No earlier than a few weeks ago, PM Victor Ponta once again pointed out his intention to complete his entire four year term. Having been a Prime Minister since May 7, 2012 and reappointed on December 17, 2012, after Parliament elections, Ponta declared for a TV station that he intended to finish his term as PM at the end of next year, after the Parliamentary elections, and jokingly added that “this also depends on the benevolence of DNA”.
Asked whether he would carry out his term until the Parliamentary elections of 2016, Ponta replied as follows: “As DNA wishes. Besides the joke, things are quite clear. We complete our term, and afterwards, voters may decide whether PSD –PC-UNPR stay or they are replaced by the new PDL, as Blaga named it. If, until 2016, the decision will not be reached by voters, but by someone else, we will wait and see”, Ponta had declared at that time.
And, now, after the Prime Minister was summoned for a hearing at the National Anti-corruption Directorate (DNA) on Friday, to be notified that he was a suspect in the file of Senator Dan Sova and that he was prosecuted for forgery, complicity to tax evasion and money laundering, the declarations made in April by the Head of the Government suddenly get another meaning.
I do not think that Victor Ponta’s “joke” referring to the benevolence of DNA was mere premonition. And the mystery and connotation of this phrase is revealed now, once DNA has targeted him, notifying him on Friday about his quality as a suspect in a criminal inquiry.
Perhaps Ponta had had signals that the trap was closing around Dan Sova, his former business partner during 2007 – 2011, while both of them were working as lawyers, and knew that, sooner or later, DNA prosecutors would reach him as well. And now they did, and PM Ponta’s summoning to the DNA proves the truth of old sayings such as “You never avoid what you fear” and “Be careful of what you wish, as it may happen”.
Ponta’s relation, as a former prosecutor himself, with justice, may be defined as troublesome for the last few months, as Ponta had made very contrasting declarations.
Immediately after the cold shower of presidential elections, while attempting to recover some of his image capital affected by the defeat, Victor Ponta had demanded his colleagues zero tolerance towards corruption and had announced that Social-Democrats facing legal issues will no longer be protected by the Parliament. Moreover, he had promised at the same time that Social-Democrat members of the Parliament would support all criminal pursuit, retaining or arrest demands coming from magistrates.
“We will vote for the definitive rejection of Amnesty and Pardon Law and for approving all requests by prosecutors. It is our first message that we have understood what the electors were trying to tell us”, Victor Ponta has been declaring at that time. He seemed very determined to drastically change the image of the party by removing from PSD anyone who had violated the law and detaching the party from members facing legal accusations.
“Our tolerance to corruption offences should be zero. So should be our actions and attitudes”, Ponta had declared at that time, more firmly than ever before.
Thus, by an amendment applied to PSD status by Victor Ponta himself, the National Council of the party decided three months ago that all defendants in corruption files would lose both their positions inside the party and those inside the Government.
“It is a certain political responsibility. For corruption offences, you must step back from an important position”, the Head of the Government and of the Social-Democrat Party had declared at that time.
Victor Ponta’s approach to justice and anti-corruption files published by DNA prosecutors gradually changed though, as the criminal issues faced by the members of his party increased.
Former prosecutor Victor Ponta, who had been quite cautious and reserved up to a certain moment, on commenting ongoing inquiries or the activity of prosecutors, suddenly became critical to his former professional colleagues. It happens especially after his brother in law became the subject of a criminal inquiry that determined visits by both his mother and sister to DNA, for declarations.
Therefore, from the politician who had made cautious statements related to justice, Ponta gradually started, during the last few months, to become an active critic of prosecutors, for how they acted in his former business partner Senator Dan Sova’s case, accusing them of not sending to Court Dan Sova’s file but attempting to arrest him based on the procedure of demanding approval from the Senate, dominated by a PSD majority, that had saved Dan Sova from preventive arrest twice, overruling prosecutors’ request. “Telling ‘I do not want to send you to Court, to face judges, I want to arrest you’ is a mere political gesture, I think”, the Prime Minister recently declared.
Victor Ponta also criticised the recent condemnation of “number two” in PSD, his previous head of electoral campaign Liviu Dragnea in the Referendum File. “It is a symbolic decision of legal condemnation of a political action – the suspending of President Basescu and the referendum”, Ponta declared.
Last but not least, it is to be noted that, before being summoned to DNA, Ponta complained in an interview that magistrates have much too much power.
He went on with this approach and even answered those who have demanded his resignation from Friday on, after he explained that he would not give up the top position in the Government because he did not accept a prosecutor to impose himself upon the Parliament.
He said that he was willing to do anything in his power to prove his innocence and that he can be only dismissed by the Parliament, the same forum that appointed him Prime Minister.
Pure coincidence or not, the summoning of the Prime Minister to DNA by Anti-corruption prosecutors occurred precisely on the very day the Opposition had scheduled to submit a censure motion against the Government to the Parliament, a censure motion that had no mathematical chance of success. The superposing of the two approaches was not left uncommented by Ponta, who used the opportunity to start a verbal dispute with Head of DNA Laura Codruta Kovesi, denying her statement that he had been summoned for a hearing in the Sova case a few days ago, with no connection whatsoever to the day the motion was submitted.
It is hard to estimate now the denouement of this political crisis in Bucharest and what will be the long term implications of this startling situation, because there are many unknown facts.
Certainly, though, June 5, 2015 will remain in history as the day anti-corruption prosecutors have initiated for the first time a criminal investigation against an active Prime Minister, which caused a wave of shock on the political scene, as well as on the field of Romania’s image and trustworthiness among its NATO and EU partners.
Scenarios about the follow-up of this day, as a political crisis and an atrocious, never-before experienced political battle were started in Bucharest, have been circulated a lot from Friday on; claiming either that Ponta was about to resign, or that he was suspended by the President, or that there will be anticipated elections.
Romania, a solid pillar of NATO’s South Eastern flank, needs internal political stability more than ever before, in the instable regional context caused by the conflict in Ukraine. Moreover, a situation of prolonged political instability in Bucharest could represent a bad sign for foreign investors after a period of constant economical growth in Romania and a decline of economy would be undesirable.
Until Tuesday, when he would visit DNA again to bring proof supporting his innocence, Prime Minister Ponta spoke out on Sunday, releasing a public declaration after an emergency meeting with the leaders of the coalition, announcing that he was innocent and that he had the right to defend himself. He announced again that he would not resign, although resignation would be the most simple thing to do for himself and his family. This decision brought him the criticism of political adversaries, that still think he should have stepped back and submitted a honorary resignation to solve his legal issues not as a high official, and respectively as a Prime Minister, but as a mere citizen.
Neither on Sunday did Ponta hesitate to continue his attacks regarding prosecutors whom he accused of abuses, claiming that a Government cannot be overturned by the decision of a prosecutors, a fact that has never occurred before in any other democratic society. “I think Romania needs independent and efficient prosecutors, as it needs vigilant intelligence officers, but neither of them could replace the Government, the Parliament and the local officials because it would be a dictatorship”, the Head of the Government warned.
Ponta once again declared that the accusations launched against him by DNA are connected to the change of the Government and announced that he would file a contestation at a prosecutor who is higher in rank and at a court judge regarding to ordinance by which he was a suspect without being asked as much as a question, and announced that he would respect the respective decisions.
“I respect political opinions related to my resignation, but let us not be hypocritical. Iohannis has been ran for President while being prosecuted by the High Court of Cassation and Justice (ICCJ), Basescu has protected himself for ten years from criminal files by the position he had had and only loves Justice when it is not investigating Elena Udrea. Now, he is protesting with the Popular Movement Party (PMP) yet these are the same people who have declared in Udrea’s case that DNA and SRI are making abuses. I am uncomfortable to talk about PNL, as Predoiu is a suspect in the Bute Gala and suspended, as Atanasiu has signed contracts at Turceni and Rovinari with Sova and at Electrica with Gorghiu”, Ponta declared. “The resignation would be the most simple thing to do for me and my family but changing the Government by the mere decision of a prosecutor is a precedent of a terrible gravity and I do not want to be an accomplice to such thing”.
Announcing that he still benefited of major support within the Parliament, Ponta underlined that he is “a strong person”. “I do not intend to feel sorry for myself and to complain. I want to prove my innocence and to contribute to the change of the elements allowing abuses and injustice. My prosecution has the purpose to change the Government and the majority in the Parliament. According to all definitions, changing a Government by any other means than elections or ballot inside the Parliament is called coup d’etat.
The Government I lead now, as well as all future Governments, should come and go based on a democratic voting, elections and the Parliament, not on the actions of a prosecutor”, Ponta declared.
“I am fully convinced that Thursday’s ordinance is a mere reaction of revenge against me for Tuesday’s ballot in the Senate, in the Sova case, but Justice does not mean revenge for political decisions”, the Prime Minister further declared. In 2013, while being the interim Justice Minister, he was the one who proposed, after seeking the advice of then President Traian Basescu, Laura Codruta Kovesi as Head Prosecutor of DNA and Tiberiu Nitu as General Prosecutor of Romania.
Nobody knows for now how this crisis is going to end – as, despite of Ponta’s denial, it is an obvious political crisis. What would happen next is an unpredictable situation with many unknown facts, due to generate more and more questions. Do we have a political class that is mature and responsible enough to find immediately the most adequate and useful solution for political stability? In case Ponta leaves, either determined by justice, or by the censure motion of the opposition, is PNL prepared for Governing, considering that they still failed to solve the entirety of their merger issues?
Are Liberals content to overtake power this way, a year before local and Parliamentary elections, risking to damage their popularity until that very moment?
What would happen is yet to be seen; the only thing we can wish is that this situation of internal political instability would be solved as fast as possible to gave no further repercussions on other fields as well.
Things are fluid, anything is possible in the forthcoming period and there will certainly be moments affected by a lot of tensions, manipulations by both camps and even social tensions, including possible street protests.
It will be interesting to see the future position of President Klaus Iohannis and how he intends to act in the future, considering that, after he had requested the resignation right after the Prime Minister had been summoned on Friday at DNA, he was criticised for having adopted a rushed position.
Despite of the self confidence he showed during his public appearance on Sunday, of the solid political support granted by the coalition (PSD-UNPR-PC) and by an overwhelming majority in the Parliament, despite of the undeniable achievements reached by the Government he had been leading, mostly in the field of economy, Ponta, by deciding not to quit and keeping his position as a Prime Minister, certainly knows that he is looking forward to difficult times and that he assumes a difficult challenge: both he and PSD will be subjected to tremendous political and media pressure, as well as from behalf of justice, but from behalf of the streets as well, as vast protests are prone to follow soon, encouraged and organized by parties in the opposition, demanding his resignation.
Therefore, the obvious question that imposes himself after Sunday, when Ponta decided to continue his work as a Prime Minister is “Where to go now?” It is obvious that times to come are tough; that it is an atrocious war among power and opposition, and the evolutions in the over 1,000 page criminal file launched by prosecutors against Ponta will be examined as attentively as possible both by internal political opinion and by international observers.
Moreover, one of the great stakes of this situation is the credibility of DNA, of the struggle against corruption, of Justice in general, already accused of partiality and double standards while working on files of defendants from PSD on one hand, and from PNL or former PDL on the other hand.