Throngs brought to Bucharest for governing coalition protests against "parallel state", seen as show of force for strongman Liviu Dragnea against anti-graft prosecutors
Protest Piata Victoriei
Hundreds of thousands of people, many brought by buses from across the country, attended a massive protest organised by the Romanian governing coalition - which controls the government, the parliament and most public institutions - against what it calls a "parallel state" and "abuse of power". The coalition, led by Social Democratic (PSD) strongman Liviu Dragnea, used the event to attack the authority of President Iohannis and the prosecutors of the anti-graft body DNA, headed by Laura Codruta Kovesi, whom they accuse of "hurting democracy".
Opponents of the PSD and the governing coalition have pointed out that the protest was a means to show the power of Liviu Dragnea, who serves as House speaker. He has already received a suspended sentence for electoral fraud a couple of years ago and now risks other sentences, in separate cases - one of which was due on Friday but was eventually postponed.
Liviu Dragnea's coalition has been using all its political tools - from legislation changes in the Parliament to, now, street protests - to weaken the authority of the anti-corruption directorate (DNA) prosecutors. With a majority of Constitutional Court judges under its influence, the coalition has gone as far as attempting to strip the President of its powers over top prosecutors, changing a long series of laws governing the judiciary and forcing the changes through parliament despite domestic and international criticism.
Now, the coalition used the massive protest, organised in detail over the part week, to claim it "defends democracy" against a "parallel state" of prosecutors and intelligence service officers who, its says, are using "handcuffs" against the people in their fight against corruption.
HotNews.ro reporters counted some 180,000 people attended the demonstration in Victoriei Square in Bucharest on Saturday night, with Dragnea claiming an attendance of about 600,000.
Most were brought by buses from all across Romania, with many reports over the past several days of abuses attributed to various local PSD officials who were forcing employees or subordinates to attend the protest.
The demonstration "in defence of democracy" came after months of coalition attempts to figure out what purpose should be given to a massive demonstration in support of the PSD. The coalition first announced its intention to organise a protest "in support of the traditional family" - that is, in support of a planned constitutional change that would exclude same-sex marriage. The idea was eventually dropped. Instead, a gay pride parade attended by several thousand people took place on Saturday.
Then, it planned a demonstration in support of Viorica Dancila - the prime minister universally seen as a puppet for Liviu Dragnea and who has been harshly criticised for incompetence and international blunders. The PSD dropped this plan as well.
The governing coalition eventually settled for the protest against the "parallel state" and "abuse of power". This is the same coalition that has dropped no less than two governments last year because the respective prime ministers disagreed with Liviu Dragnea.
During the demonstration, politicians on stage called explicitly for boos against President Klaus Iohannis and DNA chief prosecutor Laura Codruta Kovesi.
This comes as tensions with Iohannis intensified abruptly over the past two weeks. The Constitutional Court, in a strangely explained decision, ordered the President to comply with a Justice minister's request to dismiss Kovesi as DNA chief. The Court decision effectively removes the powers of the president over top prosecutors in the country, turning the head of state into a simple tool in the hands of the Justice minister in this regard.
The president and Kovesi are yet to react to the Court decision. Meanwhile the Court itself was facing pressure as it appeared it acted against its own decisions, as one of its members has been active despite his term having expired. That, according to some analysts, meant that all Court's decisions over the past month would not be valid.
The Constitutional Court, which has been criticised for a long series of decisions that, while strangely or insufficiently explained, favor the governing coalition, has even addressed the Venice Commission claiming it was the target of a wave of media attacks.
As the demonstration on Saturday evening was drawing to a close, Dragnea warned, avoiding to clearly specify who he was speaking about, that "unless they fail to understand their regime is over, we will be back again, even more of us, and we will not leave".
Then the crowds shortly evaporated, with most of attendees having to return to their home cities across the country.
The demonstration took place in the same square where over the past year and a half most of the protests against government took place - most notably, the protests in early 2017, when hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to challenge government attempts to undermine the fight against corruption.
Another such protest against the government is expected on Sunday.