Romania’s centre-right Prime Minister Nicolae Ciucă resigned on Monday, handing over his post to the Social Democrats, as part of a power-sharing deal agreed at the end of 2021.
His departure, which was delayed for several weeks due to a teachers’ strike, will most likely usher in Social Democratic party leader Marcel Ciolacu as prime minister once the parties agree on a roster of ministers.
“Our goal is to have a new government sworn in on Thursday,” Ciucă told reporters, “so that we can continue. . . to set priorities”.
The two former arch-rivals formed a grand coalition two years ago, including the ethnic Hungarian UDMR party, following a rapid succession of unstable governments that plunged the country into political crisis amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
To stabilize the political landscape, the center-right National Liberal Party and the Social Democrats agreed to join forces and switch leadership mid-term, with elections expected in the second half of 2024. Former army general Ciucă was the first to take over.
Last year’s Russian invasion of Ukraine solidified the coalition, which has held firm together despite decades of bad blood between the centre-right and centre-left.
The changeover, originally scheduled for May 25, was postponed as thousands of teachers went on strike to demand higher wages – a request the government conceded on Monday.
The new cabinet could face more turmoil over public sector wage demands – a tightrope to walk as Bucharest struggles to keep public spending low and implement economic reforms to meet the Brussels criteria for EU post-pandemic recovery funds.
Ciolacu has supported the current coalition even after next year’s elections as a guarantee of political stability. Romania, one of the EU’s least developed countries, has had 11 prime ministers since joining the bloc in 2007.
According to party chairman Hunor Kelemen, the UMDR threatened to leave the coalition on Monday unless it gets powerful ministries – especially the one responsible for distributing billions in development funds.
However, the Liberals and Social Democrats have a comfortable majority without the UMDR.
Romania’s power-sharing deal was recently adopted by neighboring Bulgaria, where warring factions also formed a grand coalition last month to end a two-year political deadlock that led to five elections.