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Romania’s Orban resigns, says hopes Liberals can put forward next PM

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BUCHAREST, Dec 7 (Reuters) – Romania’s incumbent centrist Prime Minister Ludovic Orban resigned on Monday, signalling that he has given up his bid to become the next premier after Sunday’s elections.

“I’ve done my best, we’ve done our best. My goal is to help create a majority (in parliament) without the Social Democrats.

“I hope my Liberal party will have the power to produce the next prime minister,” Orban said.

Election Watch

Romania’s opposition Social Democrats (PSD) have taken the lead in vote-counting after elections seen as pivotal for determining the country’s future in the European mainstream, partial results showed on Monday – but they are unlikely to be part of the next government.

The PSD, which rode a wave of voter discontent over the coronavirus pandemic and the minority Liberal government’s pledges of fiscal restraint, may not have enough support to form a functioning majority against incumbent Prime Minister Ludovic Orban.

President Klaus Iohannis, an ally of the Liberals (PNL), said centre-right groupings had amassed enough votes to form a coalition government.

Iohannis said he will call consultations with parties on forming a new cabinet “in the days ahead.” He said repeatedly that he will task Orban about forming a centre-right coalition cabinet to rein in a ballooning budget deficit and restore the European Union state’s credibility among foreign investors.

Under Romanian law, the president can pick the prime minister, bypassing the winning party if it fails to secure an outright majority.

With 84% 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%.

Parliamentary seat redistributions will change the final percentages and favour the largest parties, but 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.

FEWER PARTIES IN PARLIAMENT

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 Orban, after years of efforts by a succession of PSD Romanian cabinets to suppress the independence of the courts – a charge they denied – that mirrored overhauls of the judiciary in Poland and Hungary.

Orban also campaigned on a promise to bring Romania closer to the EU mainstream following years of fiscal populism, political instability and neglect of rundown infrastructure and public services.

Turnout was the lowest since the 1989 fall of communism, with only one in three Romanians voting, with disappointment over failed reforms compounded by fears of coronavirus contagion in polling stations.

(Reporting by Radu Marinas; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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