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News 17 Jun 17

Romania Opposition Scents its Chance in Govt Crisis

Romania’s centre-right opposition National Liberal Party is to choose a new leader on Saturday, seeing new opportunities for itself in the unfolding crisis that is gripping the ruling Social Democrats.

Ana Maria Touma
BIRN
Bucharest
Since the election of former PNL leader Klaus Iohannis as president of Romania in 2014, the Liberals have been struggling with low percentages in polls and lost the legislative elections in 2016. Photo: European People's Party/Flikr

Romania’s main opposition centre-right National Liberal Party, PNL, is set to elect a new leader on Saturday, as the ruling Social Democrats face their worst crisis in years, with the party leader entrenched in a power struggle with the Prime Minister.

Several Liberals said they see an opportunity for the party, with the Social Democrats, PSD, weakened by a government crisis that has raised concerns over stability in the country.

However, some analysts say the PNL has its own problems and hardly poses an alternative to the PSD at the moment.

After former PNL leader Klaus Iohannis won the presidency in 2014, defeating former PSD Prime Minister Victor Ponta, the Liberals did not poll nearly as well in the general elections.

Despite expectations that they might do well enough to form a government together with anti-corruption party Save Romania Union, the Liberals only won 20 per cent of the votes in the December 2016 legislative elections.

PNL leader Alina Gorghiu, who had convinced technocratic Prime Minister Dacian Ciolos to support the party, took responsibility for this failure and resigned. She was succeeded by interim PNL president Raluca Turcan.

The party also suffered a blow in June 2016 at the local elections, when their main candidate, Ludovic Orban, who ran for Bucharest Mayor, had to withdraw the last moment because he was called in for a hearing by the National Anti-Corruption Directorate, the DNA. Orban was cleared of all charges in January 2017.

The Liberals replaced him with Marian Munteanu, a controversial nationalist who was not even a party member.

After the lack of electoral success in 2016, Saturday’s Liberal national congress is set to see a face-off between two candidates: Orban and MEP Cristian Busoi, who also heads the PNL's Bucharest branch.

Orban, 54, is the favourite, as most county branches have vowed to support him. An experienced politician, he has been a party member since 1998 and has held several positions in the party.

He was also Minister of Transport during 2007-2008, and served as deputy mayor of Bucharest between 2004 and 2007. Currently, he is the PNL vice-president for public relations.

Orban on Friday said in an interview that he does not believe the accusations of corruption against him will harm the party.

He also said that he would ensure the Liberals were more disciplined under his leadership, referring to accusations that several Liberal Bucharest council members had voted side by side with their PSD adversaries.

“Those who make deals with the PSD will be excluded from the party,” he stated. Orban also added that the PNL will not support a new government under current PM Sorin Grindeanu.

Busoi, 38, Orban’s rival for the PNL leadership, has been an MEP since 2007. In April he was elected president of the PNL Bucharest branch and he is also the interim secretary-general of the party. On Friday, he said the PNL needs to brace up and build a new majority in the parliament.

“After it clarifies its leadership tomorrow, the PNL needs to brace up very fast and come up with a clear strategy and to use this opportunity to strengthen the party," he said.

"The PSD don’t deserve to govern Romania anymore and PNL has to try to build a new majority. It all depends on what happens in the next few days and the PNL needs to be pragmatic, efficient and determined to fight for Romania’s welfare and show how wrong this PSD strategy is,” he told journalists.

Meanwhile, while analysts fear that the political crisis in PSD could undermine Romania’s stability and its economy, few believe that without reform the PNL can change much.

“It’s shameful that the PSD wants to stay in power, and I find it outrageous that there is no alternative,” political analyst Codru Vrabie complained on his blog on Thursday.

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