Romanian government reshuffles amid criticism


Prime Minister Victor Ponta reshuffled his cabinet in an effort to improve its tarnished image.

By Paul Ciocoiu for Southeast European Times in Bucharest -- 07/08/12


Prime Minister Victor Ponta has faced criticism over his government's reforms. [Reuters]

An unexpected Romanian government reshuffle on Monday (August 6th), in which six ministers were replaced, is meant to restore the credibility the coalition cabinet lost amid a fierce political battle to remove President Traian Basescu from office, analysts said.

"The reshuffle comes as an effort to bring credibility to the governmental act again," Alexandru Cumpanasu, the head of the Association for the Implementation of Democracy, told SETimes.

Prime Minister Victor Ponta's government, which was installed three months ago, came under fire amid controversial political reforms it proposed that were meant to make it easier for the government to impeach Basescu. The move sparked accusations of encroachment upon democratic principles and the rule of law.

"The changes aim to bring some sort of a balance in the ruling coalition through redistribution of ministerial posts that the two main parties negotiated," Cumpanasu said. Six ministers were replaced on Monday -- foreign affairs, interior, administration, justice, business environment and the holder of the portfolio for the relations with parliament.

The makeup of the new cabinet has not been finalised. Ponta’s new choice for justice minister, Mona Pivniceru, was rejected by the National Magistrates Council, the institution that supervises the judiciary, because Pivniceru is a member of the council. It was immediately unclear if Pivniceru would resign; Ponta will be interim justice minister until the matter is clarified.

Ponta was apparently forced to change his government structure after Interior Minister Ioan Rus, Delegate Minister of the Administration Victor Paul Dobre and Business Environment Minister Lucian Isar resigned on Monday.

Rus had been responsible with updating the electoral lists following a request from the Constitutional Court last week. The court, which was to rule on Basescu's impeachment referendum held on July 29th, postponed the verdict pending the updated electoral lists. The court's decision to postpone came after Rus presented the magistrates with conflicting reports about the number of the registered voters in Romania.

Rus said he tendered an honorary resignation, accusing the government of putting political pressure on his ministry. "A lot of pressure has been exerted on me by the Romanian politicians, starting with Traian Basescu and ending with [interim president] Crin Antonescu," Rus said.

"I have no explanation for such a statement," Antonescu responded.

The debate surfaced after the referendum came 4% short of the 50% legal threshold needed for validation. The ruling social-liberal coalition then claimed there are less than 18.3 million registered voters in Romania -- the reference number used in the local elections on June 6th and the referendum.

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"Through these changes, Ponta wants to cover the grave accusations Rus brought against Antonescu. Never ever has a minister accused the acting head of state of interfering with the aim of breaking the law," Sulfina Barbu, a democrat-liberal lawmaker, told SETimes.

Cumpanasu, too, thinks Rus was a victim of his fellow coalition members. "Through his conflicting reports to the Constitutional Court, Rus had become a target for political attacks from the opposition. He had become vulnerable, this is why he was removed by USL by withdrawing the political support," he said.

Ponta, however, maintained that the reshuffle "is not about merely changing men, but … a change of strategy so that the government gives a new message of stability and predictability."

The message did not reach some Romanians. "It is funny how in this country they reshuffle the governments because they have to, not because they need to," Silviu Oancea, a stock exchange broker in Bucharest, told SETimes.

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