Marcel Ciolacu elected leader of Romania’s Social Democrats. We ‘must break with past’ and not interfere with justice system

Foto: INQUAM/Octav Ganea

Marcel Ciolacu was overwhelmingly voted as chairman of Social Democrat Party on Saturday and vowed not to tamper with Romania’s legal system unlike his predecessor, a move which alienated the party from Social Democratic European parties.

Ciolacu won 1,310 votes in a secret ballot to defeat former Finance Minister Eugen Teodorovici who polled just 91 votes. There were 49 invalid votes.

The congress was held Saturday at the giant House of the Parliament, but most party members participated online due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Ciolac, 52, now leads Romania’s biggest party after being appointed as interim chairman late last year. The party has submitted a no-confidence vote against the minority Liberal Party to be voted on in September.

In a speech, Ciolacu said Romania needed “a strong left-wing party” which was also conservative. He also said it needed a new style of leadership and to break with the strongman type leader of the past.

The party’s economic policies are left-leaning, such as high public spending, while socially it is conservative. It supported a referendum in 2018 that sought to redefine marriage as a union between a man and a woman which was criticized by rights activists. Same-sex ,marriage is not recognized in Romania.

In a reference to to former party leader Liviu Dragnea, currently serving a 3 ½ year sentence for a fake jobs scandal, Ciolacu said  “our work has been wasted by those who thought they could use the PSD as a key to the doors of justice.”

Under Dragnea’s leadership, the party sought to overhaul the justice system and dilute the anti-corruption fight. That brought the biggest protests since the end of communism and criticism from the European Union and the U.S.

But Ciolacu said that the former leadership was not “the Social Democratic Party.”

“They belong to the past and we have to break away from this past,” he said.

“Justice must be done in the courts, not at the party (offices), not on the TV and not in the presidential palace.”

The Social Democrats “has relied on father figures in the past. And obviously this didn’t do the party or Romania any good. The time for the fathers has gone.”

Ciolacu became interim chairman in December when former Prime Minister Viorica Dancila was ousted as party leader after President Klaus Iohannis won a landslide victory in November presidential elections.

She scored about 33% of the vote in a runoff, the worst showing of a Social Democat candidate ever in a presidential election.

Local elections are scheduled for Sept. 27 and parliamentary elections are likely to be held in November or December.

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