Romanian government falls in no-confidence vote
Romania's centre-right minority government lost a confidence vote on Tuesday, raising concerns about the country's ability to meet the strict fiscal and economic conditions for the EU-IMF bail-out it has agreed to. The political gridlock is likely to last until the presidential elections due 22 November.
The no-confidence bill was filed by the liberal and centre-left opposition and won 254 votes in the 471-seat chamber, while the government was backed by only got 176 lawmakers. It is for the first time parliament has dismissed a government since the fall of Communism in 1989.
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The issue at stake were cuts to wages and pensions aimed at scrapping some of the imbalances in the system and requested by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which together with the EU granted Romania a €20 billion aid package earlier this year.
The new EU member state, which joined 2007, has been severely hit by the economic crisis. Once from the bloc's fastest growing economy, Romania is undergoing a contraction of eight percent of its gross domestic product and has been hit with an unemployment rate of about seven percent, up from four percent a year ago.
A commission spokesman declined to comment on the collapse of the government.
Prime Minister Emil Boc said that the ousting of his government due to reforms demanded by the IMF "could endanger Romania's agreements" with the international lenders. The IMF is due to visit Bucharest for its next review in November.
His pension and wage reform, which would have put state employees on unpaid leave for ten days over the next three months, prompted three quarters of the more than 1 million state workers to protest and threaten an open-ended strike in November to boycott elections if demands for higher pay are not met.
Mr Boc's Liberal Democratic Party (PDL) will stay on as caretaker government with limited powers until President Traian Basescu, who is seeking a second mandate on 22 November, appoints a new cabinet.
The opposition, counting now the centre-left Social Democratic Party (PSD), which left the governing coalition two weeks ago, would like to see a government formed of non-party technocrats.
They have even put forward the name of Klaus Johannis, the mayor of Sibiu, a town in the northern part of country where there used to be a large German-speaking minority. Himself of German ethnicity, Mr Johannis has become somewhat of a legend for good governance and apolitical success in a poor and mismanaged country where party affiliation is still the rule for jobs and contracts on a local and regional level.
The mayor himself said he was "interested" in the job. But Mr Basescu is not obliged to name a different premier, the law allowing him to re-appoint Mr Boc and let the cabinet try to gather the approval of parliament. He may also postpone the appointment until the presidential elections.
The caretaker government's limited powers could however worsen the country's economic woes, as it would not be able to initiate legislation or issue emergency laws. The cabinet will not be able to put forward the draft budget for 2010 or push through the cuts demanded by the IMF.
"We have to see what will be the implications of a political instability in a year that is pretty difficult. ... We should not neglect the indirect impact of political instability just for the sake of political games," the country's finance minister Gheorghe Pogea said.
Cezar Preda, deputy chairman of PDL said the vote was "a simple political feud" against Mr Basescu before the presidential election.
But the same argument was made by the opposition, blaming the president for hijacking all policies in favour of his re-election.
"What's more important, the president's re-election bid and the political battle or millions of people who lost jobs and a crumbling fragile economy? The answer is clear," Liberal politician Eugen Nicolaescu told the legislature ahead of the vote.