The international press has reported on the mass Bucharest protest that saw thousands of Romanians as well as the country’s president take to the streets in freezing temperatures on Sunday evening. Depending on estimates, between 20,000 and 30,000 people rallied against government plans to decriminalize certain offenses and grant pardons via emergency ordinance, a move that would benefit several high-profile politicians in the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) and weaken the anti-corruption efforts.
The international press stressed the fact that the measures, which, according to the Grindeanu government, is aimed at easing overcrowding in the country’s prisons, is opposed by many voices and institutions heading the country’s anti-graft fight.
“The new cabinet of Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu last week unveiled the draft decrees that have been criticized by the president, the prosecutor general, the supreme court, the chief anti-corruption prosecutor and the chief of the directorate fighting organized crime, as well as civil rights groups and diplomats.
All have expressed concern about the drafts, as well as a lack of transparency and the intention to legislate through decrees instead of going through parliament, despite having a strong majority there,” Reuters reported.
“According to drafts, the government intends among other changes to decriminalize abuse of power actions causing financial damage of less than 200,000 lei ($47,500), an offense the leader of the ruling Social Democrat party is accused of inciting a third party to commit,” Reuters wrote. Similarly, Aljazeera wrote that the measure could benefit 70-year-old “media mogul Dan Voiculescu, a government supporter […] who is currently is serving a 10-year sentence for money laundering.
In an unprecedented move, Romanian president Klaus Iohannis, who had criticized the proposed measures openly on Friday, also joined the protest. “A gang of politicians who have problems with the law want to change the legislation and weaken the state of law … Romanians are rightly indignant,” the Guardian quoted Iohannis as saying.
“People have a right to be outraged as a gang of politicians who face criminal problems want to change the legislation and weaken the rule of law,” Bloomberg quoted Iohannis as saying while attending the protests in Bucharest. “It’s unacceptable to change legislation just to clean up the files of tens and hundreds of politicians in trouble with the law so they are able to go ahead with their wrongdoings,” Bloomberg wrote, adding the reply by PSD head Liviu Dragnea, who wrote on his Facebook account that “Iohannis wants to shackle the power that has legitimacy granted by the popular vote. The president acted outside the law by seeking personal political gains and asking for constitutional nonsense: the withdrawal of some decrees, especially decrees that haven’t been passed.”
Aljazeera quoted PM Grindeanu, who told reporters the two decrees were not on the agenda this week, but that they could be included, after the judiciary is consulted. “It is just as constitutional as the president attending a government meeting for us to issue emergency decrees in all areas that the law allows us to,” he said.