Romanian prime minister Ludovic Orban resigned on Monday after his Liberal party lost Sunday’s parliamentary election, but his centrist camp appeared in pole position to form a coalition government against the victorious opposition leftists.
In a vote seen as pivotal for the country’s future in the European mainstream, the left-wing opposition PSD failed to win enough support to form a functioning majority against Orban.
The PSD has battled accusations of fiscal populism and of making efforts to force courts to protect party faithful suspected of corruption.
With 95% of polling stations counted, the PSD had won just under 30% of votes for both houses of parliament, while Liberals got 25%. The centrist alliance USR-Plus, a likely coalition partner for the Liberals, won 15%.
That meant the centrists had the best chance to form a functioning government coalition, President Klaus Iohannis, a Liberal ally, told reporters.
Orban, a reform-oriented fiscal conservative, said he would still work towards building a coalition.
“I’ve done my best, we’ve done our best,” he said.
Under Romanian law, the president nominates a prime minister following an election and any necessary coalition talks, and can bypass the winning party if it fails to secure an outright majority. Iohannis said he would convene party seniors soon.
The PSD rode a wave of voter discontent over the coronavirus pandemic and the minority Liberal government’s pledges of fiscal restraint, despite growing anger among many voters over neglected infrastructure and public services.
Economists say its fiscal largesse has brought Romania to the brink of losing its investment grade status and has failed to produce much improvement in its health service, one of the worst in Europe.
The PSD’s last cabinet collapsed in 2019 following the imprisonment of former party leader Liviu Dragnea on corruption charges, although the party retained its control of the legislature whie Orban was in a government.
Parliamentary seat redistributions may change the final result, boosting groupings proportionally, and analysts said the Liberals and USR-Plus would probably need to co-opt at least one other grouping to gain a majority, raising the prospect of difficult negotiations over key portfolios and policies.
The USR-Plus has said they plan to propose former European Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos, the Europe Renew group president in the European parliament, as their first choice for premier during consultations with Iohannis.
The next parliament looks set to have only five parties, including the ethnic Hungarian UDMR and the newcomer Alliance for Uniting Romanians (AUR), an ultra-nationalist grouping formed a year ago which won 9% of votes.
Leaders of the Liberals, USR-Plus and UDMR said on Sunday they favoured a centre-right coalition government. Most clearly ruled out negotiations with the Social Democrats.
“While PNL and USR-PLUS might have some challenges in aligning their policy positions … the two parties share a vision on general macro-economic policies. Overall, the outlook for government stability is positive,” said Andrius Tursa of Teneo consultants.
The EU would welcome a government led by PNL, after years of efforts by a succession of PSD Romanian cabinets failed to persuade Brussels that they were serious about combating endemic graft. The PSD denies charges of any wrongdoing.