Following widespread protests across the country over the past few days, Romania will repeal a controversial decree to decriminalize certain kinds of government corruption.
The demonstrations took place in around 70 cities across the country, with an estimated 330,000 people participating, according to police. The protests are some of the largest since Nicolae Ceaușescu was removed from power in 1989.
While many protesters hailed the decree’s repeal as a step in the right direction, anticorruption protests are still expected to continue in Bucharest and other cities.
“I feel a bit better, but it isn’t enough,” Mihai Saru, a student protester, told The New York Times. “They lost our trust when they released this emergency ordinance in the night. How do we know it won’t happen again in two weeks, a month? But tonight is a little victory.”
Romania’s government introduced the controversial rule late Tuesday night as an “emergency decree,” which does not require parliamentary approval. The measure would have, among other things, decriminalized corruption offenses worth less than 200,000 lei (about $47,800), releasing current officials currently under trail or already in jail for such sums.
“The damage it will do, if it comes into force, can never be repaired,” Laura Kövesi, chief prosecutor of the National Anti-Corruption Directorate had told the BBC.
One official who would have directly benefitted from the decree is Liviu Dragnea, the head of the governing Social Democratic Party, who is currently ineligible for running for the position of prime minister because of an ongoing corruption trial and for electoral fraud, of which he was convicted last year. If the decree had entered into effect, he would have been off the automatically off the hook for a potential prison sentence because the charges against him involve less than 200,000 lei.
The government said the decree was intended to relieve prison overcrowding by pardoning 3,700 people and to realign certain existing laws with Romania’s constitution. But as protests began to grow, many officials began to speak out against the measure, including Romanian president Klaus Iohannis and business minister Florin Jianu. Mr. Jianu resigned in protest earlier this week.
Romania has had a long and sordid history associated with government corruption, but anti-corruption forces have increasingly taken hold in the Eastern European country since it joined the European Union in 2007.