Romania – The move had been expected since the reformist party USR-PLUS (Uniunea Salvați România) withdrew its ministers from Florin Cîțu’s liberal government on 3 September. It came after Cîțu dismissed Justice Minister Stelian Ion (USR-PLUS) without first consulting his partners. Cîțu has now lost a no-confidence vote.
A no-confidence vote supported by the PSD, USR, and AUR
As expected, it was an ad hoc alliance between the USR (a Euro-enthusiastic, centre-right party), the PSD’s more Euro-sceptic social democrats, and the nationalists from the Alliance for the Unity of Romanians (AUR), who have been opposing the Covid–related restrictions, that toppled the Cîțu government on Tuesday, 5 October, by 281 votes. It should be noted in passing that the deputies of the PNL – a party which had made Florin Cîțu its chairman ten days earlier – and of the UDMR, which represents the Hungarian minority, did not take part in the vote. The vote itself was preceded by an extremely heated debate.
Tempers running high in parliament
Prime Minister Florin Cîțu blasted the motley alliance that was about to support the no-confidence vote with the following words: “Dear Romanians, morality is dead today. The no-confidence motion of the PSD, the greatest enemy, is being supported and voted for by the USR.
The so-called reformists have allied themselves with the PSD and the extremists. Dear Romanians, you have been betrayed.
(…) They have become the brothers of the PSD in order to eliminate the only man who put them to work and prevented them from playing with the lives of the Romanians. (…)
Dear Romanians, I apologise for trusting the USR. I saw the true face of the USR today.
(…) Socialism remains strong among them. I sense among USR parliamentarians a nostalgia for the Zero government. (…) The USR itself is responsible for all that follows. (…) They had incompetent ministers. (…)
I was too lenient with the incompetence and amateurism of these ministers. I should have fired them sooner.
(…) A motion of frustration has been initiated. An absurd move. The pro-vaxers now support the anti-vaxers. It is sad to see how the PSD, the USR, and the extremists are proposing an adventure in which the Romanians are the losers.
PSD leader Marcel Ciolacu was not to be outdone in his statements: “Today, we are getting justice for the Romanians. The Cîțu government will return home. (…) Mr. Cîțu, you must leave today because you have not governed. (…) You have played golf with the lives of the Romanians. (…) No one believes you anymore. You are totally out of touch with reality. (…) You have become the most hated man in Romania. (…)
People do not need superheroes, but decent wages and pensions, schools and hospitals, heating and hot water. People need respect. People are tired of you.”
Former USR leader Dan Barna, who had just handed over the leadership of the USR to Dacian Cioloș on 1 October, adopted the same sort of tone: “You could have been the hero of the fight against the pandemic, but you have preferred relaxed irresponsibility. (…) You have destroyed a coalition which enjoyed a huge amount of trust. (…)
You had virtually everything at your disposal, you had our good faith, and you had a mandate to get the country back on track. (…) You could have been Superman, but you chose to be a common Florin Cîțu.”
Klaus Iohannis will try to find a new majority
The no-confidence vote has no immediate effect, however. The government of Florin Cîțu is expected to continue with its current affairs while President Klaus Iohannis will be holding consultations with the parties represented in parliament in order to appoint a new prime minister. This will be no easy task, as there seems to be no alternative majority, at least at present.
The allies for a day (USR, PSD, and AUR) have very different visions of the future. The USR reformers would like to reform Cîțu’s coalition with the liberal PNL and the Hungarian UDMR, but without Mr. Cîțu himself, who has become their bête noire. The PSD’s social democrats want early elections in the hope that it would allow them to return to power at the head of a new government. In the last elections in December 2020, the PSD came first but was unable to form a government. As for the AUR nationalists, they are calling for a government of national unity. According to the Romanian constitution, President Iohannis has to propose at least two new prime ministers before he can dissolve parliament. Romania’s political crisis could therefore last a while before early elections are called.
Covid behind the political crisis
While governmental crises are common in Romania, the Covid pandemic has made things worse. The pro-EU government broke its back with the vaccination campaign and the imposition of the health pass.
Romania is the 2nd-least vaccinated country against Covid in the EU, the country’s Ombudsman has declared the health pass law illegal as it imposes too much discrimination against certain citizens, and demonstrations organised by nationalists and led by George Simion are gathering more and more people as they call for an exit from the European Union and an end to the Covid measures.
With the Covid narrative running out of steam, and a recent hospital fire as a tragic reminder of the advanced state of disrepair in the country’s health services, the situation is untenable for the Cîțu government, which has tried to follow and even surpass the standards set by Western Europe in terms of Covid management and public health restrictions.
 When Dacian Cioloș, the USR leader, was prime minister, between 2015 and 2017, he claimed to lead a “zero corruption, zero populism, zero lies” government. That is why the PSD called it the “Zero government”.