Romania’s bicameral parliament approved on March 4 the government reshuffle triggered by the break-up of the country’s ruling coalition, with social-democrat leader Victor Ponta retaining his post as prime minister.
The vote required a simple majority of 288 in the joint sitting of the two houses, but passed with 346 MPs in favour and 191 against.
The reshuffle was imminent following the resignation of two key ministers in February – interior and finance, both designated by the liberals, one of the two major parties in the Social-Liberal Union coalition that won the 2012 parliament elections in a landslide.
The liberals named five changes to the cabinet’s line-up, but Ponta refused to endorse one of them – popular Sibiu mayor Klaus Iohannis as deputy prime minister in charge of economic affairs (the prime minister did not oppose Iohannis’ nomination as interior minister).
This led to the liberals deciding last week to tear up the coalition agreement and go into opposition. The social-democrats still have the support of the two small parties in the coalition, as well as that of the ethnic Hungarian party UDMR, which will have two ministerial and one deputy prime minister portfolio in the new government.
The coalition spearheaded by the social-democrats has a comfortable majority in the two houses, albeit diminished by the liberals’ exit, and will pursue the same government programme as the previous cabinet, Ponta said.
Constitutionally, this means that the cabinet must “assume responsibility” – the parliamentary procedure that gives the government limited law-making functions without requiring parliament’s approval, unless defeated by a motion of no confidence in the cabinet.
Earlier on February 4, Romanian president Traian Basescu said that the he would not sign the appointment decrees of the new cabinet ministers if the prime minister did not follow the letter of the constitution. In reply, Ponta said that he would trigger the proceedings in the coming days.
The investiture vote came after several hours of debates in the joint sitting of the two houses, marked by the usual grandstanding that accompanies such occasions. The surprising announcement came from liberal leader Crin Antonescu, who said that he would step down as speaker of the upper house, the senate, and challenged Ponta to resign as prime minister, which the latter refused to do.
Antonescu had previously said that he did not intend to quit his office, but his decision may have only preempted a move by the new majority to have him replaced from the position, as suggested by several senior social-democrats in recent days.
(Romanian prime minister Victor Ponta. Photo: gov.ro)