The coronavirus paradox in Romanian politics: opposition votes new government as ministers, supporting party are forced to stay isolated / President announces state of emergency starting next week
Romania’s Parliament voted a new Liberal (PNL) Government in an extraordinary fashion caused by the new coronavirus epidemic on Saturday, just hours before President Klaus Iohannis announced plans to apply a state of emergency starting next week. The new government received the support of the Parliament despite that most of the Liberal MPs could not attend the procedures, with the prime minister and most members of the nominated government team also staying away due to being forced into isolation after coming in contact with a fellow politician who had tested positive.
President Iohannis announced later on Saturday that he planned to introduce a state of emergency in the country starting next week. By Saturday, the number of positive coronavirus cases detected in Romania exceeded 100.
The new government led by Ludovic Orban received 286 votes in favor and 23 against, with one abstention during procedures today. That comes despite only 42 of the 111 MPs representing the Liberal party, which forms the government, attended the procedures to vote their own government.
Meanwhile, some 80% of MPs belonging to the opposition Social Democrats (PSD) and the smaller USR and PMP parties voted in favor of the PNL government. This comes despite PNL’s sustained efforts in recent months to prompt early elections and diminish the hold of the PSD, their biggest rivals, in the Parliament.
Designated PM Ludovic Orban and most of the government team were not present. They and other Liberal MPs had to stay isolated after they came in contact with another Liberal politician who tested positive for the new coronavirus earlier this week. Only three ministers were not forced to stay isolated.
Hearings before the vote took place through video-conference as only three ministers were not in self-isolation. MPs cast their votes in small groups of only 20 people to comply with norms of prevention for the coronavirus epidemic.
The swearing-in ceremony was organised to follow strict preventive procedures, as ministers could leave isolation under special sanitary rules.
The vote of support for the new government came despite seven of the nominated ministers had received non-binding rejection in parliamentary committees.
How did Romania come to this situation?
- President Klaus Iohannis and the PNL have pressed for early elections ever since Iohannis’ victory in presidential elections late last year. Their stated goal was to strengthen the PNL hold in Parliament and weaken the PSD, which has ruled the country in a disastrous manner for the past several years. The plan was pursued despite general elections were already due this year – but towards the end of it.
- In order to achieve this, the PNL, which formed a new government late last year, had to lose a censure motion – which it did in early 2020 – and was planning to submit new government proposals, only to be dismissed by the Parliament, thus „forcing” the President to call early elections.
- Early this week, despite the coronavirus crisis spiraling in the country, PNL and the president were reportedly still considering early elections. The party was functioning on an interim basis, after losing the censure motion. It was pushing a mock PM nominee, Finance minister Florin Citu, with no hopes of passing a vote in the Parliament.
- But the crisis caused by the epidemic hit hard and forced the PNL into re-considering their plans, as the country was in dire need for a fully powered government. So Citu was just about due to be approved by the Parliament as prime minister, when he announced he was stepping back. It was reported that the move came under pressure from PNL leader Orban. As late as Friday, it was decided that Orban should run for the seat instead, in a quick procedure on Saturday.
- The thing is, as the PNL was struggling to deal with forming a proper government, the party and its leadership, including PM nominee Orban, were hit by a new crisis – one of their Senators was tested positive and had come in contact with many of them, forcing them into self-isolation.
So, Romania’s new Liberal government came to be voted by opposing MPs, against whom they have campaigned for months, with PNL’s own parliamentary support and its own team stricken by the new coronavirus.
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