Politicians in Romania have agreed to hold a national referendum on corruption after days of mass protests over government plans to decriminalise some corruption offences.
Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets of towns and cities around the country over the past two weeks to demonstrate against changes in the law that would have allowed scores of public officials to avoid prosecution over corruption charges.
The proposed emergency ordinance would have rolled back anti-corruption legislation, decriminalising abuse-of-power offences that involved sums of less than 200,000 lei (€44,350).
One of the highest profile officials to benefit from the law change would have been Social Democratic Party (PSD) leader Liviu Dragnea, who is currently facing charges that he attempted to defraud the state.
Demonstrations continued after the government ditched the law changes last week, with protestors calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu despite the U-turn.
Campaigners are worried that Grindeanu’s government, which has only been in power for a matter weeks, will attempt to push through further reforms that will weaken the country’s anti-corruption laws.
Yesterday, members of the Romanian Parliament voted in favour of holding a referendum after it was proposed by President Klaus Iohannis, although it remains unclear what question will be put to voters when the poll takes place.
While the lawmakers’ decision is not legally binding and no date has been set for a referendum, the unanimous backing of the 310 MPs present for the vote was seen by some as a boost for anti-corruption campaigners.
The demonstrations triggered by the proposed law change have been the largest protests the country has seen since the fall of communism if 1989. On Monday night, thousands of people gathered outside the seat of government in Bucharest, calling for the government to be replaced.
Protestors speaking with reporters in Bucharest’s Victory Square said they had lost trust in the government, and expressed concerns that it would damage the progress the country has made against institutionalised corruption in recent years if allowed to remain in power.
According to a report from BalkanInsider, the decision to hold a referendum is unlikely to stop the protests. Demonstrators continued to voice their opposition to the government after Justice Minister Florin Iordache, the main architect of the emergency ordinance, stood down last week.
“The Justice Minister’s resignation isn’t enough after what they tried to do,” one protestor said on Monday night. Another said the public had completely lost faith in the government.
Long viewed as one of the most corrupt countries in Europe, Romania has recently won praise for cleaning up its public institutions. Despite making progress, the country is still ranks below all but three of its fellow EU nations in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.