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Romania PM Ludovic Orban survives confidence vote

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PNL president Ludovic Orban during a news conference held by EPP leaders and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis in Sibiu
PNL president Ludovic Orban during a news conference held by EPP leaders and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis in Sibiu -
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Romania’s centrist government led by Prime Minister Ludovic Orban survived a confidence vote on Monday, just days before presidential elections on November 10 and 24.

The win means the government can embark upon the process of nominating the country's EU commissioner. Orban said he will propose a nomination after speaking with the country's president.

Yet the political uncertainty that followed the collapse the Social Democrat government last month is not likely to end any time soon.

Next spring, Romanians will return to the polls for local elections, and again in late 2020 when they elect a new parliament.

Here is what you need to know about Romania’s long political season — and its implications for Europe.

Why was there a confidence vote?

The Social Democrat government of Viorica Dancila collapsed last month after losing a no-confidence vote in parliament.

The party had seen a series of setbacks this year.

Their former party leader Liviu Dragnea has been sentenced to prison for abuse of office.

“The vote on Monday is the result of the unravelling of the Social Democratic Party whose leader was jailed last spring immediately after the European elections,” expert Adrian Moraru, Director of the Institute for Public Policy in Bucharest told Euronews.

Voters punished the party in a May European election for changes to the judicial system that were seen as undermining the rule of law and triggered massive street protests.

Then the European Parliament rejected the party’s first proposed European Commissioner because of conflicts of interest.

“The other parties in parliament seized the chance and filed for a motion of no-confidence,” Moraru said.

Following the collapse of the government, Romania’s centrist President Klaus Iohannis appointed Orban as prime minister-designate to form a government.

Who is Orban, the new Prime Minister?

Orban, 56, is a former transport minister.

According to Euractiv, the politician is the brother of Romania’s first EU commissioner. He is not connected to Hungary’s premier Viktor Orbán, though his father is of Hungarian ethnicity, the news website said.

Orban said his government’s chief objectives include downsizing government structures, investment in key infrastructure projects and correcting economic measures that have hit the business sector.

He also said focus will be given to “ensure real independence of the justice system”.

But Orban could struggle to negotiate majorities for any legal initiative because of a fragmented opposition, until a late 2020 general election.

Will the presidential election impact the formation of the government?

The Romanian cabinet will stay in place no matter the outcome of the presidential election.

“According to the Romanian constitution, the President has no leverage on the government,” Moraru told Euronews, adding that only the parliament could dismiss the cabinet.

Who’s running for the presidency?

Polls show incumbent President Iohannis is a clear favourite in the upcoming presidential election.

Iohannis represents the Liberal Party, which is affiliated to the Conservative group EPP at the European Parliament.

According to a survey conducted by IMAS for Europa FM station last week, Iohannis currently stands at 45.7% of the intended vote. His party is also projected to win the most seats at the legislative elections next year, Moraru said.

Mircea Diaconu, an actor who is running as an independent, comes second with 16.7% of the intended vote. According to local media reports, he has the backing of PRO Romania and ALDE.

Former Social Democrat Prime Minister Viorica Dancila came third in the same poll, at only 15.1%.

Dan Barna, the leader of Save Romania Union (USR is fourth, with 12.6% of the intended vote. It is affiliated with the Liberal group ALDE at the European Parliament.

What are the issues dominating the campaign?

“This is in a way a dull campaign because there was no debate and there will be no debate, at least in this round,” Moraru said, adding that the favourite Iohannis may not want to take the risk.

“Bear in mind that the Romanian president doesn’t have much leverage in terms of the everyday life of Romanians,” he added, with parliament in charge of passing key policy measures.

In recent months, the public debate was dominated by corruption, weak public administration and attempts by the government to weaken the judiciary. Mass protests drawing tens of thousands of people took place earlier this year in this context.

What are the European implications?

The political tug-of-war in Bucharest risks extending a policymaking vacuum in the European Union beyond the start of December.

The new European Commission team under German conservative Ursula von der Leyen had been due to take over as the bloc’s executive on November 1.

That start date was pushed back by a month after the European Parliament rejected the Romanian, Hungarian and French candidates.

“A proposal for commissioner will be submitted very quickly after Monday’s vote of confidence. European lawmakers Adina Valean and Siegfried Muresan are the names discussed,” said one national lawmaker from Orban’s centrist National Liberal Party (PNL).

Valean and Muresan are both Romania’s European parliamentarians and sit with the centre-right European People’s Party, the legislature’s largest faction.

Analysts believe that Orban could gain enough backing to partially reverse a judicial overhaul that has been described by Brussels as a threat to the rule of law.

Iohannis, the favourite for the presidency, is a “tested president”, “pro-EU” and well-known by other European leaders, Moraru said.

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