Why the PSD’s no-confidence vote must not pass

Romania’s embattled prime minister Sorin Grindeanu will on Wednesday face a vote of no-confidence in parliament. Installed in office at the very end of last year following the PSD’s victory in December’s general election, Grindeanu has in recent weeks fallen increasingly out of favour with the PSD’s leader Liviu Dragnea. There is some background in this post from Thursday.

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Since we last posted Grindeanu’s entire cabinet (with one exception: the politically non-aligned Augustin Jianu) has resigned. However, Grindeanu has been able to rally what he believes is enough support to save him, not least by enlisting the former prime minister Victor Ponta as cabinet secretary. (Grindeanu, Ponta and Jianu are therefore currently the only ministers still in office. Romania’s entire government (pictured above) consists of just three people: the kind of thing which, in different circumstances and with different personalities, would be a libertarian-anarchist’s dream.

The PSD and its ally, ALDE, will need 233 votes to get rid of Grindeanu. Together they in theory have 250 MPs. At Sunday’s first reading of the no-confidence motion however they were 11 votes short (just 222 MPs signed the motion). PSD MPs from Grindeanu’s home county of Timisoara are likely to abstain or even vote en bloc against the motion, as are most of those from Gorj, a Ponta stronghold. A number of PSD MPs from Iasi have also stated that they will not vote to bring Grindeanu down.

With the PNL, USR and PMP having already stated that they consider the whole thing to be an internal PSD dispute and will not vote (nor even take part in the debate), Dragnea would appear to need the UDMR to push the no-confidence vote through. On Saturday the UDMR’s leader, Kelemen Hunor, said that his party would not decide what to do until the day of the vote. He refused to rule out any option.

That said, it is highly unlikely that the UDMR will back Dragnea over Ponta, at least as a group. Hunor and Ponta go back a long way and have generally had a very good working relationship.

So, we must assume that over the next three days Dragnea will be desperately trying to convince PNL, USR, PMP and UDMR parliamentarians to go rogue. On Sunday evening, at least one member of the PMP appeared to have succumbed to Dragnea’s threats and/or promises.

What is clear is that the vote will go down to the wire. If we were to be forced into making a prediction we would say that it will fail, but not by much. Whatever we think of Grindeanu and Ponta (and we think that they are both shits) we must hope that they survive, at least for the next few days: they will not last much longer whatever happens, see below. Should Dragnea emerge victorious he would demand President Klaus Iohannis appoint a new prime minister – hand picked by the PSD leader of course – within days. That prime minister would then be expected to do exactly what Grindeanu failed to: quickly pass legislation ensuring that Dragnea, ALDE leader Calin Popescu Tariceanu and many others from both the ruling parties are amnestied and/or spared new corruption trials. (Both Dragnea and Tariceanu are, by the way, due in court on Tuesday in their respective, ongoing corruption trials).

Should Iohannis refuse to appoint Dragnea’s preferred prime minister, the PSD leader would demand he be suspended. It is worth noting however that were it to come to this it is highly unlikely that Dragnea would have enough votes to suspend Iohannis: two thirds of MPs, and not merely a simply majority, must vote in favour of the president’s suspension. This would give Iohannis at least some wriggle room when it came to naming a new prime minister.

For all that, the best case scenario (at least in the very, very short term) is that the motion does not pass. Should he survive, Grindeanu will probably attempt to form a new government, with new ministers. Unless he were to pack it with those of the calibre of the Dacian Ciolos cabinet, it is highly unlikely that anyone in parliament would back him. He would then have to resign after all, taking Ponta with him. That would put Iohannis in a very strong position, for he could rightly claim that neither the PSD-ALDE bloc nor the opposition were able to form a government.

What happens then? No idea, but Romania would be in a better position, with more options at its disposal, than it is today. It is just a shame that neither the PNL (which on Saturday voted for a new leadership that is closely allied to the monstrous Family Coalition) nor the USR (itself embroiled in a civil way between progressive and reactionary elements) are in any kind of position to take advantage.

Romania needs an En Marche-style movement committed to enlightenment values and clean, best-practice government. And it needs it quick. But who can be Romania’s Emmanuel Macron?

Do not say Dacian Ciolos.