Liviu Dragnea has easily defeated an internal move to oust him as leader of Romania’s ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) after three high-ranking members of the party had called on him to resign because of his previous criminal conviction.
The 55-year-old Dragnea on September 21 won a vote of the party’s executive committee by a margin of 55-8 after an eight-hour meeting.
"My colleagues from many departments have asked me not to quit my positions," Dragnea said after the meeting.
The vote came after top politicians in the PSD on September 19 called on the party leader to step down over criminal corruption convictions and party-related violations.
The call to resign was delivered in a letter to Dragnea and was signed by three prominent members of the PSD -- Deputy Premier Paul Stanescu, lawmaker Adrian Tutuianu, and Bucharest Mayor Gabriela Firea.
The letter said Dragnea’s previous convictions for abuse of power left the party “vulnerable” in upcoming elections.
Dragnea, considered by many as Romania’s most-powerful politician, was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison by the Supreme Court after his 2016 conviction and he was barred from running for prime minister.
But the sentence has been suspended pending an appeal, and critics have alleged that the SPD has begun decriminalizing several corruption offenses in what some say is a campaign to save Dragnea from going to jail.
The government’s actions -- which critics say are hindering efforts to crack down on rampant corruption -- have led to massive street protests over the past two years.
In a rally on August 10, some 450 protesters required medical assistance after riot police used water cannons and tear gas against an estimated 100,000 mostly peaceful protesters in a display of violence unseen in Romania since the early 1990s.
The European Union condemned the crackdown, but Prime Minister Viorica Dancila asserted that authorities acted legally in their efforts to defend government offices from protesters who tried to break through police lines.