The liberal prime minister resigns after disappointing results for his party, which is however set to lead the next ruling coalition.
Romania’s center-right prime minister resigned after a general election in which voters gave a nominal victory to the left-wing opposition party.
With 95% of the votes counted in Sunday’s election, Ludovic Orban’s National Liberal Party (PNL) came second with 25%, against 30% for the Social Democratic Party (PSD).
The progressive USR-Plus alliance, which pledged not to be part of any government led by the PSD, won around 15% of the vote.
Only two other parties crossed the 5% threshold to enter Parliament: the far-right alliance AUR, whose vocal opposition to the coronavirus restrictions resonated with nearly 9% of voters, and the UDMR party which represents the country’s Hungarian minority, which won around 6 percent.
Earlier Monday, Orban said coalition talks with the PSD were out of the question, but failed to provide a clear explanation of how his party hopes to achieve a new ruling majority in the bicameral parliament of 465 seats.
“I want to be very clear, we will never negotiate with the PSD, we will not let the PSD harm Romania,” Orban said.
In a televised statement, he said his resignation had “a clear objective: to allow the start of negotiations on the formation of the next government”.
Defense Minister Nicolae Ciuca has been appointed Acting Prime Minister.
Only 33% of eligible Romanian voters turned out to vote, compared to nearly 39.5% in 2016.
Observers blamed the historically low turnout on voters’ fears of COVID-19 infection, but also the general disillusionment of Romania’s politicians.
Some four million Romanians living abroad, mostly in Western Europe, have traditionally voted for reformist parties seeking to ally the country with the mainstream of the European Union, but the coronavirus pandemic has apparently shaken traditional allegiances.
Impact of the pandemic
PNL has controlled Romania’s minority government since October 2019, when the PSD lost a vote of confidence in parliament after a chaotic tenure that saw it go through three prime ministers and dozens of ministers in just three years. .
The PSD-led government had drawn strong criticism from the EU for its interference in the justice system and a cascade of corruption scandals involving prominent members.
But he defied pre-election polls to become the nominal winner of Sunday’s vote with promises to preserve Romania’s welfare state model and after the minority PNL government came under heavy criticism for its handling of the pandemic.
Romania was in the grip of widespread poverty even before the pandemic, with more than 25 percent of the 19 million population living on less than $ 5.50 a day.
The coronavirus crisis has exacerbated structural problems, including the near collapse of the public health system.
Due to the pandemic and virus-related restrictions, Romania’s budget deficit is expected to widen this year to around 9% of gross domestic product, from 4.3% in 2019.
The coronavirus continues to spread in Romania, with nearly two-thirds of the country’s half-million infections and nearly half of its more than 12,300 virus-related deaths recorded in the past two months alone.