Romania’s National-Liberals decided to scrap their coalition agreement with the Social-Democrats and leave the government on February 25. The party’s ministers and other senior officials in the government will submit their resignations early on February 26, party leader Crin Antonescu said.
Speaking at a news conference after the party’s executive bureau voted overwhelmingly in favour of leaving the government, Antonescu said that it was a difficult decision and that he regretted that the coalition broke up before it reached the goals it set for itself.
Continuing with the formal coalition, the Social-Liberal Union (USL), when it made no sense would be “prolonging a festival of hypocrisy”, he said. Antonescu blamed the Social-Democrats and the party’s leader, prime minister Victor Ponta, for “unnecessarily extending the crisis.”
The immediate reason for the break-up was Ponta’s refusal to accept National-Liberals’ nomination of Sibiu mayor Klaus Iohannis as deputy prime minister, but some observers predicted that the split was only a matter of time, with the Social-Democrats increasingly marginalising the Liberals in government and influential Social-Democrat voices saying that the party should put forth its own candidate for the presidential election later this year – rather than support Antonescu, USL’s putative nominee under the coalition agreement.
Another decision voted by the party was to ask Ponta to resign as prime minister and trigger new consultations at the presidency to decide which party gets the mandate to form the government. Antonescu said he did not expect Ponta to do so, but also called on the Social-Democrat leader to have a new government in place as soon as possible.
The final decision was to give local party organisations total freedom to make local alliances with other parties to ensure the smooth running of local elected councils.
Antonescu said that he will not resign as speaker of the upper house and that the Liberals were prepared to submit a motion of no confidence in the new government if the issues warranted one – such as an increase in the flat income tax rate or a renewed attempt to push through a controversial amnesty law.
Formally set up in 2011 between the centre-right Liberals and centre-left Social-Democrats, alongside two smaller parties, the USL was always an alliance of convenience for both parties, collecting under one umbrella the main parties opposed to president Traian Basescu and his party, the Liberal-Democrats (then in government).
After USL won the 2012 parliamentary elections in a landslide, many analysts predicted that the USL coalition would break up before the 2014 presidential elections. By triggering the split now, Antonescu would have about nine months to woo Basescu’s voters (not an easy task, given the history of bad blood between the two) and position himself as the right’s candidate for the presidency.
Ponta is not expected to lose, in the short term, the prime minister’s office as he has just enough support in the bicameral parliament thanks to the MPs from the smaller two parties in the USL. A potential coalition with the ethnic Hungarian party UDMR, about which local media speculated in recent days, would give him a simple majority backing in both houses of parliament.
(Crin Antonescu speaking at a USL campaign rally before the 2012 parliamentary election, with Victor Ponta sitting in the background. Photo: crinantonescu.pnl.ro)