Liviu Dragnea, the head of Romania’s ruling social-democrat party, turned himself in on May 27 after a high court upheld a three and a half year sentence against him on corruption charges.
Dragnea, who is speaker of Romania’s lower house of parliament, has been party leader since 2015, when he replaced Victor Ponta, who resigned following large protests against the authorities’ response in the aftermath of the fatal fire in a Bucharest nightclub.
Despite his social-democrat party winning the parliamentary election in December 2016, he was unable to become prime minister due to a previous suspended sentence for election fraud.
To circumvent that ban, Dragnea has spearheaded his party’s efforts to roll back judiciary reforms passed by previous governments, which caused several large-scale protests in Romania – most notably in February 2017, when his party put forward a plan that decriminalised low-level government corruption by exonerating embezzlement of up to 45 000 euro.
That plan was later withdrawn, but Dragnea did not give up on the idea, which caused frequent clashes with president Klaus Iohannis, elected on an anti-corruption platform in December 2014.
Dragnea’s plans to push for an amnesty law appeared to be dashed by a two-question referendum initiated by Iohannis, held simultaneously with European Parliament elections on May 26.
The referendum, which cleared the validity thresholds, showed more than 80 per cent of respondents in favour of banning pardons for convicts jailed on corruption charges and also preventing the government from passing any future measures in that sense.
The social-democrats also lost the European Parliament election amid high turnout, placing second with 23.6 per cent, behind Iohannis’ national-liberal party, which received 27.1 per cent, according to partial results. Another anti-corruption opposition party was third with 20 per cent.
Dragnea was defiant on election night, urging prime minister Viorica Dancila, seen as his protege, not to resign as head of government. With Dragnea losing his party position, Dancila said that the party’s executive leadership would meet on May 28 to discuss the next steps, but she would not resign as prime minister.
But the future of the ruling coalition was not immediately clear, with its junior coalition partner also weakened by a poor result at the polls, failing to clear the threshold to win any MEP seats.
Dragnea is also under investigation in another case, where he is accused of spearheading an organised crime group that allegedly aimed to carry out EU funds fraud. The case is expected to head to court later this year.
(Dragnea, centre, on the campaign trail ahead of the May 2019 European Parliament election. Photo: psd.ro)