After the Social Democratic Party’s liberal junior partners left the government, the ruling party is struggling to hold on to power as Romania’s political forces compete for advantage ahead of November’s presidential election.
By Marcel Gascón Barberá
omania’s Social Democratic Party, PSD, now stands alone in a cabinet that lacks an absolute majority and depends on the support of minority parties to survive after its junior partners, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats, ALDE, quit the government on Monday.
After standing by the Social Democrats through the destructive tenure of former PSD leader Liviu Dragnea as de facto prime minister and enabling a judicial reform that threatened to turn Romania into a EU pariah, the ALDE suddenly become concerned about the government’s drift.
If ALDE leader Calin Popescu-Tariceanu is to be believed, deep disagreements about policy and the cabinet’s composition led his party to jump ship and join the opposition’s ranks.
According to Popescu-Tariceanu – who has also announced that he will resign from his current position as Senate president – ALDE wanted Prime Minister Viorica Dancila to present a “new governing programme” and “a restructured governing team”.
Dancila didn’t accept, so ALDE – according to the official explanation – stepped down for the sake of the national interest.
However, the timing of the decision and the fact that Popescu-Tariceanu did not specific details point to other motivations.
Romania will elect its president for the next five years in November, and opinion polls project a victory of the incumbent, conservative Klaus Iohannis, in his bid for re-election.
The PSD candidate will be prime minister Dancila, but it’s not even clear if she will get enough votes to make the second-round run-off.
At the European elections in May, Dancila’s party lost half the vote it got at the December 2016 legislative polls – the worst electoral performance in the PSD’s history.
Dancila is trying to dissociate herself from her former mentor Liviu Dragnea, who was imprisoned in the aftermath of the European election following a conviction for corruption.
She hardly has time to improve her image to get an acceptable result in the presidential vote, and faces another problem in the refusal of Popescu-Tariceanu to rally behind her.
Despite being allies until now, Popescu-Tariceanu has his own presidential ambitions and was looking for the support of the PRO Romania opposition party even before quitting the cabinet.
An offshoot of the PSD, PRO Romania is the party of former Social Democrat Prime Minister Victor Ponta.
Ponta is attempting to create a ‘third way’ between the centre-right opposition and the populist faction that has imposed itself within the PSD since he left the ruling party in 2015.
However talks between PRO Romania and ALDE didn’t result in Ponta’s party supporting Popescu-Tariceanu, but led instead to ALDE joining Ponta’s ‘third way’.
ALDE also revealed on Monday that, together with PRO Romania, it will be backing Mircea Diaconu, a charismatic actor and former minister, senator and independent member of the European Parliament, as a candidate at the November presidential elections.
Diaconu – whose artistic achievements include his stellar role in Romanian contemporary classic ‘Filantropica’ (2002) – launched his presidential bid last weekend with an old-school public appearance om the stairs of the iconic Romanian Athenaeum in Bucharest.
Wearing a white, short-sleeved shirt, Diaconu introduced himself as a “common man” who is “angry” with the state of politics in the country.
He denied having any political party behind and invoked “citizen solidarity” to obtain the 200,000 signatures needed to candidate and help Romania recover its “consciousness of itself” – a quote from Romanian academic and literary figure Nicolae Iorga.
Backing a well-known independent candidate like Diaconu – whose surprise entry to the presidential race is being compared to the emergence of Ukraine’s ex-comedian President Volodymyr Zelensky – may permit Popescu-Tariceanu and Ponta to put up a fight in the contest.
Doing so through a proxy offers them an escape route in case of disaster, so their parties make it through the November polls unharmed and have a chance to regroup for the following year’s parliamentary elections.
Romanians are expected to elect a new parliament and government in December 2020, but it remains a question whether or not the minority PSD government will survive until then.
According to the Romanian parliament website, the PSD has currently 205 senators and deputies, but this figure is subject to constant changes as MPs often switch sides in Romanian politics.
Without the support of the 31 ALDE deputies and senators, the ruling party is far from the absolute majority of 233 MPs it needs to survive in power.
Meanwhile, the opposition National Liberal Party, PNL, has announced it will table another motion of no confidence.
To survive, Dancila’s government will need the support of its occasional allies from the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania, UDMR.
But the leader of the Hungarian minority party, which has 30 MPs, has vowed to vote for the no-confidence motion, which requires 233 votes to pass.
Setting aside the possibility of individual lawmakers switching sides, the support of the 27 independents and representatives of ethnic minorities that sit in parliament won’t be enough to save Dancila if the opposition bloc votes unanimously to topple her government.