UPDATED: Romania’s Iohannis picks army general as prime minister

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Romania’s president nominated Nicolae Ciuca as prime minister on Thursday, asking the retired army general to form a centrist government to end a month-long policy stalemate as rising COVID-19 infections threaten to overwhelm hospitals.

One of the European Union’s poorest members, Romania has been in political paralysis since a Liberal-led government was toppled by parliament on Oct. 5, threatening its economic recovery and efforts to cut big budget and external shortfalls.

“The political crisis must end. Now. Now, we all need to end this crisis, which has gone on for so long, given the pandemic crisis, the dramatic situation of hospitals while awaiting the winter,” President Klaus Iohannis told reporters.

Ciuca, 54, a Liberal currently serving as Romania’s caretaker defence minister, served in U.S.-led military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has 10 days to put together a cabinet and seek a parliamentary vote of confidence.

Analysts say he faces a tough task convincing the fragmented legislature to back him, although the largest opposition group, the Social Democrats, have said they are open to negotiations.

If Ciuca fails to win a confidence vote likely to be held next week, Iohannis can dissolve parliament and call a snap election – an unlikely scenario given current economic and health challenges.

“We will be carrying out talks with all responsible (political) forces so that we can unveil a government able to garner parliament’s wide support as soon as possible,” Ciuca said on Thursday.

The president’s first proposal for premier, Dacian Ciolos, failed to win a parliamentary vote of confidence in his centrist minority Cabinet on Wednesday.

Caretaker premier Florin Citu’s coalition collapsed earlier this month after Ciolos’ USR party withdrew its ministers in a row over a regional development fund that also cost Citu’s government its majority.

The ruling Liberals, the USR and ethnic Hungarians’ UDMR grouping controlled 57% of seats in parliament before the coalition collapsed.

PHOTO – Defense Minister of Romania Nicolae-Ionel Ciuca. EPA-EFE/STEPHANIE LECOCQ

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