The politics sketch. From conciliatory to defiant: How Parliament sunk the government of Viorica Dancila

Inquam Photos / Octav Ganea

The prime minister wore black and her face was ashen despite the heavy makeup. The only light came from her blonde hair, coiffed as severely as ever. Not a single hair on Viorica Dancila’s head was out of place.

It was almost as if the premier was going to a funeral, which of course she was in a way. The outcome of the no-confidence vote against her government was down to the wire, but ultimately Parliament voted to dismiss the government, one of the most unpopular of recent times. Dancila had vowed to stay on in the post as the law permits (45 days), but in the end, she challenged President Klaus Iohannis to pick a new premier “today if possible.”

Mocked for misspeaking, occasional verbal blunders and regularly insulted, spectators saw none of the “conciliatory” prime minister that had been presented to the nation in January 2018 when her political boss Liviu Dragnea made her Romania’s first ever female prime minister. Dragnea wanted the job but was barred from the post due to a corruption conviction.

As the Dancila government with its many ministers sunk on Thursday afternoon, there was drama and insults, a mirror of the political tensions in Romania a month ahead of the presidential elections. Dancila was defiant and determined, a stark figure in her black suit, going into battle with her helmet hair and sharp metal brooch. She wagered she was “more of a man’’ than former Prime Minister Victor Ponta and vowed to face Iohannis in the presidential runoff next month. Down but not out.

A relaxed Ponta entertained Parliament with verbal quips and jokes, more of a standup comedian than the man who was once Europe’s youngest prime minister. He wants to be prime minister again, but now’s probably not his moment. Though who knows in politics, particularly Romanian politics.

Former Senate speaker Calin Popescu Tariceanu whose wounded pride precipitated Dancila’s fall, sniped at his erstwhile partner, all the time declaring that he would never reveal the dirty secrets he was privy to. It sounded threatening or maybe he was merely trying to present himself as a gentleman.

Tariceanu has been in politics it seems like forever, but it’s actually only since communism ended. He wanted to end his career on a high note as Romania’s president. Alas, it was not to be, as Dancila decided this summer that she would be the Social Democrats’ candidate for president. So Tariceanu, who’s been a Liberal but spent the last three years allied with the unpopular Social Democrats, quit the coalition last month and Dancila lost her majority and was hung out to dry.

Yet, as lawmakers sparred (not literally of course) in the Parliament cocooned in the megalomaniac palace built by late Communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu, the most important actors of the day were absent.

Klaus Iohannis who is running for reelection was at the palace, while Dragnea was in his prison cell. Serving a 3 ½ year sentence for corruption, Dragnea watched the day unfold, hoping that Dancila would seize victory from the jaws of defeat. He still has supporters in the Social Democrats and Dancila was his “creation.” A victory for Dancila would mean a win for Dragnea who undoubtedly hopes he can continue to influence Romania’s political scene after he is freed from jail.

Iohannis probably watched the drama from plusher quarters at his office in the 17th century Cotroceni Palace on one of Bucharest’s only hills. Dancila’s ouster was his success. He has long wanted a Liberal government and now looks likely to get that.  But losing Dancila as prime minister means a greater probability of losing her as his main rival in the presidential race. And while “Thursday was a good day” for the president, nobody can really predict how the next episode of Romania’s political drama will play out.


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