Clock is ticking away for the Romanian ruling coalition

Clock is ticking away for the Romanian ruling coalition


By Daniel Stroe – Bucharest

The ruling coalition in Romania (the social-liberal union – USL) is set to break up later today following two weeks of sterile negotiations between the two parties, the social-democrats and the liberals, over a deputy-PM nominee the liberals made and which ran into strong opposition from the other side of the alliance.

“We have come to the conclusion the negotiations for the government reshuffle have failed. Our partners, the social-democrats, seem to not have wanted these changes” Klaus Johannis (photo), vice-president of the liberal party, said last night in a press conference. Johannis, the German ethnic mayor of Sibiu, a city in central Romania, was proposed by the liberals for the deputy-PM position, but PM Victor Ponta, the head of the social-democrats, is reluctant to accept his nomination for fear it may overshadow him in an electoral year. Johannis has high approval ratings and Ponta fear bringing him in the first ranks of the government may impact on his public image.

Crin Antonescu, the liberals’ leader, also voiced dissatisfaction. “This has been our proposal all the time. For two weeks, the PM has not agreed with it and, under these circumstances, we prefer to withdraw from the government because we believe some fundamental rules are no longer present” he said yesterday. The liberals’ leadership will convene tonight to discuss the “likely” withdrawal from USL.

But PM Victor Ponta has pointed fingers at the liberals, accusing them deliberately created this crisis inside USL by appointing Johannis though they knew his nomination was unacceptable for the social-democrats, even though he did not elaborate on this topic. It is unlikely the agreement between the two parties specifically says which politicians should be appointed in public offices and which not.

Ponta also fears Johannis may have been put forward with the purpose of the liberals turning him into the party’s candidate for the presidential elections in November. Antonescu has so far been in theory USL’s candidate for the poll late autumn, but since his approval ratings have gone down, the liberals are seriously considering relying on Johannis for the first job. And since Ponta may also envisage the presidential office, the two may become contenders in the race, which explains the PM’s refusal to accept Johannis by his side.

But the social-democrats can do without the liberals’ support in the Parliament since they have a narrow majority along several small parties and the minorities’ lawmakers.  Ponta is now trying to lure the Hungarian ethnics’ party UDMR in the government to have a stronger majority, even though the latter said they refuse to do so in sight of the Euro-elections in May.

Even though he may ensure his government survival in the Parliament, Ponta will no longer, if USL breaks up, have the 70% majority which enables him to pass far reaching reforms, such as a constitutional change and an administrative reform. With the likely liberals’ withdrawal today from the ruling coalition, the Romanian politics may witness new center-right alliances to run against the social-democrats.