By Radu-Sorin Marinas
BUCHAREST (Reuters) - The Romanian government's falling ratings show popular discontent over its erosion of the judiciary and will encourage rivals to try and topple them after the May 26 European Parliament vote, the main opposition party said on Friday.
Polls put the ruling Social Democrats (PSD) at their worst level of about 22% in April from about 30% at the start of 2019, trailing the opposition National Liberal Party (PNL) on 26%.
PNL leader Ludovic Orban told Reuters parliamentary opposition groupings were waiting for the EU vote before they would file a no-confidence motion by the end of June.
"If we are victors in EU polls, that's going to trigger a crisis in the ruling coalition," said Orban, whose centrist party is a long time ally of President Klaus Iohannis, both opposing government changes to the criminal code.
"Eventually, MPs would need to acknowledge and obey the evidence, the popular ballot," the 55-year-old engineer said in a telephone interview.
The European Union is threatening legal action unless Romania reverses measures deemed to undermine the independence of courts. They include moves to reduce statutes of limitation that would close some ongoing graft cases.
The EU Commission has already put Hungary and Poland under a special investigation, which could lead to a suspension of their voting rights in the bloc, over moves to control their courts, media, academic institutions and advocacy groups.
"CLEAN PUBLIC LIFE"
Romania's PSD won a 2016 general election with 45 percent, but only has a fragile parliament majority with a junior ally.
It defends the changes as an overdue update of communist-era methods which it says are abused by anti-graft prosecutors and secret services to target politicians and ruin innocent lives.
Romania is one of the EU's most corrupt members, according to Transparency International. Ruling party leader Liviu Dragnea, who has a suspended jail term in a vote-rigging case and an ongoing appeal against a second conviction for inciting others to abuse of office, is among the politicians who could benefit from the recent changes.
Romanians will also vote in a parallel referendum on May 26 whether to stop the government changing anti-graft laws by decree.
A Romanian Academy poll by INSCOP showed 59 percent of Romanians endorse the president's decision to call the referendum - albeit a non-binding one - which also asks them if they want to ban amnesty and pardon for graft crimes.
"The president has just given citizens the powers to clean Romanian public life," Orban said.
"This is an extremely powerful tool."
(Reporting by Radu-Sorin Marinas; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)