Romanian PSD moves to fix image after former leader sent to prison for corruption

Romanian PSD moves to fix image after former leader sent to prison for corruption
PM Viorica Danicla faces the press after her party's poor showing in the European Parliament election and referendum on justice reform.
By Iulian Ernst in Bucharest May 29, 2019

Romania’s Prime Minister Viorica Dancila said she won’t stand down despite the senior ruling Social Democratic Party’s (PSD’s) defeat in the European Parliament elections and the overwhelming vote by Romanians against the reforms conducted by her party in the area of justice in a referendum on May 26. 

Dancila, who is serving as interim head of the PSD after its leader Liviu Dragnea was sent to prison, instead announced steps aimed at re-establishing the credibility of the party, including with broad government and party reshuffles.

“I won’t resign, but I will respect the parliament’s decision if a no-confidence motion is filed,” Dancila said on May 27, and repeated it one day later, when the party summoned its leadership to tackle the unexpected situation.

PSD vice-president and influential regional party leader Marian Oprisan outlined the party’s general strategy: it was not the PSD that lost the elections, but Dragnea; there is a new PSD emerging now; those involved in corruption cases will no longer hold a top position in the party; there will be no further discussions in the party about amending the justice laws. 

These general ideas were supported by Dancila. She made clear that it is not the party that must be held responsible for the deeds of “some of its members” (like former party leader Dragnea). She made use in her rhetoric of her past resistance against Dragnea’s pressure to issue emergency decrees on amending the justice laws. And she added that the party will continue implementing its programme. 

“I always felt that those emergency decrees [amending the justice laws] would be a vulnerability for the country [if passed],” she stated. “I do not want to talk again about the pressures exerted by Dragnea,” she added.

Yet the party is vulnerable to accusations this is merely an opportunistic, window dressing operation aimed at fixing the image of the PSD, as it prepares for the presidential elections later in the year. 

Ironically, the integrity body, ANI, is currently investigating how Oprisan’s mother, an ordinary retired textile plant worker with no particular wealth, declared she lent her son €51,000 and gave him a Ford Shelby worth €150,000 as a present. ANI is investigating Oprisan’s wealth, most of it registered in his mother’s name.

Most of the close collaborators of former PSD chief Dragnea were dismissed as part of the staff reshuffling on May 28, but the criteria seems to have been the need to normalise the party’s and government’s activity in relation to the presidency (and persuade President Klaus Iohannis to appoint new ministers), the European Commission (to avoid criticism on justice and anti-corruption issues) and the Party of European Socialists (to avoid seeing the PSD ousted from the pan-European party).

Consequently, politicians such as MP Catalin Radulescu and MP Codrin Stefanescu, vocal supporters of Dragnea’s populist measures, will hold no key position in the party. However, Paul Stanescu, a close collaborator of Dragnea although more moderate in his rhetoric, was appointed as interim executive president of the PSD and will coordinate the activity within the party, while Dancila, the interim president of the party, will be busy coordinating the activity of the government.

In order to have the government reshuffle passed smoothly by Iohannis, Dancila nominated credible candidates confirmed in the past by the presidency: Ana Birchall will serve as minister of justice (she was accepted by Iohannis as interim ministry already), Natalia Intotero will return to the Ministry of Diaspora after she failed to win a seat in the European Parliament, and Roxana Minzatu, president of the public procurement agency with a technical rather than political background, will serve as minister of European funds.