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News 13 Jul 17

Romanian Activists Slate Move to Let Criminals Hold Office

A bill drafted by the cabinet - that might allow people with criminal convictions to hold public office - has prompted fresh calls from civil society activists for public protests. 

Ana Maria Touma
BIRN
Bucharest
Civil society activists continue to put pressure on the Romanian Social Democrat-led government to avoid passing laws that threaten the fight against corruption. Photo:Carpathianland/Flikr.  

Romanian activists have called for fresh public protests on Thursday after the government issued a draft law that might allow politicians found guilty of crimes to hold public office once they have been rehabilitated.

A law dating from 2001, which bans convicted felons from serving in government, prevented the leader of the ruling Social Democrat Party, Liviu Dragnea, from becoming Romania's Prime Minister in January.

Dragnea has a two-year suspended jail sentence for trying to rig a presidential impeachment referendum in 2012.

Under the old law, to become a member of the government, a politician has to be a Romanian citizen, reside in the country, enjoy electoral rights - and must have no criminal convictions.

However, the new draft, posted on the Ministry of Development and Public Administration website, adds a new provision - by which a person with a criminal conviction who has been rehabilitated can hold public office.

The Minister of Development, Sevil Sehhaideh, who is one of Dragnea’s close allies, claimed the draft law had been put together in 2016 by the former government led by Dacian Ciolos.  

However, Ciolos replied on his Facebook account to say that his cabinet never discussed the draft.

According to Minister of Justice Tudorel Toader, regardless of the new draft, Romania’s criminal code already entitles rehabilitated individuals to exercise the same rights as all other citizens. “Once the [court] sentence is fulfilled, all bans are lifted and all rights are reinstated,” Toader said.

However, Romanian law only allows the rehabilitation of convicted felons in milder cases concerning fines, jail sentences of up to two years, or suspended jail sentences.  

Activists accuse the cabinet of trying to pass the bill quietly, without civil society realising, and called for protests on July 16.

They say the new Administration Code draft, which gathers 20 bills, was published for public consultation at the beginning of the week on the Ministry of Development website - but not in the “Public Consultation” section where it should have been.

Both government institutions and members of civil society can suggest amendments and observations within two weeks of their publication.

“If you don’t want a convicted felon to decide your future, join us and ask for a clean government, a government that represents you, as loud as you can,” activists from Coruptia Ucide ["Corruption Kills"] said.

The group organized large anti-corruption protests in February after the cabinet passed a pardoning decree that they said would have absolved Dragnea of his suspended jail sentence.

On their Facebook account, they said that on Sunday they plan to march from the government building in Bucharest to the headquarter of the Social Democratic Party. “We don’t want to be a nation of thieves,” they also wrote.

The Administration Code draft will have to be approved by parliament. Prime Minister Mihai Tudose has insisted that it will “all be done transparently”.

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