A pro-government supporter shouts slogans in front of the presidential office in Bucharest, Romania, February 6, 2017. Inquam Photos/Octav Ganea/via REUTERS(reuters_tickers)
By Radu-Sorin Marinas
BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Romania's Social Democrat-led government easily survived a no-confidence motion in parliament on Wednesday, three days after mass street protests forced it into an embarrassing U-turn over a graft decree.
Critics said the decree, which also drew rebukes from Romania's Western allies, would have turned back the clock on the fight against corruption in the ex-communist nation of 20 million people. The government rescinded the decree on Sunday.
"I do hope that as of today we get back to work," Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu told lawmakers before the vote.
The Social Democrats and their allies control nearly two thirds of the seats in parliament after winning a December election. They abstained in Wednesday's vote, when 161 lawmakers backed the no-confidence motion and eight voted against.
The government, however, has been badly shaken by the protests, the largest in Romania since the 1989 fall of communism, and opposition parties vowed after Wednesday's vote to continue their close scrutiny of the ruling party's actions.
One minister resigned last week saying he could not support the decree and the Social Democrats have said they are considering the position of Justice Minister Florin Iordache, the architect of the decree.
Party sources have told Reuters he may resign on Wednesday and Grindeanu said on Wednesday a decision on Iordache would be announced on Thursday.
Opposition deputy Catalin Predoiu said of the no-confidence motion: "This is a warning signal that we managed to gather the votes of the whole opposition and it also shows that whenever the new government derails we will gather and sanction it."
Grindeanu said his government would not consider any further initiatives similar to the rescinded decree "that could awake powerful emotions in society without proper and wide debate".
The decree would have decriminalised a number of graft offences and effectively shielded dozens of public officials from prosecution for graft.
Romania remains one of the poorest and most graft-prone member states of the European Union, which it joined in 2007.
Before the debate, around a dozen protesters wrote 'RESIST' in the snow that had fallen overnight in front of the government headquarters. But the number of people attending daily protests - which reached a quarter of a million on Sunday - has fallen sharply since the government's climbdown.
Parliament must still endorse the government's decision to rescind the graft decree and it is expected to hold a session towards the end of the week.
On Wednesday, the Constitutional Court rejected challenges on procedural grounds brought against the rescinded decree by Romania's president and by the top magistrates' council.
The court said it would reconvene on Thursday to consider a separate challenge brought by Romania's ombudsman against the content of the decree.
(Additional reporting by Luiza Ilie; Editing by Matt Robinson and Gareth Jones)