Backing from PSD dissidents gives Romanian PM a chance to survive confidence vote

Backing from PSD dissidents gives Romanian PM a chance to survive confidence vote
By bne IntelliNews June 16, 2017

Romania’s Prime Minister Sorin Grindeanu is reportedly backed by the so-called “Cluj Group” within the senior ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD), according to unofficial sources quoted by B1 TV station on June 15. 

A no-confidence motion was filed against Grindeanu on June 15, after he lost the confidence of the PSD and its coalition partner the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (Alde). The rumoured backing from the Cluj group might give Grindeanu a chance to survive the motion, due to be debated on June 21, and form a new government. 

The PSD is currently controlled by a group of politicians from the southern part of the country including its leader Liviu Dragnea, Labour Minister Lia Olguta Vasilescu and Bucharest mayor Gabriela Firea.

However, the sources quoted by B1 indicate that a moderate faction of the party, including Cluj group leaders like Ioan Rus and Vasile Dancu, with more credibility among the country’s foreign partners, are attempting to take control of the ruling party.

In a move suggesting certain support among PSD members for the prime minister, on June 15 Grindeanu urged Dragnea to resign, accusing him of not being a legitimate leader of the party. Grindeanu promised to resign immediately afterwards. 

The two likely outcomes from the spat are that either Romania is left with an even more autocratic cabinet under the control of Dragnea, and formally led by a substitute for Grindeanu such as Carmen Dan or Lia Olguta Vasilescu, two ministers from within the current cabinet. Alternatively, an unstable cabinet could be formed by Grindeanu as a proxy for the Cluj group.

At this moment, the senior ruling coalition holds 244 seats in parliament, but a simple majority of 233 seats is all that is needed to overthrow Grindeanu, according to estimates by Hotnews, although the Cluj Group reportedly does not agree.

If Grindeanu is backed by a significantly large moderate faction within the party, he could survive the no-confidence motion and seek informal support in parliament from the main opposition party, the National Liberal Party (PNL). Such a cabinet would include credible leaders like MEP Sorin Moisa, former Alde co-president Daniel Constantin (former ALDE co-president), Sorin Campeanu. The party representing Romania’s ethnic Hungarian minority will likely back such a government. A revised version of the PSD's ruling strategy, adjusted to avoid fiscal slippage and risks to macroeconomic stability, would be adopted.

The most credible candidate for the PNL leadership, Ludovic Orban, has said formal support for Grindeanu is unlikely, but no decision has been taken yet. Grindeanu’s plans to appoint former Prime Minister Victor Ponta as general secretary of the government has diminished the odds of formal support from PNL. However, some opposition MPs might still extend sufficient support to allow a minority cabinet, formed by Grindeanu, with the participation of a dissident faction of the PSD. Such a scenario would lead to significant political instability.

The alternative is the autocratic, yet stable, scenario of a new cabinet formed by Dragnea and his partner, senate speaker and Alde leader Calin Popescu Tariceanu. 

However, the internal and external credibility of the parliamentary majority would be very low after the two major political crises during the first half of this year. Both leaders have expressed questionable views on anti-corruption, and have fiercely criticised the National Anticorruption Directorate. Both are being investigated by prosecutors in corruption cases. 

The government would be formally led by a prime minister such as Carmen Dan, minister of interior in Grindeanu’s cabinet, or Labour Minister Lia Olguta Vasilescu, under even tighter control by Dragnea. Most likely, such a cabinet would enforce a more populist version of the PSD’s ruling strategy, leading to wide fiscal slippage and a significant impact on macroeconomic stability. In the anti-corruption area, such a ruling majority would represent a step backwards. The end of this scenario might be marked, however, by a court decision against Dragnea (who is currently on trial in a corruption case) which would result in political havoc.

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