Nearly two months before Romania’s December general election, the National Liberal Party (PNL) has officially nominated Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos for another term, PNL president Alina Gorghiu announced on October 24. The nomination was made after discussions between technocrat Ciolos and the centre-right PNL.
Ciolos' nomination is only symbolic, particularly as the PNL is trailing the centre-left Social Democratic Party (PSD) in the polls. However, given Ciolos’ popularity it is expected to yield critical benefits for the de facto electoral alliance of the PNL and the newly formed Save Romania Union (USR).
Formally, the nomination of Ciolos for another term must be endorsed by the PNL’s local representatives, after the central leadership approve it. However, Gorghiu said she and Ciolos had agreed on the harmonisation of the party's strategy with the ideas included in Ciolos’ Platform Romania 100, as well as Ciolos’ formal nomination. Other issues such as the nomination of local public administrations or top management in state owned companies could be more delicate should the PNL and USR form a government.
Ciolos will not join the PNL, Gorghiu added. His technocratic government was appointed in November 2015 for just one year until the 2016 election, but has proved unexpectedly popular with Romanians.
While the PNL lines up Ciolos, the rival PSD has no obvious candidate for prime minister. In fact, all the politicians seen as potential candidates for the PSD face significant credibility problems. Proposing a credible prime ministerial candidate like Ciolos might therefore give the PNL and USR the impetus needed to tip the balance of the election.
PSD president Liviu Dragnea should be the party’s candidate by default, but his conviction for manipulating voters during the 2012 referendum makes him a weak candidate. The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats’ (ALDE) leader Calin Popescu Tariceanu has previously served as prime minister, but his aggressive rhetoric against the National Anticorruption Directorate (DNA) and his involvement in alleged corruption cases make him an unlikely candidate. Former Prime Minister Victor Ponta is also being investigated for corruption. Deputy Prime Minister Vasile Dancu, one of the Social Democrats with the highest credibility, has been circulated as possible candidate but he has turned down the proposal so far.
While a government formed by PSD and ALDE would not be something new, it remains unclear how the alliance of PNL and USR, if successful in forming the parliamentary majority, would work.
The move could bring PNL closer to forming the parliamentary majority, but striking a formal and functioning collaboration with the USR remains an issue. USR president Nicusor Dan has refused so far any political alliances. USR has gained traction among voters because its constant criticism of traditional politicians and its high integrity standards.
The two parties could collaborate well on drafting strategies or even forming a government of technocrats, but President Klaus Iohannis made it clear that he would not endorse anything but a political government backed by a clear political majority. If USR maintains its high integrity principles, the nomination of local administration in partnership with PNL is likely to lead to significant complications since PNL has not completed the internal reforms or even the merger of the original PNL with the Liberal Democratic Party (PDL). The resignation of PNL co-president Vasile Blaga due to his involvement in a corruption case visibly removed many obstacles to the collaboration between PNL and USR, but more obstacles remain at local level.
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