Romanian prime minister resigns, but centre right likely to hold on to power

Ludovic Orban, Romania's premier and the leader of PNL (National Liberal Party), flanked by party members, arranges his mask as he delivers a speech after first exit-polls results were announced, at the PNL headquarters, during the parliamentary elections in Bucharest, Romania, 06 December 2020. According to exit polls, PSD (Social Democracy Party) is leading with 30.6%, followed by PNL with 29.1% and the political alliance USR-PLUS with 15.9 %. [EPA-EFE/ROBERT GHEMENT]

Romanian Prime Minister Ludovic Orban resigned on Monday (7 December) after his centre-right National Liberal Party (PNL) came second to the Social Democrats (PSD) in Sunday’s parliamentary elections. However, Orban remains the leader of PNL and hopes to be involved in talks on forming a new government coalition.

Orban resigned after a discussion with President Klaus Iohannis, who announced a centre-right coalition is likely to be formed quickly that will likely exclude the social-democrats who topped the poll with just under 30% of the vote.

“Romania needs a responsible government, a government that respects the people’s will to develop and modernise Romania,” Orban said. He added that he did not want to cling to power, and his objective for the coming days is forming a centre-right coalition that will exclude the PSD.

“I’ve done my best, we’ve done our best. My goal is to help create a majority (in parliament) without the Social Democrats… I hope my Liberal party will have the power to produce the next prime minister,” Orban said.

PSD leader Marcel Ciolacu criticised Orban’s decision, describing the now former prime minister as irresponsible, because Romania will now have a government without full-powers during a health crisis.

Ciolacu and PSD have repeatedly criticised the PNL government over the past few months, demanding Orban’s resignation for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Until the new government is formed, the current executive will continue, but on an interim basis, with reduced powers after Orban’s resignation. President Klaus Iohannis named defence minister Nicolae Ciuca as interim prime minister.

PSD hoped it could form the new government, but even if given the chance it would have a hard time finding allies in the new parliament.

PNL, a member of the European People’s Party, came second with around 25% of the votes, according to partial figures.

USR-PLUS (Renew Europe) has obtained more than 15%, and it will likely be part of the new government with PNL and the other centre-right parties in Romania – UDMR, the party that represents the Hungarian minority, got 6.4% of the votes, while the PMP (the party of former president Traian Basescu, who is currently an MEP) is very close to the electoral threshold of 5%.

The big surprise of the elections was the more than 8% vote share for the nationalist party AUR, whose members have in the past had various positions against the mandatory use of facial masks, and limits to religious processions, as well as holding homophobic and racist views.

AUR leaders said they would not be part of any governing coalition. 

[Edited by Benjamin Fox]

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