Romanian prime minister resigns after just seven months in office

Romanian prime minister resigns after just seven months in office
By Iulian Ernst in Bucharest January 16, 2018

Romania’s prime minister Mihai Tudose resigned on January 15 after the senior ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) withdrew its support. 

The PSD is thus preparing to appoint its third prime minister in the 13 months since the general elections in December 2016, ensuring the uncertainty that has plagued investors in one of Europe’s fastest growing economies will continue. 

Tudose, who has been locked in a power struggle with PSD leader Liviu Dragnea for months, lost the backing of almost all PSD leaders, with 60 of 68 votes cast against the prime minister at a meeting on January 15. After the meeting, the prime minister said simply that he accepted the vote. 

Tensions between Tudose and Dragnea have intensified recently after Tudose harshly criticised Interior Minister Carmen Dan, a close ally of Dragnea, saying he could no longer work with her as she had lied to him. The two clashed when Tudose refused to dismiss the head of the police force after a policeman was revealed to be involed in a child sexual assault case. 

Tudose was understood to be seeking a government reshuffle that would most likely have involved the removal of Dan, Justice Minister Tudorel Toader and other officials close to Dragnea. Tudose has already replaced two ministers close to Dragnea, including former deputy prime minister Sevil Shaideh, a key ally of the PSD leader.

The senior ruling party leadership will convene again on January 16 to nominate a new candidate for prime minister. The PSD is confident that the appointment of a new prime minister will be straightforward, given it holds a robust parliamentary majority, although Labour Minister Olguta Vasilescu acknowledged there could be a battle ahead with President Klaus Iohannis. 

“We are going to prove we hold the parliamentary majority required for appointing the prime minister in Parliament. If President Klaus Iohannis will not want to nominate the PSD’s candidate, we will rely on extreme solutions. One can go as far as suspending the president from his post,” said Vasilescu, a close political ally of Dragnea, quoted by Hotnews.

Dragnea has claimed he will not make any nomination, but the statement is most likely part of a negotiation process both within the senior ruling party and vis-a-vis Iohannis who, by law, is supposed to formally make the nomination to parliament.

Together with its coalition partner the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (Alde), the PSD has the necessary parliamentary majority to appoint a new prime minister, but it cannot afford to appoint any candidate it chooses. Its options are limited by the tense political situation, created by the majority’s endorsement of controversial bills on the functioning of the judicial system, which are seen by both the public and the country’s foreign partners as a weakening of the rule of law and the fight against corruption. 

Street protests might be prompted by further political conflicts within the senior ruling party or by a conflict between the PSD and Iohannis. The president of the opposition National Liberal Party, Ludovic Orban, has said early elections are an option at this moment, but this remains a remote scenario possible only if the PSD collapses and Dragnea can no longer control it.

This seems unlikely at present, given that when put to the test its leadership has twice backed Dragnea. Last June, Tudose's predecessor Sorin Grindeanu was dismissed by a non-confidence motion submitted by his own party. Like Grindeanu, Tudose resigned amid rising tensions with Dragnea, who holds a tight grip on the executive but cannot serve as prime minister because of his suspended sentence in a voter manipulation trial. Also like Grindeanu, Tudose expected support from his party against Dragnea until the very last day.