Election Loss Sinks Romania’s Prime Minister But Not His Party

Romania’s prime minister resigned after losing elections, though his party remains on course to lead the next government.

Ludovic Orban, in power since late 2019, stepped aside to boost the Liberal Party’s chances of sealing a new coalition. While the opposition Social Democrats won Sunday’s vote, it’s President Klaus Iohannis who must designate the next premier. He signaled Monday that an alliance led by the Liberals is well placed to unite.

“There’s a center-right coalition that may propose a new government taking shape rapidly,” President Iohannis said, appointing Defense Minister Nicolae Ciuca as interim premier. “I’ll call for consultations with the parties in the next few days to find the best solutions for Romania.”

Election Loss Sinks Romania’s Prime Minister But Not His Party

Orban helped steer Romania away from the populist policies that have seen Hungary and Poland clash with the European Union, most recently over hundreds of billions of euros of Covid-19 relief. He’d hoped to eventually lead a majority government in what’s been the EU’s most politically volatile member state in recent years.

But his minority cabinet’s popularity was damaged by the coronavirus pandemic, which has cost more than 12,000 Romanian lives and triggered the worst economic slump since the fall of communism. Turnout at the weekend was the lowest of any general election in three decades.

There’s more than just the health crisis for the new government to tackle. The ballooning budget deficit that Orban inherited has only worsened because of the virus. Romania’s investment-grade credit rating is on the line.

The Social Democrats, whose spending while in power is largely responsible for the fiscal shortfall, called Orban’s exit “irresponsible.” Party leader Marcel Ciolacu told local television that he’ll propose an epidemiologist from within their ranks as prime minister.

But, backed by Iohannis, the onus is on the Liberals. Likely partners include the Save Romania Union, a newly formed anti-corruption group that came third, and a party that caters to the ethnic Hungarian minority in the country of 19 million people.

Dacian Ciolos, who heads the Save Romania Union, said Orban’s departure offers a clean slate for the start of coalition negotiations. He said it’s important for the talks to lead to a stable government that’s able to remain in power for the next four years -- a rarity in Romania, where cabinets come and go with increasing regularity.

“Orban’s resignation is clearly meant to open the way to find a prime minister who’s going to get the support of Save Romania Union and the ethnic Hungarians and someone had to take the fall after the citizens’ revolt against the Liberal Party,” said Andrei Taranu, a professor at the Romanian University of Political Studies. “Even after they form a governing coalition, their majority is still very fragile so they’ll have to recruit more support in parliament from the opposition. Reforms aren’t possible without a large coalition.”

That could dent the Liberals’ plans to remodel the judiciary and the public administration. Orban, though, said he’d done what he can to ensure talks over a new government get off to the best possible start.

“Romania’s interests are more important than mine, those of the Liberal Party or any other party,” he said. “I want the negotiations for a coalition to have a clean start.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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