Romania Parliament speaker calls for reforms of ruling party

AP News
Posted: Jul 16, 2015 11:50 AM
Romania Parliament speaker calls for reforms of ruling party

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — The speaker of Romania's Parliament on Thursday called for a profound overhaul of the ruling party after Prime Minister Victor Ponta was indicted on corruption charges and had his assets seized, a first in Romania.

"We are in a crisis situation... with the leader indicted and deputy leader condemned" for corruption, said Valeriu Zgonea, a long-standing member of the Social Democratic Party.

Ponta, who earlier resigned as party leader, was indicted Monday on charges including tax evasion, money laundering, conflict of interest and making false statements while he was working as a lawyer in 2007 and 2008, and his assets were temporarily frozen. He is Romania's first sitting prime minister to be indicted. He denies the charges.

He said Wednesday he would consider resigning if his political rival, President Klaus Iohannis, guaranteed that the next premier was chosen from the ruling center-left coalition. But Ponta also said he would prefer to remain prime minister.

The deputy leader of the Social Democratic Party, Liviu Dragnea, was convicted in May of fraud in a referendum to impeach Romania's former president. He was given a one-year suspended prison sentence. Nonetheless, he indicated Thursday he is considering running for party chairman.

"In Romania, the system is reminiscent of the 'communistoid' mentality which affects our credibility," Zgonea said in an interview with The Associated Press. "We need a change of mentality... that is what the young generation is saying to us."

"Unfortunately, the opposition parties are even less reformed," he added.

However, he said that the anti-corruption fight which has been stepped up in recent months, has brought more investor confidence.

"Since the end of 2014 we have seen an 11 percent growth in foreign investment," he said.

He said the ruling party needs "profound reforms," and to quickly hold a congress to choose a new chairman. Romanian media have touted Zgonea as a possible candidate for that post.