Romanian president invites parties to talk after PM Ponta resigns

Romanian president invites parties to talk after PM Ponta resigns
By Iulian Ernst in Bucharest November 5, 2015

Romania’s president, Klaus Iohannis, has invited the main political parties in Romania for consultations on November 5-6, after Prime Minister Victor Ponta resigned on November 4 following street protests triggered by the deadly nightclub fire last week.

As Iohannis was announcing the scheduled discussions with the top political leaders, some 35,000 demonstrators in Bucharest and thousands of others across the country’s largest cities were protesting against all political parties, asking for a government of technocrats to manage the country until parliamentary elections.

The incumbent ruling coalition has the parliamentary majority and the determination to stay in rule, and seems ready to accept the nomination of a technocrat to run the government. However, such a compromise solution is likely to prompt public protests. More than this is needed, President Iohannis said, implying deeper political reforms.

The early elections asked by the opposition could lead to such reforms. However, the process leading to new elections will take at least six months, and in the meantime the country would be ruled by an interim cabinet with limited capacity.

A first round of negotiations will be completed this week, Iohannis announced, implying a longer period of time needed for the evaluation of the current political situation. Iohannis must designate a prime minister candidate within ten days, under the Constitution.

“I do not want to go into technicalities today,” Iohannis stated, but promised to come up with his own evaluation of the situation and with a proposed course of action following the first round of negotiations with the political parties. The actions decided upon consultation will be, however, only the first step on a long road toward the normalisation of the political situation in the country, he said.

Ponta submitted his formal resignation on November 4 and proposed the nomination of Defence Minister Mircea Dusa as interim prime minister.

In a speech later in the day, Iohannis mentioned that the tragic event leading to Ponta’s resignation “touched the deepest sentiments of the people” and “turned public frustration into genuine revolt.” It took people to die before this resignation, he stressed.

“One cannot assume that a mere change of the government will solve the country’s problems or those of the political class. Much more is needed. I am ready to take on the responsibility for this course of action, which, eventually, will lead to another kind of politics in Romania – a predictable and transparent citizen-oriented politics,” Iohannis said.

Iohannis, former leader of the opposition National Liberal Party (PNL), will now have a chance to take the initiative in the formation of a new ruling coalition. But the breakdown of parties in parliament and the continuing street protests against politicians of all parties makes the task particularly difficult. Furthermore, the main political parties do not seem to have prepared their own strategies as yet.

The senior ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) has said that it expects the ruling coalition to survive and will come up with a new nomination for the prime minister seat. “We will go to the president with a nomination strong enough to convince President Iohannis of its majority support in parliament,” PSD president Liviu Dragnea stated. Rumours have indicated former intelligence services head George Maior, currently the Romanian ambassador to the US, or former EC commissioner Dacian Ciolos as possible nominations.

PSD’s junior partners, the National Union for Progress of Romania (UNPR) of Gabriel Oprea and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) of Calin Popescu Tariceanu, have confirmed plans to stick with PSD. Oprea said he would not be a member of the future government, but confirmed his party’s commitment to be part of the coalition.

However, the weak point of PSD’s plan is the bad name of UNPR, after the tragic events leading to Ponta’s resignation. The public anger expressed these days on the street of Romania has been oriented to a large extent towards Oprea and his party. Seen as the iconic expression of opportunistic politicians, UNPR would be expected to dramatically decrease the credibility or any ruling coalition it would be part of.  

Meanwhile the main opposition party, the National Liberal Party (PNL), announced plans to advocate for early elections. However, since the incumbent ruling coalition opposes such plans, early elections could be called only as a result of parliament rejecting two prime minister candidates. At this stage that scenario appears highly unlikely.

Party   Party President Deputies Senators Total %
PSD group, o/w     179 81 260 47.5%
   PSD Social Democratic Party Liviu Dragnea 137 61 198 36.2%
   UNPR National Union for Romania's Progress Gabriel Oprea 42 20 62 11.3%
PNL National Liberal Party Alina Gorghiu / Vasile Blaga 117 59 176 32.2%
ALDE Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Popescu Tariceanu 25 12 37 6.8%
UDMR Democratic Union of Hungarians from Romania Kelemen Hunor 17 8 25 4.6%
PND National Democratic Party Daniel Fenechiu 12   12 2.2%
Minorities     17   17 3.1%
Independent     15 5 20 3.7%
Total     382 165 547 100.0%
Source: Parliament of Romania