The resignation of Romanian finance minister Daniel Chitoiu has opened the door for a wider government reshuffle, one that could test the strength of the country’s ruling coalition.
Chitoiu submitted his resignation late on February 6, ostensibly to work on the National Liberal party’s campaigns as interim secretary-general – in addition to the European Parliament elections in May, Romania is also scheduled to hold presidential elections at the end of 2014.
However, in recent weeks Chitoiu has come under pressure after it emerged that his wife, a department director in Romania’s financial supervision authority, was under investigation for alleged abuse of power, namely attempting to influence a managerial appointment at a private insurance firm.
Additionally, Chitoiu backed a proposal to reduce in half the monthly payments made to banks by loan recipients with low incomes, which the Liberal party said was not discussed internally. Party leader Crin Antonescu, however, said on February 7 that the proposal was not the reason for Chitoiu’s resignation.
Chitoiu is the second Liberal senior cabinet minister to resign in the space of two weeks, after interior minister Radu Stroe was forced to step down amid public and political pressure sparked by a belated intervention by the country’s emergency services following a plane crash on January 20 which resulted in two casualties.
Both ministers have drifted close to the other major party in Romania’s ruling coalition, the Social-Democrats – spearheading a wing of the party that could challenge incumbent Antonescu for the Liberal party leadership, reports in Romanian media said. Presented with opportunities to sideline potential party rivals, Antonescu took seized them, the reports said.
The party’s national bureau decided on February 7 to endorse four new nominees for cabinet portfolios – Klaus Iohannis as interior minister and deputy prime minister, Eugen Nicolaescu as finance minister, Teodor Atanasiu as economy minister and Cristian Busoi as health minister (the latter replacing Nicolaescu).
However, initial reactions from the Social-Democrat camp have been lukewarm, with party spokesperson Catalin Ivan saying that Iohannis’ nomination as deputy prime minister was problematic for procedural reasons.
Specifically, under the coalition agreement, the Liberals have the portfolio of deputy prime minister in charge of economic matters, which is held by the finance minister, whereas Iohannis was being nominated as interior minister. Changes to the cabinet structure would require a new vote of confidence in parliament, which could trigger “a new period of instability”, Social-Democrat infrastructure minister Dan Sova said.
Tension between the two major parties in the Romanian government coalition are not new – their biggest reason for coming together in February 2011 was their common opposition to Romanian president Traian Basescu. After the coalition won the parliamentary election in a landslide in December 2012 and with Basescu increasingly isolated, the National-Liberals and Social-Democrats have clashed repeatedly, prompting analysts to forecast that the coalition’s break-up was only a matter of time.
The big sticking point is the presidency, with Basescu unable to run again after serving two terms, the limit set by law. The coalition agreement stipulates Antonescu as the coalition’s putative nominee, but some local commentators believe that the Social-Democrats would not hesitate to break ties if the party could form a new majority in parliament and have its own party nominee elected president.
(Romania’s houses of parliament. Photo: George M. Groutas/flickr.com)