Bucharest protest: why hundreds of thousands of Romanians took to the streets

Protest in Bucharest

Photo: Vadim Gird / AR

The Romanian government reversed its decision to weaken the penalties for corruption. However, thousands of protests continue across the country; on 8 February the Parliament will consider a question of mistrust to the Cabinet

Monday, February 6, the government of Romania has announced that it will prepare new amendments to anti-corruption laws and this week will present them to the public debate and in Parliament. On the eve of the Cabinet to an emergency meeting, reversed its decree which have affected the punishment for corruption and caused the most massive since the overthrow of the Ceausescu regime protests.

Failed liberalization

The extraordinary act of the government on the decriminalization of a number of economic articles of the Criminal code was adopted on the night of February 1, without the consent of Parliament; in protest took to the streets hundreds of thousands of Romanians. On Sunday, Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu announced that it wants to “split the Romanian society” and revokes the decree. However, the decision on its revocation must be approved by Parliament until February 10, emphasizes Reuters.

Speech in the disputed ruling was the exclusion of the Criminal code of article about excess of powers of office, if the damage amounted to less than 200 thousand Romanian lei (about $48 thousand). In addition, convicted of petty articles get a chance for a reduced sentence or fall under the Amnesty, which was extended to sentenced to less than five years ‘ imprisonment, the elderly and pregnant women.

Decriminalization of economic articles and Amnesty was supposed to be the first step of the social democratic government of Prime Minister Grindeanu formed on 4 January in the aftermath of the December parliamentary elections. The government explained its intention two factors — the need to bring the penal code into conformity with the more liberal decisions of the constitutional court and prison overcrowding. According to The Guardian, the government estimates that the Amnesty could fall by 2.5 thousand people, according to the prison administration — 3.7 thousand

On Monday, the international human rights organization Transparency International has supported the review of a government decision and urged the Romanian authorities to abandon the idea to ease the punishment of corrupt officials. “On the contrary, the government should strengthen policies for the prevention of corruption, including the introduction of higher standards of corporate ethics and enforcement of current anti-corruption law”, — said the Executive Director of the Romanian branch of Transparency Victor alistar.

Negative opinion on the amendment gave the General Prosecutor’s office and the National anticorruption office, which warned that their adoption will cause damage to the fight against economic crime.

According to Transparency International published January 25 the corruption perception Index, Romania with 48 points out of 100 ranked by the end of 2016, the 57-th place in the world, being on the same level with Jordan and Hungary. The last three years the situation with corruption in Romania has gradually improved in 2013-2014, the country had 43 points in 2015 — 46 points.

Photo gallery
The largest in 25 years, protests in Romania

In the cities of Romania are the largest in the last 25 years of protest, the number of participants exceeded 300 thousand. A number of people took to the streets…

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Behind-the-scenes calculation

If the government decree were not abolished, responsibility gone to many politicians and officials, including the leader of the winning Social democratic party, Liviu Dragnea, notes The New York Times. For them, the social Democrats got 46% of the vote and the right to form a coalition government. However, the party leader Dragna to head the Cabinet could not, as in April last year, the court sentenced him to two years probation for the organization of fraud in the referendum of 2012 was the resignation of President Traian Basescu, the opponent social Democrats (despite the efforts of Dragna and his party, the referendum was declared invalid due to low turnout). In February, Dragna appear before the court on another matter — about the abuse of power. The prosecution alleges that, as head of the district, Teleorman, he created fictitious posts to regional party activists.

After the adoption of the emergency act of the government in Bucharest started a spontaneous demonstration; the protesters demanded the resignation of the Cabinet. According to Reuters, late on 1 February to rallies across the country left more than 250 thousand people, about half of them in Bucharest and the rest in 55 cities across the country. The peak protest activity reached Sunday, after the announcement of the review of the decision. On the streets across the country reached more than 600 thousand people.

Protesters in Bucharest

Photo: Alex Fraser / REUTERS

Youth pressure

The February demonstrations were the most massive in Romania since the fall of the Communist regime of Nicolae Ceausescu in December 1989. February 5 in Bucharest rallied about 300 thousand people, whereas during the political crisis 2012-2015 the largest rally in the capital gathered in September 2014, only 70 thousand participants.

As told RBC eyewitness to the events in Bucharest, the main driving force of the protest is the young people who did not vote in the December elections. “People come to meetings in the evening, after work. The main means of mobilization are social networks,” — said the source. According to him, although on Sunday the government’s decision to withdraw the bill, rallies can continue for several days.

Protest activity subsides and after Feb 10: as predicted, The New York Times, many fear that the government will not leave attempts to hold an Amnesty. “If concessions will not satisfy the protesters, the authorities will try other methods to calm the population, because the protests will not end in one evening — said the newspaper analyst at consulting firm Smartlink Parliament Mahdyn. Prime Minister does not have the credibility to just say everything right, it’s all over. Because the atmosphere of distrust is now very strong.”

Thus, on 8 February, the Romanian Parliament should consider the question of confidence in the government. Its initiators are the two largest opposition parties — the National liberal party and the “Union of salvation of Romania”, which together have 99 of 329 seats in Parliament.

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