June 27, 2018 / 4:59 PM / 5 months ago

Romanian government defeats no-confidence vote as thousands protest

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania’s five-month-old Social Democrat (PSD) government defeated a parliamentary motion of no-confidence on Wednesday while thousands rallied outside to demand its resignation.

Members of the opposition unravel a banner that reads "We will fight until the end for Romania" during Prime Minister's Viorica Dancila speech in the Parliament, in Bucharest, Romania June 27, 2018. Inquam Photos/Octav Ganea via REUTERS

The centrist opposition called the vote, accusing the cabinet of Prime Minister Viorica Dancila and the ruling party of trying to weaken anti-corruption laws and institutions.

It followed a preliminary jail sentence handed down on PSD chief Liviu Dragnea last week for graft offences. Dragnea holds a tight grip on the party and is seen as the de-facto government head and architect of its policy.

The move to topple the government was doomed to fail. Only 166 lawmakers from the fragmented opposition supported the motion, well short of the 233 votes - 50 percent of deputies plus one - required under the constitution for no-confidence motions to succeed.

The PSD and its small ally ALDE - which together hold 249 of the 465 seats in parliament - did not vote, confident that the opposition would fail to reach the threshold.

About 4,000 people chanted outside parliament during the debate, blowing whistles and vuvuzela horns.

Raluca Turcan, Deputy President of the centrist National Liberal Party, accused the PSD of undermining a European Union-backed drive to tackle graft. “Today’s motion has been about the dismissal of Dragnea’s regime and his declaration of war against the European Union,” she told parliament.

In a speech frequently interrupted by opposition legislators shouting “Resignation! Resignation!, Prime Minister Dancila denounced the attempt to topple her government as “lacking rational arguments, logic and any realistic reasoning”.

PSD lawmakers have pushed a judicial overhaul through parliament that effectively puts magistrates under political control. It also changes the penal handbook that could affect thousands of criminal cases, risking a deeper rift between eastern and western EU members.

Both legal changes are on hold pending challenges filed to the Constitutional Court, but PSD lawmakers had said they expected to approve them by mid-July.

Arguments about how to fight corruption in one of Europe’s most graft-prone states have dominated Romanian politics since its 2007 EU entry and magistrates have often complained of political pressures.

Dragnea, who is also speaker of the lower house of parliament, was found guilty by the Supreme Court last week of keeping two women on the payroll of a state agency in 2006-2013 even though they were employed by his party.

Romania’s most powerful politician, he has repeatedly denied all the charges and is expected to appeal the verdict, which relates to when he was a county council chief.

(This story has been refiled to fix headline)

Editing by David Stamp

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