Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Picking Up the Pieces: Romania’s Governmental Collapse

Posted Date: 2 November 2009
by Adrian Pop

Adrian Pop from the National School of Political and Administrative Studies in Bucharest examines the aftermath of Romania’s governmental collapse and President Băsescu’s efforts to appoint a new prime minister. Even as the president and parliament jostle for position ahead of presidential elections, Pop argues that “Romanian politicians would do the country a great service by discarding the familiar political games and acting quickly to address the country’s deeper financial woes.”

Last month’s collapse of Prime Minister Emil Boc’s governing coalition was unprecedented in the country’s post-Communist history. However, the appointment of a new premier could signal continued political turbulence and place added pressure on the new government as it tries to meet IMF austerity guidelines and close Romania’s current-account and budget deficits.

Ultimately, the collapse of the Boc government resulted from the frailties of the Romanian political system and party posturing in advance of the upcoming presidential election. After the prime minister failed to win a no-confidence vote in mid-October, members of the outgoing government decided to back Klaus Johannis, the mayor of Sibiu, for the office of prime minister. Many parliamentarians feared the loss of privilege under a proposed referendum to decrease the size of parliament and transition to a unicameral legislature as well as other measures to adopt new pension laws. By supporting Johannis, members had hoped to pull the strings behind the scenes.

This strategy failed when President Băsescu nominated instead Lucian Croitoru, an adviser to the Romanian National Bank governor, for the prime minister’s post. However, parliament must still approve the president’s nominee. By challenging the majority of Senators and Deputies, Băsescu set the stage for a new political crises.

It is not entirely clear why President Băsescu chose this option. One possible explanation is that Băsescu wanted to demonstrate his political prowess and send a clear message about the strength of his leadership. A second, and more probable explanation, is that the president untimely expects Croitoru’s nomination to be defeated. By sacrificing Croitoru, however, Băsescu would prolong the lifespan of the outgoing government until after the presidential election later this month. This would allow key allies currently in government to remain at their posts – a favorable advantage for the incumbent president during an election.

On its merits, this second scenario is not far-fetched. Indeed, the government already used an emergency ordinance earlier this year to change the "legal framework" of the presidential election. This allowed for the creation of 3,500 special ballot stations for the election but deepened suspicions of vote rigging.

Clearly, it is important to put an end to this period of political uncertainty. Romania needs a new government sooner rather than later. While the IMF’s Romanian mission chief Jeffrey Franks has stressed that, "IMF programs support sound economic policies of partner countries, not a particular government or political party," the next government will have to meet rigorous austerity measures. Unfortunately, the outgoing government already missed the October 15 filing deadline for next year’s state budget. Going forward, it will be extremely difficult to enact other measures, such as a new law on the unitary system of pensions, by the end of the year. Nevertheless, it is still possible to meet the country’s macro-economic targets for the deficit and state revenues, provided that Romania has a government which respects economic indicators and sets reasonable goals.

Romanian politicians would do the country a great service by discarding the familiar political games and act quickly to address the country’s deeper financial woes. In this regard, they must now choose to sink the country into a deeper political and economic malaise, or set the next government off to a running start.

Dr. Adrian Pop is a Professor with the Faculty of Political Sciences at the National School of Political and Administrative Studies in Bucharest, Romania.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Center for European Policy Analysis.

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