Social Democrat Party (PSD) President Liviu Dragnea was sentenced on Friday to two years in prison, suspended sentence, twice the level of the sentence imposed by the court of first instance in the Referendum Case, the decision taken by the High Court of Cassation and Justice (ICCJ) being final.
The High Court’s 5-panel judge, led by Livia Stanciu, raised the sentence from one year in prison, suspended sentence, the sentence imposed by the court of first instance, to two years in prison, suspended sentence. Likewise, in the Referendum Case in which Dragnea is accused of “the use of influence or authority by a person that holds a leadership position within a party, in order to obtain undue benefits for himself or for others,” the panel also raised the probation period from three to four years.
Consequently, an Executive Committee meeting took place at the PSD headquarters, its conclusion being that Liviu Dragnea has to remain at the helm of PSD and the discussion will be reopened after the local elections.
After the meeting, the PSD President announced that, following consultations with members of the party, he decided to remain at the helm of PSD since a decision to step down would destabilise all election campaign activities.
The day of the final court ruling for Liviu Dragnea had brought many loyal Social Democrats to Bucharest. They believe that the two-year suspended sentence is an injustice and is not affecting the party’s public relations image.
Dragnea not resigning from PSD helm: It’s an unfair sentence
“It’s a new beginning,” Liviu Dragnea told journalists after the meeting with PSD leaders from the party’s central headquarters and local branches.
“We had a discussion as between colleagues. Some say it was an Executive Committee, some say it wasn’t. This really has no importance. If someone has a different opinion he can challenge this, he can open another lawsuit. I was interested in having this discussion with my colleagues, presidents of county branches, and the other colleagues from the Standing National Bureau, in order to listen to their points of view generated by this situation, by this sentence that I continue to consider profoundly unfair,” Liviu Dragnea stated. Liviu Dragnea was surrounded by several PSD members, among whom PSD Vice President Rovana Plumb was the best known, having been interim party president for a short while.
Although he said he will not comment the judges’ decision, the PSD leader nevertheless talked about the explanatory statement of the court of first instance, which had sentenced him to one year in prison, suspended sentenced.
“In the court of first instance I was sentenced for two things. For a memo on organising a raffle, sent during the referendum campaign from here, from the party headquarters, on a day on which I was not present here, and there are witnesses that confirmed that, under oath. A memo which I cancelled the second day. And for something else that still leaves me curious and puzzled – I wasn’t even accused of it in the indictment, I found out about it only when the explanatory statement was published. Namely that the text messages sent by a group of young people from the first floor here, during the day of the referendum, could have determined the party’s activists to consult the permanent electoral lists and this allegedly broke the law on the protection of personal data, against the backdrop in which the permanent electoral lists are public, as you all know. These two accusations led to the court of first instance’s conclusion that voter turnout represents an undue benefit for PSD, with PSD not running in the elections at the time. I said this in court too and I can say it now because the trial is over, the one who could have had a due or undue benefit [from that] was the acting president (Traian Basescu – editor’s note) because that was a confrontation between the Romanian people and the acting president, not between parties. I wasn’t able to understand, not from prosecutors and not from the court, up to what threshold is a voter turnout level due and up to what threshold it is undue. And if citizens come to vote over and above that threshold, how do you stop them from voting? I wanted to point this out in order for there to no longer be talk about the millions of votes stolen, about the dead who vote and so on,” Liviu Dragnea said.
An almost unanimous opinion
“What I was very interested in finding out from my colleagues, apart from the natural, human solidarity, because we have been colleagues for very many years, was what my stepping down now would mean for the tens of thousands of candidates that PSD has prepared, ready to file their candidacies. The decision or the opinion of the majority, or almost the unanimous opinion I could say, was that my stepping down would destabilise all campaign activities and would make PSD unable to obtain in these elections the score we all forecast and which is already perceived by the great majority of those who are monitoring the electoral phenomenon. In these conditions, I’ve decided to remain in office, to continue managing the elections campaign,” the PSD President stated.
Clean-up within PSD after the elections
“We will hold talks after the local elections. Today’s decision was one taken in the heat of the moment. It’s normal. After the local elections, I believe we have to discuss deeper issues within PSD. To discuss about an analysis of each member of the party’s leadership, of the way each one got involved, of the contribution each member of the party’s leadership brought to the elections campaign and to the proper functioning of this party, and then we will take several decisions, not just a decision in what concerns me,” Liviu Dragnea stated. The PSD President stressed this assessment of the members of PSD’s leadership. His statement reveals that changes will take place.
Sentencing’s effects to be seen at the ballot box
Asked what effect the sentencing will have on the party, Liviu Dragnea said it would be far more serious to give up on the PSD Presidency at this moment: “My colleagues’ opinion was that my stepping down would generate disservices to the party, a destabilization and the discouraging of all our party members. As effects, it’s difficult. None of us is a sociologist, at least not licensed sociologist. I could have taken a step back and I could have remained an informal leader of the party and campaign. It’s not right for all the party militants, for all those who support this party,” Dragnea said.
In what concerns the Romanians’ reaction toward this conviction, it will be expressed in the local elections, Liviu Dragnea claims.
“I believe that 7.4 million Romanians consider that their vote, the votes that in fact dismissed Traian Basescu, was defeated by an erratum that I see prosecutors considered legal. I believe this is what Romanians consider and I believe that the best answer to this will come on June 5. In the hope that elections will be held on June 5, because I’ve understood the Liberals are now talking about how to postpone the elections in order for two, three or four rounds to be organised,” the PSD leader said.
Wave of resignation demands
After he was sentenced to two years in jail, suspended sentence, for defrauding the 2012 impeachment referendum, Liviu Dragnea is facing a wave of demands to resign from the office of PSD President.
Valeriu Zgonea, one step away from resigning
The most vocal note of dissonance in the general atmosphere of support for Dragnea at the Executive Committee meeting came from Valeriu Zgonea, the number-two man in PSD, who seems to have entered a conflict with the party leader by denying the latter’s right to remain in office after being criminally sentenced. When leaving the meeting, Zgonea angrily accused Liviu Dragnea of securing support in an informal meeting and not in a meeting that would have been attended by all those with powers of decision.
Lower Chamber Speaker Valeriu Zgonea left right before the meeting ended and told journalists that he is considering resigning.
Asked by journalists what is going on, Valeriu Zgonea said that the decision is not the party’s, thus suggesting that Liviu Dragnea did not consult PSD leaders before he publicly announced that he will not resign, but instead only informed them what his decision is. Asked whether he will resign from the party, PSD’s Executive President pointed out that he will think about it until Monday. Valeriu Zgonea refused to comment on the message that Victor Ponta posted on Facebook, in which the ex-premier was talking about “undercover or overt officers who want to take over the party.”
Asked why Valeriu Zgonea was not by his side at his announcement that he will remain PSD’s president, Liviu Dragnea refused to give an answer. He claimed that he consulted the executive president but does not know whether the latter supports him.
“After all, each one of us is free to express opinions,” Liviu Dragnea stated.
Asked what he told Valeriu Zgonea when the latter announced that he is considering resigning, the PSD President stated that he explained to him the reasons why he decided to remain in office.
“I’ve told him what I’ve told myself these days too, because I’m not a child… Or I wasn’t a child to harbour vain hopes about today. What I told myself too, namely: apart from the personal interest, apart from the personal plane, we all have a huge duty toward this party. We all have to think that apart from personal whims, from personal interests, this country needs PSD,” Liviu Dragnea said.
Klaus Iohannis: Liviu Dragnea should resign
The President believes that Liviu Dragnea should resign from the helm of PSD. In a message posted on his personal Facebook account, Klaus Iohannis states that he conveyed this to the PSD President too. “It’s not alright for a large party to be led by a leader criminally convicted,” the Head of State believes.
“Liviu Dragnea should step down. For the health of the Romanian political system, it is not all right for a large political party to be lead by a leader criminally convicted through a final sentence. I’ve conveyed this opinion to him,” Iohannis wrote on his Facebook page. Apart from favourable opinions from his sympathisers, the posting also drew criticisms, many posters reproaching him that it is not the President’s business to comment on issues that concern the internal affairs of PSD or of political parties in general. Moreover, many of those who commented on his posting told him he has no right to lecture anyone given the fact that a court has proved that the Iohannises obtained a real estate property with false paperwork.
PNL asks Liviu Dragnea to resign
The Liberals are asking Liviu Dragnea to resign from the office of PSD President as a result of his sentencing, PNL Bucharest Spokesperson Cezar Preda stated on Friday.
“PNL is asking for the resignation of the PSD President following a final sentence passed by the Romanian judiciary. It is clear that Dragnea remaining in office induces in the entire space of Romanian politics the idea that criminals can lead strong democratic institutions such as parliamentary parties,” Cezar Preda said, according to Agerpres.
According to the Liberal leader, PNL considers that “any minute spent by Dragnea in office generates in the whole of Europe and of the democratic world the certainty that in Romania democracy is in regress.”
“We are attached to democratic values. It’s not a request that concerns Dragnea the person, it concerns the office he holds. This incompatibility has to stop,” Preda added.
Asked whether PNL wants Dragnea to resign from his office of MP too, the PNL Bucharest Spokesperson stated that “the MP is not constrained by anyone outside the parliamentary election law.”
“The solution is not to compromise the multiparty system in Romania,” Preda added.
Alina Gorghiu: Liviu Dragnea chooses to make his party vulnerable
PNL Co-President Alina Gorghiu states that by remaining at the helm of PSD Liviu Dragnea is choosing to make his party, its candidates and Romania’s image vulnerable, pointing out that resignation would have been the “appropriate” reaction following the High Court of Justice’s decision.
“The situation at PSD is not about Liviu Dragnea the person, it’s about the president of the second largest party in Romania. And no, it is not normal. If you’re sentenced for good by a court, the party leader’s job description says what the appropriate reaction is: resignation. Here we are not talking about a political war, we are talking about decent, normal behaviour that a political leader adopts before the Romanian electorate, before European partners. For whom can Liviu Dragnea be a partner of dialogue today? Clearly, by remaining at the party helm, Mr. Dragnea chooses to make his party and PSD candidates, as well as Romania’s image, vulnerable in these elections. How long will it take before the Party of European Socialists, whose member PSD is, reacts?,” Gorghiu wrote on her Facebook page.
Predoiu: President’s reaction is absolutely normal, Dragnea holds the judiciary in contempt
President Klaus Iohannis’s reaction, calling on the PSD President to resign, is “absolutely normal” and the fact that Liviu Dragnea is not resigning is “contempt” toward the judiciary, Catalin Predoiu, PNL’s candidate for the Bucharest City Hall, stated on Saturday.
Asked what he thinks about the reaction of President Klaus Iohannis, who asked PSD President Liviu Dragnea to resign following the two year suspended sentence he received, Predoiu said: “It’s absolutely normal because the President is, among other things, the guarantor of equilibrium within the state, the guarantor of the proper functioning of society and what we are seeing is a party president sentenced for illegal actions in an elections campaign.”
Likewise, Catalin Predoiu stated that the refusal to resign represents “contempt” toward the judiciary and reminded the accusations launched by ex-premier Victor Ponta, who claimed that a former minister and PSD Vice President, “an undercover officer,” is planning to take over the party, Mediafax informs.
“What Mr. Dragnea is doing is coming and asking to organise an elections campaign once more. It’s contempt toward the judiciary which just sentenced him for illegal activities in the electoral process. Apart from this, it’s the latest evidence of the fact that within PSD we are dealing with a competition, a double competition as shown by the statements of PSD leaders. Who receives more suspended sentences and who is more undercover, I’ve seen that Mr. Ponta accuses someone of that. We have nothing to do with these things. What Bucharesters are interested in, and we too are interested in, is to offer a vision on the development of Bucharest and this is what we’re doing,” Predoiu claimed.
PNL’s candidate for the Bucharest City Hall added, when asked if PSD’s problems are to his party’s advantage: “This does not concern us beyond the fact that it is a bad omen for Romanian political life to keep Mr. Dragnea in a high political office against the backdrop in which he was sentenced in relation to political processes.”
EPP’s Daul: Democracy does not permit electoral fraud
After PNL and Iohannis, European People’s Party (EPP) President Joseph Daul also asked Dragnea to resign.
“PSD President Liviu Dragnea has to resign as a result of his conviction for electoral fraud. Democracy does not permit electoral fraud,” Daul wrote on Twitter.
Mircea Geoana: Dragnea’s departure from PSD helm is just a matter of time
Romanian Social Party (PSRO) President Mircea Geoana stated on Saturday in Craiova that the situation PSD President Liviu Dragnea finds himself in after the court’s final ruling on Friday is “impossible today, both domestically and at international level,” stating that Dragnea’s departure from PSD’s helm is just a matter of time.
“Liviu Dragnea’s situation is an impossible situation today, domestically and at international level. At this moment, both he and PSD are in fact in quarantine. It’s just a matter of time until Liviu Dragnea leaves PSD’s helm. You cannot lead an important party with someone convicted for good,” Geoana said in Craiova where he took part in the launch of MP Florentin Gust as PSRO’s candidate for the Craiova City Hall.
Geoana also stated that the situation PSD finds itself at this moment could determine the left-wing electorate to look toward PSRO, which is a solution in this part of the political spectrum.
“The goal does not excuse the means. Even if that referendum was a popular undertaking, it doesn’t mean we can resort to electoral fraud to all eternity. I hope what happened during this period should be a lesson for citizens, they shouldn’t vote out of inertia. There are other options too. And on the left wing, especially after Dragnea’s completely unacceptable decision yesterday, PSRO is the real left-wing solution and I am convinced that, apart from PSD members, I believe that the left-wing public, which would have been tempted to vote for PSD so far, would be much more attracted to PSRO starting yesterday,” Mircea Geoana added.
ALDE’s Tariceanu: Trial and sentence, eminently political actions
However, Dragnea has backers too, not just detractors.
Calin Popescu Tariceanu, Co-President of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE), stated on Friday that the trial and sentence against Liviu Dragnea are “eminently political actions” meant to induce the idea that “Romanians did not want to dismiss Basescu at the 2012 referendum.”
“The trial against Liviu Dragnea, as well as the ICCJ decision, is an eminently political action, representing an unwanted one-of-a-kind in the civilised world. Democratic practices that have become traditional have consecrated the parties’ role as being the mobilising of citizens to vote based on political opinions and arguments included in the programmes and projects with which party leaders show up in elections campaigns,” Tariceanu wrote on Facebook.
The ALDE Co-President stated that this conviction can “perversely” lead to a “revolting” conclusion – that “at the 2012 referendum Romanians DID NOT want Basescu dismissed because in reality Liviu Dragnea allegedly indirectly falsified the results of the vote.”
Tariceanu underscored that these are “concerted actions” on the part of strong institutions in order to intervene in the elections.
“These absolutely original interpretations are part of a concerted action through which strong state institutions are intervening in the elections process, “de facto” competing with the political power, instead of things being the other way around. We could say that, under the slogan of the fight against corruption, strong state institutions are undertaking a previously unseen pre-selection of candidates and future electees,” the Senate Speaker stated.
The ALDE Co-President stressed that although rule of law principles mean court decisions have to be respected, it is his duty to express a political point of view “in defence of democracy and of pluralism.”
“For a long time, I was a lonely voice when it came to warning about the imbalance between branches of government and the undemocratic takeover of political power by occult forces. Most of the political class was satisfied with a role of spectator when it came to my signals. I believe that, regardless of political stripes, the moment has come when we have to act jointly in order to safeguard the freedoms won with many sacrifices at the Revolution,” Tariceanu concluded.
Former PNL President Crin Antonescu: Dragnea did nothing illegal
Crin Antonescu, former PNL President during the 2012 presidential impeachment referendum, says that Liviu Dragnea did nothing illegal. Crin Antonescu came to PSD President’s defence and said that the role of any political leader is to mobilise voters.
“It is very complicated to comment on such a decision, because I don’t know the case file, I don’t know the crimes included in the case file. What I know from what I’ve seen and experienced is that nothing illegal happened. I did not actually take part in organising the campaign because I was interim president,” Crin Antonescu stated, according to gandul.info.
The former president of PNL at the time the party formed the Social Liberal Union (USL) alongside PSD, says that what Liviu Dragnea did at the 2012 referendum was normal.
“I hope with all my heart that there is no kind of element that has to do with the normal organising of an elections campaign in any democratic country, with any action that a leader takes, namely that of mobilising people to vote. It’s the leader’s role to mobilise the electorate,” Crin Antonescu added.