Romanian president proposes army general as prime minister

BUCHAREST — With Romania trapped in political deadlock, President Klaus Iohannis on Thursday asked Nicolae Ciucă, the country’s interim defense minister, to form the next government.

The request marks Iohannis’ second attempt to resolve a political crisis that started last month, when the coalition collapsed. The choice of Ciucă, of the National Liberal Party (known as PNL), represents a U-turn by Iohannis. Until Wednesday evening, he had favored Florin Cîțu — the PNL leader who currently serves as interim prime minister after being dismissed through a no-confidence motion.

“It’s unacceptable to continue like this,” Iohannis told reporters, in reference to the gridlock. “I was very pleased that the PNL came with a new approach.”

Ciucă, ex-army chief of staff, was interim prime minister immediately after a general election last December yielded a center-right coalition between the PNL, the Union to Save Romania (USR) and the ethnic Hungarian party UDMR.

“We will negotiate with all the responsible forces to form a government as soon as possible,” said Ciucă, speaking alongside Iohannis.

Iohannis’ hand was forced after parliament nixed a bid on Wednesday by Dacian Cioloș, the head of the USR, the third-largest party in the legislature, to become the next prime minister.

A reconstitution of the center-right coalition that collapsed in September amid disagreements between the USR and Cîțu remains very unlikely, according to local media.

Cîțu’s role had been a sticking point in talks. Cioloș and his party had demanded that the PNL leader be replaced as prime minister in order for the USR to remain in government. While this ask has now been fulfilled in spirit, the PNL said it would still seek to exclude the USR from the new government, preferring to rely on support from political arch-enemies in the Social Democratic Party (PSD), the largest party in parliament.

These moves come as the country’s public health crisis deepens, with COVID-19 deaths and intensive care occupation rates at record highs. The government has enacted new restrictions as a response.

The PSD didn’t propose its own prime minister candidate in the consultations, but its leader, Marcel Ciolacu, said the group is considering offering its support to a minority government for a short period to manage the pandemic, after which it will demand elections.

Meanwhile, UDMR leader Kelemen Hunor said on Wednesday he and his party had “reservations” about a lifelong soldier leading the country, but added that this was not a personal judgement against Ciucă.

“Ciucă is an exceptional military man … who went into war theaters,” Hunor said, referring to the nominee’s participation in NATO and U.S. operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Bosnia. “On the political side there’s a problem because it is not very usual — in the last 50-60 years, in democratic countries no soldier has led the government.”

However, he added, he understands “the PNL’s decision to find a quick solution, one for the not very long term.”

The vote in parliament on the new government is expected early next week.



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