Romanian president to name new PM to form government after Victor Ponta resigns following protests by 20,000 people
“I’m handing in my mandate. I’m resigning – and implicitly my government too,” Victor Ponta said, adding that he would stay on until a new government was in place. “I am obliged to take note of the legitimate grievances which exist in society. I hope handing in my and my government’s mandate will satisfy the demands of protesters.”
About 20,000 people held a demonstration in Bucharest on Tuesday evening, calling for the resignation of Ponta, the interior minister, Gabriel Oprea, and Cristian Popescu Piedone, mayor of the district where the Colectiv nightclub was located.
Some waved the national flag with holes in it – a symbol of the popular revolution 25 years ago that toppled dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu. Many shouted “shame on you” and “assassins”.
Anger at the government has been growing, with many perceiving it as being corrupt, and last week’s fire delivered the final blow.
Piedone, who also resigned on Wednesday, said he was morally guilty for the deadliest fire in Romania’s history. “I assume the moral blame. As for the legal [blame] I will leave it to justice to pronounce,” he said.
President Klaus Iohannis wrote on his Facebook page late on Tuesday: “I understand what is being asked and what is expected, and they are right, someone has to take political responsibility. The next step is for politicians, who cannot ignore this sentiment of revolt.”
Witnesses said the fire broke out during a heavy metal concert in the basement club when a spark ignited foam decor, sending people stampeding for the single-door exit. The death toll stands at 32, while 130 remain in hospital, dozens in a serious or critical condition.
Ponta, the country’s only sitting prime minister to stand trial for corruption, had been under pressure to resign from Iohannis, who defeated him in last November’s presidential election.
Ponta, a Social Democrat, was indicted in July as part of a wide-ranging corruption investigation and had his assets seized. The charges against Ponta include tax evasion, money laundering, conflict of interest and making false statements while he was working as a lawyer in 2007 and 2008. He was also a politician at the time. He denies wrongdoing.
The accusations against Ponta, who took office in 2012, include forging expense claims worth at least 181,000 lei (£29,000) from the law firm of his political ally Dan Sova. Prosecutors allege he pretended he did work as a lawyer to justify getting money from the firm.
The funds were used to pay for two luxury apartments and the use of an SUV vehicle. Prosecutors say that after Ponta became prime minister in May 2012, he appointed Sova as minister three times.
Ponta has immunity from some of the charges, including the conflict of interest accusation. But he does not have immunity for the tax evasion and money laundering charges. He had repeatedly ignored calls to resign and pledged to serve out his term until the end of 2016, when the country is scheduled to hold its next parliamentary elections
Ponta’s departure may lead to a political realignment in Romania, where a coalition of three parties form a majority in parliament. Iohannis, the former opposition leader, has said his aim was to bring his former Liberals to power.
Ponta resigned as chairman of the ruling Social Democratic party in July saying he wanted to prove his innocence. “I can carry any political battles but I can’t fight with the people,” Ponta said.
He will probably remain in his post with his cabinet until the president nominates a replacement.