since February. The PSD leader and several party barons have justice issues, but Grindeanu is refusing to help them after Decree 13 [a decree designed to pardon corruption related offences and was later withdrawn] led to the largest protests in Romania since 1989,” Tan Tapalaga, who writes for Hotnews, said on Wednesday.
“Justice Minister Tudorel Toader has slowed down the revision of justice legislation and the government has refused to simply pass the decree for thugs,” he added, referring to the same ill-fated decree, withdrawn on February 7.
The government crisis follows a weeks-long power struggle inside the PSD, with Dragnea, several loyal ministers and other members of the leadership accusing Grindeanu of not complying with the party manifesto advertised in the election campaign.
Dragnea last Friday said that all ministers, including the Prime Minister, were to be evaluated and that the party’s National Executive Council on Wednesday, based on this evaluation, would then decide who should leave or stay in the cabinet.
He also noted that all members of the cabinet, including Grindeanu, had handed in their resignations the same day they were appointed in January, in a gesture that was designed to leave Dragnea with the ultimate power over key decisions.
However, Grindeanu replied on Friday that the resignation of the cabinet would create political instability in a country that recently was deemed the fastest growing economy in the Balkans.
On Wednesday, hours before the PSD leadership meeting, after the ruling Social Democrat Party National Executive Bureau convenes, Grindeanu also told journalists that he had no intention of handing in his resignation, because he had not been asked for it directly, although he said he also expected to be “publicly executed.”
PSD sources told the media on Monday that two candidates were considered suitable to succeed to Grindeanu, Bucharest Mayor Gabriela Firea and Interior Minister Carmen Dan.
But Firea on Monday confirmed that she had refused the post, while Dan said she only found out about the posibility of her promotion on television.
Several senior PSD members, including Firea, have criticized Grindeanu for his lack of communication with the party leadership, raising concerns about a cold relationship between the Prime Minister and Dragnea.
The government’s efficacy also came into question after Labour Minister, Olguta Vasilescu, was forced to postpone generous public-sector wage hikes that the PSD promised in the electoral campaign.
Although the party had promised to implement the wage hike on July 1, 2017, the wages will now not increase for some categories of public employees until January 1, 2018 and for others until March 1, 2018.
The raises will also be lower than promised, only 25 per cent, as opposed to doubling some salaries for disadvantaged categories such as healthcare and education employees, because the government could not find muster the funds in time.
The amount needed for the hikes surpassed the 32 billion lei [7 billion euros] that the Minister of Labour had calculated.
With the Prime Minister determined to stay on, the PSD leadership has two alternatives to get rid of his cabinet.
One is to withdraw political backing and so force the majority of ministers to resign – in which case the Prime Minister will be forced to leave office. The other is to submit an impeachment motion in parliament.
Although several ministers have stated that they are willing to quit, some PSD members fear the crisis will badly tarnish the party’s image.
Former Prime Minister Victor Ponta has criticized the current party leader for not handling misunderstandings better. “You cannot ask a PM for his resignation just because he’s not obedient,” he wrote in a six-page open letter posted on Facebook.
Ponta said that most PSD members disagreed with Dragnea’s methods, but lacked the courage to tell him so and vote against his decisions at party meetings.
The leader of the main opposition National Liberal Party meanwhile told journalists that the whole affair shows the PSD is in crisis.
“After six months of PSD members trying to intoxicate public opinion with the idea that this government was a great success, today the party cannot come up with a reasonable and coherent argument to justify why they’re asking for the government to resign.
“Grindeanu has brought the PSD to a historic moment, a unique moment of ridicule in Romania’s post-1989 history – to initiate an impeachment motion for its own government,” PNL leader Raluca Turcan said.
Political commentator Florin Negrutiu warned in an editorial on Wednesday that making a hero out of Grindeanu just for standing up to Dragnea would be wrong.
“All he did was to drag out things. The stranger the boss’s demands became, the more the PM shrugged his shoulders and blinked,” he wrote
“Decree 13 withdrawn, justice legislation dragged out, all the economic fantasies of [Labour Minister] Olguta [Vasilescu] blocked, one by one. This made Dragnea really angry: he had sent Grindeanu to head the cabinet to serve him, not to blink. ‘I’m the one who made you, I’m the one who kills you,’ is what Dragnea’s message is now,” he pointed out.
The same analyst also said that by attacking his own government, the PSD leader was killing off the so-called “myth of competence” of his own party.