Ponta warns Romanian president of instability

By bne IntelliNews December 13, 2012

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The clear winner of the weekend's Romanian elections, incumbent Prime Minister Victor Ponta, urged archrival President Traian Basescu on December 12 to acknowledge the victory and reappoint him to his post in order to prevent the country sliding back into political turmoil.

"I expect President Basescu to respect the constitution and the will of Romanians," Ponta said in an interview with Reuters. "If he chooses a different path, he threatens Romania with instability in a very delicate moment."

Ponta's Social Liberal Union (USL) won two-thirds of the seats in the December 9 vote, but inveterate schemer Basescu, who under the constitution gets to appoint the prime minister, has said he doesn't want to reappoint the man who tried unsuccessfully to impeach him over the summer. The president has hinted that he may attempt to split the USL by appointing another of its members to head the government.

The election produced a landslide 59% of the vote for Ponta's party, giving it up to 68% of the 452 seats in the parliament. Of the USL's component parts, Ponta's leftist Social Democrat Party (PSD) took 37%, Crin Antonescu's National Liberal Party around 28%, and the Conservative Party about 3%. Right Romania Alliance (ARD), the centre-right grouping tied to Basescu, mustered no more than 17%.

"Any gesture showing that [Basescu] does not respect the result would put Romania in danger of being unstable and he does not want this, whatever the difficult personal relations between us," Ponta insisted to AP in another interview.

However, the incumbent PM has also been attempting to buy himself some insurance. Although the USL looks to have secured a two-thirds constitutional majority in the lower house, it is also negotiating with the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR) in a bid to form a "super majority," which would make the president even more vulnerable.

The tension is set to rise on December 14, when the president is due to arrive back in Bucharest from the two-day European Council meeting in Brussels. Basescu's spokesman told Reuters the president would follow the constitution in appointing the next PM and called on all lawmakers to stop trying to pressure him. He added that the president will hold talks with the parties over the next few days before making a nomination.

The delay and threat of an extended personal battle by Romania's two most powerful politicians is unnerving investors. They worry that if Basescu tries to engineer a split in the USL it could prompt another attempt to impeach him, which would throw the country into turmoil once more.

Crin Antonescu, leader of the liberal wing of the ruling coalition, warned during the election campaign that the USL may make another attempt to impeach Basescu if he "goes against the spirit of the constitution and the clear display of the political will of the electorate". Ponta was only slightly more cryptic in the wake of the vote: "In the period immediately after the election, he who raises the sword will die by the sword," he said. "I hope this message will be understood by all those who were at the root of this lost year for Romania."

Ponta has reiterated that the USL alliance is "united, lucid and cohesive," despite its differing ideologies, and will focus on trying to negotiate a new IMF stand-by deal - seen as essential to shoring up the economy's stretched finances.

Under Romanian law, Ponta's current government remains in power until the new cabinet is approved by parliament. Basescu could attempt to nominate someone apart from Ponta as PM, but his choice would have to be approved by Parliament. Most analysts suggest the pressure to give the USL leader the nod will be too much to resist, and the president is merely delaying the inevitable. Two failed attempts to form a government within 60 days of the first nomination would automatically trigger a new election.

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