Ponta survives no-confidence vote

By bne IntelliNews June 12, 2015

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Romania’s Prime Minister Victor Ponta survived a no-confidence vote in parliament on June 12, after the opposition National Liberal party (PNL) only gathered 194 votes, against the 278 votes needed. 

However, the vote will hardly settle the fevered political atmosphere after a week in which parliament refused to lift Ponta's immunity, as prosecutors investigate him for alleged corruption. Whether Ponta can survive until the next general elections in the autumn of 2016 remains very much in doubt.

The weak and divided opposition parties have recently intensified their attacks against Ponta, and they hope to spark mass protests against the government.

However, economic trends still favour the premier. The economic outlook seems favourable, with first quarter GDP growing by 4.3% y/y and analysts increasing their 2015 GDP growth projections to around 3%. This will allow more social spending and tax cuts ahead of next year's parliamentary elections, with the government already cutting the VAT on foodstuffs by 15 percentage points to 9%. 

The no-confidence motion was designed to highlight the government’s slow enactment of a bill aimed at helping diaspora Romanians vote. This issue played a key role in the the presidential elections last November. 

During the vote, the number of ballot stations abroad was visibly insufficient – partly because of the unusually high turnout compared to previous presidential elections, but also, the opposition alleged, because the government was deliberately making it difficult for the diaspora to vote, given that they were expected to be anti-government.

In the event the mass protests over the ballot stations increased substantially the overall turnout and Ponta lost the elections to the hitherto unfancied opposition candidate, Klaus Iohannis. 

Since then Ponta has managed to build a functioning relation with President Iohannis, who is trying not to behave as the leader of the opposition. 

However, the president has now asked for Ponta’s resignation over the corruption allegations, saying that it was "an impossible situation for Romania that the prime minister be accused of criminal actions". Ponta has refused, and parliament also rejected lifting his immunity, though the investigation of alleged offences before he entered parliament is continuing.

Romania’s National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) announced on June 5 that it had started criminal investigations into Ponta, accusing him of forging documents to cover payments made to him between 2007 and 2008, a period before he became a government minister and when he was still working as a lawyer. The payments, amounting to some €40,000, were formally related to a contract between the law firm and state-owned companies, prosecutors explained, but the services were allegedly never delivered. 

In a sign that the government fears that political tempers could boil over, Minister of Justice Robert Cazanciuc has urged the opposition to refrain from encouraging public protests. “I warn PNL leaders that organising illegal political manifestations, with the aim of impeding the full use of their powers by the government or by the parliament, falls under the category of criminal deeds,” Cazanciuc specified in the document revealed by Mediafax.

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