With a new government installed in Bucharest, many wonder if the political turmoil is over.
By Paul Ciocoiu for Southeast European Times in Bucharest -- 09/01/13
Romania Prime Minister Victor Ponta has promised to roll back the VAT while reversing salary and pension cuts. [Gabriel Petrescu/SETimes]
Romania is heading into 2013 much as it spent much of 2012 -- following the uneasy partnership of President Traian Basescu and his nemesis, Prime Minister Victor Ponta.
The two political enemies must find a way to work together for Romania's common good in 2013 to rebuild confidence among international allies and the financial community, analysts said.
"It is a cohabitation imposed by the West, which simply doesn't want to be again a referee in a new political crisis in Bucharest," Alex Cumpanasu, head of the Agency for Implementation of Democracy, a leading Romanian think-tank, told SETimes.
But the country's challenges ahead are too important for the two not to join forces politically, Cumpanasu said.
"Romania has very clear interests ahead of it: the share of the EU budget which revolves around 40 billion euros, the remaining of the previous budgetary exercise 2007-2013 and the Schengen accession. This is why we need power of negotiation, a unique and solid voice. We cannot afford to go to Brussels with different positions because we first risk losing a lot economically," he said.
Ponta took office last spring after the previous cabinet, led by Mihai Razvan Ungureanu, was toppled in a no-confidence vote. Head of the Social Democrat Party, Ponta battled Basescu, head of the liberal democrats (PDL), over who should represent Romania at international functions such as the European Council.
The feud culminated in Basescu's impeachment and suspension last summer as Ponta pushed controversial measures intended to streamline Basescu's removal through parliament. The political battle took a heavy toll on the country, delaying the much anticipated Schengen accession amid Western fears of a breakdown of the rule of law in Romania.
Basescu, whose second term ends late 2014, suggested he would not nominate Ponta as prime minister after the recent elections, but his hand was forced when Ponta's three-party coalition USL won about 60 percent of the votes. The PDL won 16 percent.
Both sides appear determined to work together. Ponta's appointment comes with an unprecedented agreement of cohabitation between the two sides, aimed to sooth the worries abroad. The text calls for the two sides to address each other respectfully, to respect the state institutions, the independence of justice, Romania's geostrategic orientation and not to reveal details of private talks they have.
Ponta has vowed to reverse public salaries and pension cuts, drop the now 24 percent VAT back to 19 percent, create new jobs and keep the financial agreements with the IMF and the European Commission.
With a majority in the new parliament, USL can easily proceed, but this incurs risks, some warn.
"The classic name of such a peril is the tyranny of the majority," Cristian Preda, a democrat-liberal Euro-lawmaker and a professor of political sciences at the Bucharest University, told SETimes.
"It will take a lot of wisdom and moderation for such an abuse not to become a mechanism used again by USL," he said.