Romanian President Klaus Iohannis urged the nation Thursday (25 April) to vote next month in a referendum on judicial reforms, calling it a chance to teach the ruling left-wing social democrats “a lesson”.
“This is also a referendum on the PSD,” Iohannis said in a televised statement referring to the ruling Social Democratic Party. “Voters can teach it a lesson.”
If Romanians rebuke the ruling party, “we’ll have a mandate to act immediately”, Iohannis said.
The centre-right president also said he had signed the decree for the referendum to be held on 26 May, the same day Romania is to hold its EU parliament elections.
At the referendum Romanians will be asked whether they approve a ban on amnesties and pardons for corruption offences, and a ban on emergency judicial decrees.
Regarded as one of the EU’s most graft-ridden members, Romania has repeatedly clashed with Brussels over a series of judicial reforms proposed by the PSD which the EU Commission believes will hamper the fight against corruption.
Earlier Wednesday the parliament approved controversial changes to the country’s criminal code that critics say favour PSD head Liviu Dragnea and are likely to set up a fresh confrontation with the European Union.
Romanian opposition leaders charge that the changes approved this week will close high-level graft cases and benefit Dragnea, who was served a suspended jail term and awaits a verdict in a second case.
“They changed the criminal code as they pleased. They legislate so they can continue to steal with impunity,” charged Iohannis.
He acknowledged that the referendum will not be binding, but insisted that it nonetheless “sends a signal”.
The reforms dispute has overshadowed Romania’s first term as European Union rotating president, which began in January.
The opposition has said it will challenge the new criminal code amendments at the Constitutional Court which will delay their enforcement.
Dragnea has said he is not afraid of a referendum, and maintains that Iohannis is preparing the ground for a fresh presidential election that is due to be held towards the end of this year.