Romania’s opposition PNL hopes for a comeback under new leader

Romania’s opposition PNL hopes for a comeback under new leader
By bne IntelliNews June 18, 2017

Romania’s largest opposition party, the National Liberal Party (PNL) elected Ludovic Orban as its new leader on June 17, after he defeated his rival within the party, Cristian Busoi.

Although the largest opposition party in Romania, the PNL has lost popularity and credibility in recent years and failed to mount a real challenge to the rival Social Democratic Party (PSD) in the local and general elections last year. The election of a new PNL leader might be an opportunity for the party to regain some of the credibility it has lost. The Romanian opposition as a whole has performed poorly lately and has so far failed to take advantage of the ongoing power struggling within the government. 

With a new leader in place, the PNL could take advantage of the vulnerability and tense situation within the PSD, become more vocal and eventually gain more popularity. The party has plenty of time to attract voters, as no elections are scheduled in the short-term. 

Orban won the election decisively, taking 3,518 votes, while Busoi got only 952, according to News.ro.  Right after winning the elections, Orban said that his main objective as party leader is to win the 2020 general elections and bring the PNL back to government. He also reaffirmed support for President Klaus Iohannis, whom the party will back for a second mandate in the 2019 election.

A member of the PNL since 1992, Orban has served as a city councillor, transport minister and MP. He has more than once criticised the leadership of the party and has also voted against the forming of the Liberal Social Union (USL), a political alliance between the PNL, PSD and the Conservative Party (PC).

Orban lost the previous internal PNL elections against Alina Gorghiu in 2015, as the latter was backed by Iohannis, who briefly served as the party’s president before stepping down to take office as Romania’s president. 

Orban also ran in the Bucharest local elections last year but he was forced to abandon the race after the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) announced it had started a criminal investigation into him for alleged influence peddling. Originally, the PNL had proposed Busoi as its candidate for mayor, but later withdrew him as polls were showing Orban had more chances of winning the election. Since then, a court has rejected the DNA’s accusations against Orban.

The PNL took only around 20% of the votes in the 2016 parliamentary elections a few months later, and Gorghiu resigned over the disappointing result. The party had already been weakened by corruption scandals (former co-leader Vasile Blaga resigned on accusations of alleged involvement in bribe taking) and the confusion over its candidates for the local elections.

The other main opposition party, Save Romania Union (USR), which performed unexpectedly well in the general elections, also seem weakened by internal tensions which culminated with the resignation of the party leader Nicusor Dan after the party leadership decided to take a stand against a proposed referendum on outlawing gay marriage.

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