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August 31, 2020

Europe

ROMANIA: Vote of no confidence kicks off a heated pre-election period

BY Andrius Tursa

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( 3 mins)
  • Today, 31 August, parliament will hold a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister Ludovic Orban’s (National Liberty Party, PNL) government over the mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • If the vote passes (55% probability) and the Constitutional Court does not challenge its legality, a caretaker government or the same Orban-led cabinet with limited powers would be the most likely outcomes.
  • Were the motion to fail (45% probability), pre-election rivalries would capture the policy agenda and generate more instability in the coming months.

The opposition Social Democratic Party (PSD) is rushing ahead with the censure motion on the last day of recess in parliament, as the constitution allows deputies to initiate only one motion of no confidence per parliamentary session. Hence, if today’s vote fails, the opposition would be able to call another censure in the autumn session starting tomorrow, 1 September. In other words, the PSD wants to have as many shots as possible at challenging the government before the local and general elections later this year.

For the motion to pass, a majority of deputies – 233 out of 465 – needs to support it in the joint session of both houses of parliament. With the backing of center-left PRO Romania and some independent deputies, the opposition PSD appears to hold just enough votes to pass the censure. However, the vote will be tight, and the outcome is far from certain. Given the last day of summer recess and fears of Covid-19, not all opposition deputies may show up for an in-person vote. Also, the ruling PNL managed to lure at least three opposition deputies in the past week alone, and others might be tempted to switch sides ahead of the general election anticipated in December.

In case the motion passes (55% probability), all eyes will be on the Constitutional Court, which is yet to assess the legality of the censure being held during the parliamentary recess. If the vote is considered as unconstitutional, the court could demand to reinstate the Orban cabinet with full powers.

Otherwise, a caretaker government led by an independent prime minister would be the most likely scenario. The key tasks of such a cabinet would be to cope with Covid-19 and to oversee the organization of the local and general elections later this year. However, frictions in parliament may complicate the approval of the caretaker government. In such a scenario, the current Orban cabinet would stay in office with limited powers until the parliamentary election.

Even though the opposition PSD has already announced its readiness to lead the new government, such a scenario is the least probable. President Klaus Iohannis (independent, associated with PNL) – who holds a constitutional right to nominate a new prime minister of his own choice – would be unlikely to appoint an opposition politician as the government head. He proved it earlier this year after he nominated PNL members twice to lead the government even after Orban had lost a vote of no confidence in February.

The political situation will remain volatile even if the motion fails (45% probability). The opposition may attempt to initiate another vote of no confidence to challenge the ruling PNL before the 27 September local election. Moreover, the PSD will likely seek to reverse the government’s decree reducing the pension increase to 14% (down from the initially planned 40%) as of September. Although president Iohannis could delay the process by several weeks, such a reversal would place a significant burden on the country’s already strained public finances.

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