Romania’s former Prime Minister Viorica Dancila has bowed to pressure and quit as leader of the Social Democrats almost six hours into a stormy party meeting, two days after she suffered a major loss in the presidential runoff to President Klaus Iohannis, in what was the lowest score ever for the party in a presidential ballot.
The news that Dancila had finally resigned came Tuesday just before midnight following two days of tensions and resignations in the party. On Monday, there were reports she’d agreed to resign but on Tuesday in an apparent about-face, senior colleagues rallied around her and urged her to stay on as party leader.
Iohannis was re-elected with 66.06% of the vote in Sunday’s election to Dancila’s 33.94%, a far bigger margin than expected.
The result is a major blow for the party which has veered toward populism and failed to turn into a modern European-style center-left party, analysts say.
During the Tuesday evening party meeting, the party’s general secretary Mihai Fifor, a former defense minister and eight deputy leaders resigned. Parliament speaker Marcel Ciolacu, who has been critical of Dancila since her loss to Iohannis will serve as the party’s acting chairman.
Before the meeting, senior Social Democrat Codrin Stefanescu said: “The election result isn’t as tragic as it looks.”
He praised Dancila “who worked a lot… and is very courageous and determined.” “She won five out of 41 counties and got between 40 and 50% in some places. Everyone was against us.”
Dancila, 55, initially refused to quit after the results were announced, but calls mounted on Monday for her to step aside. Social Democrats met at the Parliament to discuss the party’s future. Ciolacu went to Dancila’s home and had asked her to step down, apparently offering her a safe parliamentary seat in the eastern town of Buzau and the leadership of the Social Democrats women’s group.
Dancila, who was Romania’s first female prime minister, became party leader after Liviu Dragnea was jailed for 3 1/2 years on corruption charges in May.
For Dancila to lose the leadership of Romania’s biggest party, two-thirds of the party’s Executive Committee needed to vote her out. Dancila scored less than expected and lost out after a populist campaign and three years that were marked by protests and instability.
After the results were announced, Dancila insisted she had won more votes than the party had won in May European Parliamentary elections and vowed to stay on.
But others said she should go including Ciolacu who said: “Let’s be honest, it is a disastrous result which comes after a similarly bad result in the European Parliamentary elections,” he wrote on Facebook.
„The Social Democrats need a new beginning, we have local elections in six months, we can’t lose them,” he said.
Dancila won just five out of Romania’s 41 counties and lost heavily overseas, where just over 6% of Romanians voted for her.