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June 22, 2017

In ordinary politics, it is opposition parties who attempt to bring governments down. But politics in Romania is rarely ordinary. For the past week the country’s governing Social Democratic Party (PSD) has been trying to unseat its own prime minister and his cabinet. The prime minister, Sorin Grindeanu, refused to go. On June 21st the PSD succeeded at last, winning a no-confidence vote and kicking Mr Grindeanu out of power, less than six months after it had installed him. One of Mr Grindeanu’s few allies, Victor Ponta, a former prime minister, called the vote an “atomic war between the Social Democrats and the Social Democrats”.

The PSD claimed it was removing Mr Grindeanu over his failure to pass most of the party’s legislative programme, which includes crowd-pleasing measures like tax cuts, salary increases for public servants and a €10bn ($11.2bn) sovereign-wealth fund to promote infrastructure investment. In fact it had more to do with his falling-out with the party’s leader, Liviu Dragnea. The PSD came first in the parliamentary election last December with 46% of the vote. But Mr Dragnea was barred from becoming prime minister because of a felony conviction for electoral fraud. The little-known Mr Grindeanu was appointed instead.

Mr Grindeanu quickly moved to address one of his MPs’ top priorities: indemnifying them from prosecution. Romania’s independent National Anti-Corruption Directorate has been putting hundreds of politicians in jail every year. One of those at risk is Mr Dragnea, who is on trial for abuse of power and faces jail time if convicted. (For his electoral-fraud conviction, he received a suspended sentence.) In January the government passed a decree that would have decriminalised some corruption cases, possibly including Mr Dragnea’s. The proposal brought hundreds of thousands of protesters into the streets, and the government backed down.

The PSD should be enjoying its turn in power. Romania’s GDP grew at an annual rate of 5.6% in the first quarter, the highest in the European Union. Instead it has got itself into a politically costly mess. Appointing a new prime minister will be risky, too. Mr Grindeanu was Mr Dragnea’s second choice; an earlier candidate was rejected by the president, Klaus Iohannis, who hails from the opposition National Liberals and is no fan of the PSD leader. He must decide on whomever Mr Dragnea picks next. On June 20th Mr Iohannis said he would only designate a “person of integrity” for the job. It will be up to Mr Dragnea to find one; in Romanian politics, they are rare.

This article appeared in the Europe section of the print edition under the headline “A good man is hard to find”

www.economist.com/news/europe/21723844-sorin-grindeanu-who-tried-decriminalise-some-forms-corruption-out-romanias-social