Romanian ruling coalition splits, parties regroup before the electoral offensive

Romanian ruling coalition splits, parties regroup before the electoral offensive


By Daniel Stroe – Bucharest

The Romanian ruling social-liberal coalition (USL) last night broke up after the liberals (PNL), the junior party in the alliance, overwhelmingly voted in favor of withdrawing from the government following a two week long dispute on a deputy-PM nomination they had made and which the social-democrats (PSD) resisted.

“By repeated and flagrant encroachment, to an unacceptable degree, of some government making elements by PM Ponta, PNL has decided to put an end to a crisis artificially prolonged by the prime-minister, withdraw all its ministers from this cabinet along the resignation of the liberal dignitaries. The second decision is to ask for the resignation of PM Victor Ponta” the liberal leader Crin Antonescu (photo) said last night at the end of a party convention.

The announcement came weeks after PNL proposed Klaus Johannis as deputy-PM after the position became vacant following the resignation of another liberal minister. Johannis, the German ethnic mayor of Sibiu , a city in central Romania , was brought forward by the liberals, 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.

Following the liberals’ expected decision, PM Victor Ponta started courting the Hungarian ethnics’ party UDMR to ensure a stable majority in the Parliament; the Hungarians were offered two seats in the government. But Ponta had already negotiated a new alliance with two small parliamentary parties to keep his government functional, but the new majority is short of enough votes to help him push a constitutional and administrative reform through.

But Antonescu’s decision to withdraw from USL was met with resistance from party members, such as Calin Popescu Tariceanu, former Romanian PM (2004-2008), who called on the former to keep PNL in the ruling coalition. Defying Antonescu, Tariceanu has today met PM Ponta, risking a split in the liberal ranks. After harsh reactions from the fellow party members, Tariceanu resigned from PNL in the afternoon.

Reacting today to the ruling coalition break up, President Basescu has warned the government has nine ministerial seats filled by interims, which suggests an unstable government. He met PM Ponta this morning who assured him a new government would be brought before the Parliament by next Tuesday.

“I pity them for not being able to live up to their positions” Basescu said of Ponta and Antonescu. They, through their discussion, have put the country in a difficult position in a period of instability in the region – Ukraine , Moldova , Bosnia ” the president added.

Most probably, Antonescu walked out of USL after he was convinced he is no longer the coalition’s presidential candidate, as the initial agreement provided. With his approval ratings constantly going down, the social-democrats started contesting his candidacy and it became obvious PSD was looking at its own candidate. The dispute on Johannis’ appointment may have been a mere pretext to leave the ruling coalition. But analysts say the liberals may have a chance to go up in the polls by November if they turn into a genuine opposition party and attack the social-democrats on all fronts, especially since there is a serious opposition vacuum in the Romanian Parliament.

The social-democrats may now be tempted to pass some populist decisions ahead of the two polls this year, the Euro-elections and the presidential elections, after the liberals left the coalition. PM Ponta has already voiced his intention to introduce an incremental tax up to the current 16 per cent flat rate, but many fear he may try to go beyond this threshold. Still, with a much slimmer majority, Ponta may have to think twice before passing measures which may ruffle feathers in the opposition. Romanian politics have proven political camps may change overnight.