Romania Confidence Motion Fails as Cabinet Reasserts Control

  • Government looking to ease pressure from protests, president
  • Demonstrators planning to ramp up rallies again this weekend

Romania’s government saw off a no-confidence motion in parliament and sought to reassure protesters who’ve rallied every day for more than a week in the biggest demonstrations since the fall of communism.

Lawmakers from the Social Democrat-led cabinet boycotted Wednesday’s attempt by the opposition to usurp it, avoiding the risk of defections allowing the vote to pass. Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu may also fire his justice minister to placate protesters furious at attempts to weaken anti-corruption efforts. President Klaus Iohannis had attacked the ruling party for not doing enough to relieve the political turmoil that’s engulfed the country, though he said early elections would be too much.

“I’ll never accept such initiatives in the government ever again,’’ Grindeanu said Wednesday in parliament. “I promise that from this day forward the government is open for dialogue with all citizens and I fully understand the people’s discontent. We can do good things for Romanians. We shouldn’t have a divided country.’’

Grindeanu is seeking to gain the upper hand after hundreds of thousands of protesters flooded cities across the European Union and NATO member nation in the biggest display of defiance since the 1989 uprising that ousted dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. Before it backtracked, Romania’s third government in two years had incurred public rage by unexpectedly easing punishments for officials who abuse their positions and seeking to free others from prison.

The political tensions weren’t enough to prevent Tuesday’s passage of the 2017 budget, which contains tax cuts and public-salary hikes that formed the basis of the Social Democrats’ election victory in December, when they won 45 percent of vote. The party’s support has dipped by two to three percentage points since the protests, leader Liviu Dragnea said Wednesday, citing an internal survey.

The central bank warned Tuesday about possible knock-on effects from the protests,  which have boosted currency volatility, as it held its benchmark interest rate at a record-low 1.75 percent for a 14th meeting. The leu was little changed against the euro Wednesday.

Protest in Bucharest on Feb. 6.

Photographer: Daniel Mihailescu/AFP via Getty Images

For an explainer on Romania’s political crisis, click here

While protests persisted Tuesday, the 6,000 turnout in Bucharest was well down from Sunday evening, when a record 600,000 people rallied nationwide. The demonstrators, who’re demanding the government step down, are planning larger gatherings this weekend.

“Judicial reforms are likely to remain the key point of contention in the future, threatening the country’s political stability and highlighting operational risks,” said Andrius Tursa, a London-based analyst at Teneo Intelligence.

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