LESS than three months after it took office, Romania’s government has fallen. The centre-right administration, led by Mihai Razvan Ungureanu, a former foreign-intelligence chief, lost a no-confidence vote filed by the left-wing opposition. When the motion was originally filed few thought the government was in danger. But in recent weeks it has been weakened by a series of defections.
“Today there was justice,” said Victor Ponta, leader of the centre-left Social-Liberal Union (USL), after securing 235 votes in favour of his motion, four more than he needed. “We don’t want any more dubious firms, no more selling under the market price and huge bribes,” he said in a five-hour long debate that preceded the vote.
He was referring, in part, to the government’s granting of shale-gas concessions to Chevron, the America energy giant. That decision sparked protests from campaigners who want the controversial process of shale exploration to be banned in Romania, as it has been in Bulgaria and France amid environmental concerns.
The ruling centre-right coalition fell apart after today’s vote, and refused to nominate a successor to Mr Ungureanu to lead the government for the six months that remain until a general election. The 39-year old Mr Ponta is now hoping to take over as prime minister instead. Traian Basescu, the president and main political player in Romania, is set to make an announcement this evening after consulting the parties.
Mr Basescu proposed Mr Ponta as prime minister back in February when the previous government, led by Emil Boc, resigned after three weeks of street protests denouncing party cronyism, incompetence and harsh austerity measures. Mr Ponta refused, but he now seems more willing to step in thanks to the fair-weather politicians who have flocked to his party from the centre-right. The Liberal Democratic Party, which had led the coalition, is now set to suffer a resounding loss in local elections in June as well as November’s general election.
Mr Boc, still leader of the party, called today’s vote “a victory for opportunism in politics and party-swapping”. He urged the opposition to form a government quickly to avoid any more political and economic instability than necessary.
The IMF, which began an official visit to Romania earlier this week to review the country’s performance linked to a €5 billion credit line it was granted last year, announced it would suspend its mission until a new government is in place.
That may not take long. But with Romanian governments showing the longevity of mayflies, and the European Union weary of a country that seems unable or unwilling to make serious progress on the corruption problems that continue to plague it five years after it was accepted into the club, it will take a good deal longer for Romania to acquire the clout that should come naturally to an EU country with 22m people.