Party elections could decide fate of Romanian government

Prime Minister Florin Citu is running against the incumbent president, former prime minister Ludovic Orban, and seems to be the favourite in the race. [EPA-EFE/ROBERT GHEMENT]

Upcoming party leadership elections could determine the future of the Romanian government as the USR PLUS party and the National Liberal Party (PNL) are soon to elect their party presidents in hotly contested races.

Dacian Ciolos, the chair of the Renew Europe group in the EU Parliament, is close to fully concentrating on Bucharest politics. He won the first round of elections for president of USR PLUS, the party he currently holds co-chairs with Dan Barna, the runner-up in the first round. Since none of the candidates got more than 50% of the vote, a new round of online voting will be held, and the president of the party will be formally appointed in a Congress held next weekend.

All eyes are now on events that will take place this weekend when the National Liberal Party (PNL), a member of the EPP family, is set to hold its party congress. There it will elect its leadership for the next four years.

Prime Minister Florin Citu is running against the incumbent president, former prime minister Ludovic Orban who seems to be the favourite in the race. He garnered the support of President Klaus Iohannis, a former head of PNL himself.

Citu, however, lost the support of USR PLUS and is facing running a minority cabinet after the ministers of the centrist party resigned from the government.

After the general elections in December 2020, PNL and USR PLUS allied with the ethnic Hungarians’ party UDMR (which is, as PNL, a member of the EPP) to form a coalition government.

At the time, USR PLUS did not want Ludovic Orban as prime minister, so then finance minister Florin Citu was chosen by Iohannis to form the new government. But relations between the coalition partners grew colder and colder, culminating with Citu’s decision on 1 September to dismiss justice minister Stelian Ion, a member of USR PLUS.

After this decision, the centrist party decided to withdraw their ministers and file a censure motion, saying the prime minister lost their political support. However, USR PLUS claims it still wants to remain in the coalition, but with a different prime minister.

The fate of the government is therefore hanging on Saturday’s election. Orban apparently forgot USR PLUS’s lack of tact and has pleaded to repair the broken trust in the coalition, while Citu boasted the centrist party will have to still deal with him as of Monday and that he will not beg them to return to the government.

While Iohannis, as the head of state, is supposed to be the mediator between political parties, he was quick to take sides. He vehemently criticised the decision of USR PLUS to file a censure motion, together with the far-right party AUR, and also criticised Ludovic Orban. Iohannis will attend the congress on Saturday and publicly expressed his support for Citu.

If internal elections in PNL could decide the future of the coalition and the fate of the current prime minister, the elections in USR PLUS could have a significant influence in Brussels too. Ciolos pledged he will withdraw from the helm of the Renew group if he becomes president of USR PLUS so that he can fully concentrate on domestic politics.

As a side note, the third partner in the coalition also held its own congress that was much less eventful. On 15 September, Kelemen Hunor was reelected president of UDMR, for a new four-year mandate.

(Bogdan Neagu | EURACTIV.ro)

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