- Title: Iohannis aims to keep government in check with referendum â€“ analyst
- Date: 24th January 2017
- Summary: BUCHAREST, ROMANIA (JANUARY 3, 2017) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF PRESIDENTIAL PALACE
- Embargoed: 7th February 2017 13:02
- Keywords: Romania Iohannis Dragnea
- Location: BUCHAREST, ROMANIA
- City: BUCHAREST, ROMANIA
- Country: Romania
- Topics: Lawmaking,Government/Politics
- Reuters ID: LVA00160FX8HL
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: Romanian President Klaus Iohannis initiated on Tuesday (January 24) procedures to hold a referendum on the government's plans to decriminalise certain offences and to pardon convicts through decrees, moves critics say could harm efforts to stamp out high-level corruption.
Thousands of people have rallied in Bucharest and cities in recent days to protest against the plans, which have been criticised by Iohannis, the prosecutor general, the supreme court, the chief anti-corruption prosecutor as well as civil rights groups.
"Unfortunately, this topic has become a national topic," Iohannis said an event at the Cotroceni Palace museum.
"There is clearly a wide interest in amending the criminal and pardoning codes. If that's the case I will subject this topic to public debate and the popular vote."
Iohannis did not offer a time frame for the referendum and the leftist government has not commented. He must first get a non-binding opinion from parliament on his plan.
On Sunday, leftist leader Liviu Dragnea -- himself given a two-year suspended jail sentence for a 2012 referendum-rigging conviction -- branded the street protests as an attempted coup.
Iohannis joined protesters briefly on Sunday.
According to the drafts, the government intends to decriminalise abuse of power actions causing financial damage of less than 200,000 lei ($47,500).
It is also seeking to pardon convicts sentenced to less than five years for committing certain crimes, and cut sentences by half for all prisoners aged over 60, and those having a terminal illness, regardless of their crime.
"With this referendum president Iohannis addresses the Social Democrat electorate directly. They are worried that small crimes will increase if the decree pardoning convicts passes. This electorate is not worried too much about large scale corruption," political analyst Mircea Marian said about the move.
"The president's goal is to keep pressure on the Social Democrat party and (party leader) Liviu Dragnea in order for them not to issue decrees which would take important corrupt people out of prison."
Iohannis urged the government on Friday (January 20) to scrap the decrees, which he said would undermine the rule of law and anti-corruption efforts.
The European Commission has praised prosecutors' efforts to fight graft while saying that local politicians have a history of trying to pass legislation which could weaken investigative powers.
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