Following a massive no-confidence vote on May 26 for the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD), the Supreme Court of Romania sentenced its leader Liviu Dragnea to 3 1/2 years in prison for abuse of power.
Dragnea, who is also speaker of the lower house of Parliament, appealed the initial verdict in 2018. He had a previous conviction in a vote-rigging case.
PSD faced sharp criticism from the European Union and the United States because of concerns related to interference with judicial independence and changes to anti-graft legislation. On May 13, the European Commission announced that it would take legal action against Romania—which currently holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union—unless it reversed measures that undermine the independence of its courts and the fight against corruption.
The executive commission has repeatedly said that laws introduced by the ruling PSD have reversed decades of reforms.
Over the past two years, Romania has been rocked by protests against the politicians’ attempts to decriminalize some corruption offenses and weaken the legislative system, triggering the biggest protests in decades in the country.
To give Romanians an opportunity to express their opinion about the left-wing government’s controversial justice reforms, President Klaus Iohannis had called a consultative referendum, to take place on the same day as Romanians voted in the European Parliament elections.
Because of bureaucracy and staffing problems, tens of thousands of Romanians working abroad were unable to vote on May 26, after waiting in line for hours outside polling stations. The Romanians voted overwhelmingly in support of the independence of the justice system.
After the vote, Iohannis thanked Romanians and issued a warning to the politicians: “The referendum succeeded with flying colors. Thank you, Romanians. This is a clear vote for correct politics, for true justice. No politician can ignore your clear vote for an independent judiciary.”
Political analysts saw the results as a major setback for the ruling PSD and its leader and drew a parallel between the PSD and the former communist party.