Romania: Party colleagues want leader out over graft trial

September 19, 2018 GMT

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Three senior members of Romania’s ruling Social Democratic Party on Wednesday urged the party’s powerful chairman to resign, saying he’s a liability due to a conviction for abuse of power.

Signatories of the nine-point letter, including Bucharest mayor Gabriela Firea, claimed that under Liviu Dragnea the party’s reputation and popularity had suffered over a contentious judicial overhaul, criticized by the European Union and the U.S.

Thousands of Romanians have regularly protested the overhaul they say will make it harder to prosecute high-level corruption.

Reacting to the letter, Dragnea accused the signatories of wanting to move closer to President Klaus Iohannis, a centrist who is Dragnea’s political rival and a supporter of the anti-corruption fight.

In June, Dragnea was handed a 3½-year sentence for abuse of power in office. He has appealed. The signatories called the conviction “a perpetual source of mistrust at home and abroad.”

It said Romania’s biggest party needed to take steps to “avoid the international isolation of the country,” proposing that Premier Viorica Dancila take over as acting leader until a party congress next year.

Criticism has mounted against Dragnea since an anti-corruption protest last month left hundreds injured.

The party’s general secretary, Codrin Stefanescu, called the letter “a plot” and “an act of treason,” but Social Democrat lawmaker Marcel Ciolacu said Dragnea was “blinded by power, pride and imaginary fears.” Other members declined to take sides.

Dragnea can’t be prime minister due to a 2016 conviction for vote rigging, has repeatedly refused to resign. A party meeting is scheduled for Friday.