Romania's two biggest political parties will begin talks to form a controversial coalition government to end the political stalemate that follows the ousting of Prime Minister Florin Citu on October 5.
Citu's National Liberal Party (PNL) voted 48 votes to 22 to begin talks with the rival Social Democratic Party (PSD) after two previous attempts failed.
USR leader Dacian Ciolos and Nicolae Ciucă, a former army general, were both previously asked by President Klaus Iohannis to form a government but neither could get enough support in Romania's bitterly-divided parliament.
Between them, the PNL and the PSD, which won 30% and 25% of the vote in parliamentary elections in 2020, have enough seats to agree a coalition, likely including the Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania (UNDR) and other minority parties.
The PNL faces deep opposition from its own ranks, with former prime minister and former president of the party, Ludovic Orban -- an arch-rival of both Citu and Iohannis -- threatening to break away and form a rival party. He is believed to have around 20 PNL MPs that would go with him.
Although the PSD voted unanimously to begin talks with the PNL, the two parties have key ideological differences and still have to agree on who will be given important ministries such as health and justice, not least who will be prime minister. The discussions are expected to take some weeks.
If successful, there has been speculation that a PNL-PSD coalition could seven years and see massive political reform including transforming the country into a parliamentary republic.
For Romanian voters -- particularly PNL supporters -- a coalition with the PSD could be "a bitter pill to swallow," Costin Ciobanu, an analyst, told Euronews.
"After 2017, both the party and President Iohannis were very critical of the PSD [...]. During his re-election campaign in 2019, Iohannis said that one of his key accomplishments was sending the PSD into opposition, Ciobanu said.
As recently as September 2021, the PNL's leader -- and still prime minister until a new government is formed -- Citu said he would "never" negotiate a coalition with the PSD.
Even if it is formed, he said, there was no guarantee that the PSD-PNL "grand coalition" would last.
"The reality is that in Romania, coalitions have a very short lifespan. [...] It could implode in only a few months following bad decisions, crises and the inability of PSD and PNL to keep the inherent tensions in check and to resist public pressure," Ciobanu said.
The news has angered the opposition, particularly the USR, whose coalition with the PNL broke down after Citu unceremoniously fired the USR Justice Minister Stelian Ion.
In a statement, USR leader Ciolos said he was "revolted" with the decision.
Ciolos said that his party's 11 months in coalition with Citu's PNL revealed a party to which "all that mattered was access to resources and power [which was] detached from the real needs of the people".
The leader of the right with Alliance for the Union of Romanians (AUR), George Simion, told Euronews that a PSD-PNL government represents a continuation of the Communist regime that ruled Romania until 1989.
"They may hope that their government will last seven years - but it may only last seven months," he said.
The political crisis comes as Romania faces a resurgent COVID-19 crisis with just 30% of its people vaccinated, well below the European average of 75%.