Victor Ponta’s leftist government easily survived a no-confidence motion in Romania’s parliament as expected on Friday (12 June), securing the prime minister’s political immunity in a corruption investigation.
While the debate and vote were in progress, hundreds of protesters in the capital of Bucharest and other towns across the country called for his resignation.
His comfortable majority, bolstered by a couple of junior party allies, saw off the centrist opposition’s challenge in the government’s first big political test since losing a presidential election to a centrist candidate in November.
Parliament blocked the criminal investigation into Ponta over forgery and money laundering on Tuesday, prompting more criticism of the EU country’s anti-corruption drive.
Ponta has denied any wrongdoing.
“What does it mean? We have a government, we have a majority, let’s get back to work,” he said after the vote.
Talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Commission to review Romania’s 4-billion-euro precautionary aid deal were to be relaunched late this month or in early July, Ponta had said this week.
Official data released in parliament showed the censure motion filed by the centrist opposition was 84 votes short.
Ponta’s Social Democrats and their junior allies in parliament abstained altogether.
“We’re still in a crisis, the premier’s credibility is being gradually reduced to dust,” opposition leader Vasile Blaga said.
The prime minister is but the latest target of the powerful DNA anti-corruption agency, which has launched a string of graft probes in recent months that have removed several influential Romanians from their jobs.
The opposition’s no confidence motion also claimed that the government has failed to organize elections to replace political allies brought down by the anti-corruption drive, lending it a political advantage.
Centrist co-leader Alina Gorghiu said they plan to file a new motion against the government in the autumn.
Romania is seen as one of the EU’s most corrupt states, and its justice system is under special monitoring. While its prosecutors have won praise from the EU executive, parliament has a patchy record of approving requests for prosecution.
Prosecutors will not be able to continue investigating the premier for conflict of interest. But anti-corruption investigators have said they will press ahead with a probe into money laundering and tax evasion allegations against Ponta, dating to 2007-2011, before he became prime minister in 2012.
Friday’s confidence vote is not directly linked to the corruption allegations against Ponta.
The motion, filed on the same day the case against the premier was announced, concerns delays to a law on postal votes for Romanians abroad, who traditionally do not vote for Ponta’s social-democratic left.
The leu was virtually unchanged after the vote at 4.4667 to the euro. “As widely expected, the no-confidence (motion) failed, now we’re back to watching the Greek newsflow,” ING Bank’s Ciprian Dascalu said.
Ponta government’s planned sweeping tax cuts will be at the centre of IMF talks in July, and Ponta said the plan was expected to be approved by parliament by the end of June.
Negotiations have become increasingly strained, and both the IMF and the Commission have warned that the plans could endanger its ambitious fiscal targets.