The rise and fall of Liviu Dragnea

dragnea-700x350

Liviu Dragnea (photo: Flickr, Social Democratic Party, CC BY 2.0)

Two conflicting demonisations had been taking place în the last two years and a half în Romania – one against the justice and the other – against the jailed leader of the Social Democratic Party

Vladimir Mitev

This article was published on 4 June 2019 on the site of the Bulgarian newspaper ”Word”. It is published here in its complete form. 

Romanian politics is more dynamic than the Bulgarian one and often manages to mobilise public action. While the last ten years pass in Bulgaria under the aegis of the so-called “stability”, at the northern neighbours there are constantly turning points in political life. Such a turning point were also the European elections on 26 May 2019.

According to the data of the Central Electoral Bireau after the counting of 96% of the votes first comes the oppositional National Liberal Party (26,89%), followed by the ruling Social Democratic Party (22,89%) and the Alliance 2020 (21,78%). Members of the European Parliament will also be sent by the party of the former prime minister Victor Ponta – Pro Romania (6,57%), the party of the former president Traian Basescu – Party of People’s Movement (5,75%) and the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (5,42%). The coalition partner of the social democrats – ALDE, didn’t manage to pass the electoral threshold.

In order for the right-wing voters to have the full spectrum of joy, on the Monday after the elections the leader of the Social Democratic Party Liviu Dragea was condemned to 3,5 years in prison on accusations for instigation to false appointments in the social care service in the district of Teleorman. This means that his polical career ends.

A mini-epoque in Romanian politics has just ended. Dragnea took the reins of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) in October 2015 after the Romanian urban middle class went out to protest, indignated by the tragic fire with casualties in the Bucurest club of Colectiv. The protesters demanded the resignation of the then-prime minister and leader of the social democrats Victor Ponta. At that moment the right-wing Romanians connected everything with corruption, because it was the reason for the disrespect of the safety standards in the club. Earlier in 2015 Ponta had been accused of fraud, complicity in tax embezzlement and money laundering in the times, when he was a lawyer, so people’s anger directed against him. And Ponta resigned.

At that moment the fight against corruption was in its “golden age” with Laura Koveşi in the driving seat. After Ponta’s resgnation the so-called technocratic government was formed. The prime minister Dacian Cioloş gathered his ministers and state secretaries from the ranks of business and NGOs. The cabinet was called technocratic, because it embodied a governance, which is less connected to the political element and relies more on ”experts” and non-elected institutions. In Romania for many years the democratically-elected institutions, such as the parliament, had much lower rating than the non-elected institutions, such as the secret services or the anti-corruption prosecution. Politics is traditionally connected in people’s minds to corruption, clientelism, lack of professional and ethical qualities. That is why a part of the Romanian society – most of all the urban middle class, connects its hopes for social modernisation with technocratic persons or institutions.

However, the parliamentary elections of 2016 took down the project “Cioloş”. At them apparently another emotion and logic took the upper hand – that the political beginning represents to a greater extent the interests of the majority, that the non-elected institutions affirm the interests of the owners of capital, who are often foreign. The victory of the PSD with more than 45% meant that under the leadership of Liviu Dragnea it had attracted successfully a part of the middle class through promises for lowering of taxes, raising of income and pro-business policies.

The stake at those 2016 elections was not only who will rule, but whether the fight against corruption will continue its march unaffected and will keep on taking down the dinosaurs of transition – such as Dragnea himself, or whether the replacement of the political elite will be limited. One of the first actions of the newly-formed government of PSD and ALDE was to emit an emergency decree, which classified as “abuse of service” only cases above certain sum, which meant that it decriminated the cases below the sum. Also, the government tried liberate from prison a part of the condemned.

These attempts were argumented by the objectively-existing demands of the Constitutional Court and of the European Court for Human Rights. However, these changes provoked enormous indignation in right-wing Romanians, who had caused turning points through protests in 2014 (the election of Klaus Iohannis) and 2015 (the taking down of Victor Ponta). Hundreds of thousands of Romanian protested against the emergency decree for a few weeks in the winter of 2017. The government was forced to backtrack.

But it didn’t cease to redefine the fight against corruption. In the period 2017-2019 changes in justice were introduced at a few waves. Usually they entered in force diluted, after people were protestig, and various Romanian and foreign institions were ameliorating them. The changes were connected with the person of one of the best jurists in Romania and professor of law from the Iasi University – Tudorel Toader, who became the minister of justice. But the political will behind those legal modifications belonged to Liviu Dragnea.

The culmination was in the summer of 2018, when an interpretation of the Constitutional Court clarified that the Romanian prosecutors are subordinated to the minister of justice. After the minister of justice observed a number of abuses by Laura Koveşi, the president Klaus Iohannis was forced to fire her from the ruling position in DNA. Koveşi continued working in the judicial system and prepared herself for the race for European chief prosecutor, where she was one of the two best candidates along with the French nomination.

Another big moment in Dragnea’s march against anti-corruption was in the beginning of 2019, when the entity for control over prosecutors was put under the control of the justice minister. Worried about their own independence prosecutors and judges protested a few weeks, before the government’s dilution of some of the introduced and measures.

In the last two years and a half the government of social democrats was not acting only in the judicial system. It raised the salaries in the state sector, so that they are higher now than those in the private sector. It reduced some taxes. It raised the turnover tax on some companies, saying that the collected profit tax is too small in comparison to the turnover. But it also promoted measures against the interests of employees, transfering the burden for payment of social security contributions from the employers to the employees. Today, the employers pay only 2,25% of the salary for compensation for unemployment, while the worker pays 35% for pension and health insurance. Because of such measures many in Romania don’t consider the PSD a left-wing party. Even supporters of PSD admit that it tries too much to please the business interests. It is seen that in spite of the rhetoric against certain foreign corportaions, other remain intangible. For example, the husband of the prime minister Viorica Dancila works for the petrochemical company OMV Petrom, while the attempts for fiscal innovation in taxation of corporations didn’t affect the automobile sector of Romania, which is to a large extent foreign property.

In spite of all these other fronts of action, the main battle between the technocratic and the political principle of Romanian politics took place namely in the field of justice. All the time Liviu Dragnea was threatened by condamnation, which would have taken him out of politics. This is what happens. But the resolution was obtained only when it got clear that the public balance has changed to the benefit of the right forces.

For two years and a half there abuses from the time of the golden era of Romanian anti-corruption were mediatised. As a result today Romanian justice has low image and needs action, which could recover the public approval of it. Such an activity was undertaken by the foundation Konrad Adenauer, which created a film for the young Romanian magistrates, called “People of justice”. The film shows the human face of Romanian justice – judges, prosecutors, politceman, notarius, advocates below 30-35 year old, who act with confidence and empathy in their work.

In parallel to the demonisation of justice, the satanisation of Dragnea was going on. Romanian politics to a great extent was reduced to his person. There were all kind of campaigns, protests, performances, showing hate against Dragnea. His condemnation unleashed huge positive energy in the Romanian urban middle class. Few were the voices such as the one of the Romanian analyst Maria Cernat who were saying: “I don’t suffer for Dragnea. I feel pain that all the Romanian politics is reduced to instigation”.

“Have you heard the joke that if the hatred against Dragnea could be turned into electric energy, it would have been sufficient for the humanity for one whole century?… Romania has the tradition to hate its leaders to the level of destroying them. Those, who don’t end up shooted, are at least sent to prisons. The PSD holds a notorious record in this regard. Before Adrian Nastase and now Liviu Dragnea end in prison after their adventures at the top of the party.

It is curious that on the opposing political camp few politicians have such an end… But let us be optimists: probably it’s a matter of time!”, writes ironically Maria Cernat in an article for the site “The Barricade”.

What follows in Romanian politics? Some expect snap elections, but maybe it is more likely that a new majority of the right forces would be formed in this present parliament. The right doesn’t have a special social sensitivity. The people of the smaller populated areas, who are less connected to the corridors of power, fear for their future. But once smelling power, the leaders of the two right-wing formations with best results – the National Liberal Party and the Alliance 2020, immediately started quarreling.

It is curios whether Pro Romania would not return to alliance with PSD once that Dragnea no longer rules there. Probably it would be logical that any change of power, should it happen, takes place not immediately, but gradually with view of the internal and external balances of the country. For sure the march against the anti-corruption ends, after Romanians voted on 26 May on a referendum against the PSD’s actions in justice. There are expectations that the future PSD will be more open to Bruxelles’ demands. That is how the epoque “Dragnea” in Romanian politics ends.

Read in Romanian language!

Read in Bulgarian language!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s