By Ana Maria Luca
Romanian anti-corruption activists and opposition supporters prepared for more protests on Monday after the ruling Social Democrats showed strong support for their party leader, Liviu Dragnea, despite his receiving a second corruption-related sentence last week.
The Social Democrats were set to meet on Monday and decide on a new procedure to change the criminal code by government decree in order to avoid lengthy deliberations in the parliament.
Over 10,000 protesters gathered on Sunday night in front of the government building while thousands more demonstrated in cities across the country.
Activists say they will keep on protesting until the ruling party abandons its plans to change anti-corruption legislation.
“We want a country where my children can grow up safely, without criminals in public office,” Flavia Chirila, 32, told BIRN on Sunday. “We will be here, on the streets, until they give up,” she added.
Courts last week found Dragnea guilty in a case involving two secretaries who had earned salaries from the local child protection agency while actually working for the local Social Democratic Party branch.
At the time, Dragnea headed the Teleorman County Council, which controlled the child protection agency, and he also led the local Social Democratic Party branch.
The court ruling was not final and may be appealed at the Supreme Court.
However, it was Dragnea’s second corruption sentence in three years.
He ws previsouly sentenced to two-year suspended jail sentence for attempting to rig a referendum in 2012.
Most Social Democrat leaders have meanwhile rallied behind their leader, saying that he does not need to resign until the court ruling is final.
“I strongly believe in the innocence of the Social Democratic Party president and assure him of all my support in running the party and the Chamber of Deputies,” Prime Minister Viorica Dancila said on Facebook on Thursday night.
Several Social Democratic local organisations also publicly announced their support for Dragnea over the weekend.
They also criticised the court for sentencing him based on an article in the criminal code on instigation to abuse of office that the Constitutional Court has said should be changed.
The criminal code’s article on abuse of office that led to Dragnea’s sentence was deemed unconstitutional in June 2016.
Currently, Romanian law defines abuse of office as an act by a public official that inflicts damage on the state.
After meeting party leaders on Friday, Dragnea said he would not surrender his position despite pressure from protesters and the opposition.
He also apologised to “thousands of Romanians who have been serving time in prison because of this unconstitutional article [in the penal code].”
“We have decided to be firmer and more radical in what we have to do,” he added.
The National Prison Administration later fact-checked Dragnea’s statement and clarified that 73 people are currently in prison based on the controversial article.
Parliament is also set to vote on Wednesday in an impeachment motion against the government led by Dancila.
Opposition Liberals and the Save Romania Union are looking for support among Social Democrat MPs and allies that are unhappy with the party leadership.
The opposition needs 233 votes for the motion to pass. Dragnea as well as several ministers have said they are confident that the motion will not pass.