Constitutional crisis looms in Romania

Constitutional crisis looms in Romania
By Iulian Ernst in Bucharest September 21, 2021

With a no-confidence motion in limbo at the Constitutional Court and Prime Minister Florin Citu seeking to bypass a vote by lawmakers on the minority government he wants to install, a constitutional crisis seems unavoidable in Romania.

Early elections are possible for the first time in three decades since the fall of communism, but ironically they would bring nothing new according to the latest electoral polls. 

Two significant events will take place within the next week. First, the National Liberal Party (PNL) will hold its leadership election on September 25, with members choosing between Citu and the party’s incumbent leader Ludovic Orban. Three days later, the Constitutional Court will rule on a no-confidence motion filed by the PNL’s former partner, reformist USR-PLUS, against Citu’s government. 

The situation is likely to be complicated by the PNL leadership election, which Citu, firmly backed by President Klaus Iohannis, is expected to win. This would make it impossible for the party to form a new coalition with USR-PLUS, which now seems the only way out of the imminent constitutional crisis. 

The president's visible support for Citu as the new Liberal leader remains a puzzling development and the shortest way to the constitutional crisis. 

USR-PLUS insists on a no-confidence motion against the government and also wants Citu to ask for lawmakers to vote on the minority cabinet he plans to install assuming he wins the PNL leadership election. The party’s staunch pursuit of reforms, underestimated by the more conservative Liberals, appears to have complicated the president's plans to rebuild the centre-right coalition under Citu. 

USR-PLUS clearly expected a quick and successful no-confidence motion to overthrow Citu and open the door to Orban heading the PNL for another term. But such a scenario looks increasingly unlikely. 

USR-PLUS urged the Constitutional Court, in a public statement, to speed up its decision on the urgent matter of the no-confidence motion. However, the court tabled the ruling for three days after the PNL leadership election. 

Whatever the Constitutional Court’s decision, USR-PLUS has indicated it won't work under Citu again. 

The trigger for split of the Romanian ruling coalition set up after the general elections at the end of 2020 is the €10bn public investment programme promoted by Citu. When withdrawing its support for the prime minister, USR-PLUS accused Citu of seeking to buy political support with the €10bn from mayors in his battle for control of the PNL. 

It is therefore nearly certain that PM Citu taking over as PNL leader gives no chance to the reformists’ request for another prime minister. 

But at the same time, if Citu manages to install a minority government, this seems to be a dead end as well because a minority PNL government would not be functional. 

Moreover, early elections would not significantly change the political structure of the parliament, recent polls show.

The opposition Social Democratic Party (PSD) remains the most popular party, while the centre-right parties — the PNL and USR-PLUS — now divided, need the support of the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR) to form a majority. That was the composition of the coalition that recently collapsed when USR-PLUS withdrew its support for Citu. 

The PSD continues to enjoy robust electoral support of 36% as shown by the latest poll carried by CURS agency for the party. Its score edged up marginally from 35% in the poll, released by Avantgarde at the end of August. 

Despite this, the party is not yet popular enough to guarantee it would be able to form a government alone after potential snap elections. In principle, the PSD may expect to strengthen its score to the point when the UDMR’s support (not impossible) would bring it to power again. A significant yet unknown role will be played by the radical Alliance for the Union of Romanians (AUR).

The PNL would get 19% of the votes ( down from 21% at end-August), AUR would be the third biggest party with 14% of the votes (down from 15% at end-August) and USR-PLUS would follow with 11% (down from 14% at end-August).