By Luiza Ilie and Radu-Sorin Marinas
BUCHAREST (Reuters) – Romanian lawmakers toppled the three-month-old centrist minority government of Prime Minister Ludovic Orban on Wednesday, raising the prospect of an early parliamentary election which Orban’s party says it is confident of winning.
Ousting the cabinet will likely usher in weeks of political wrangling and stalled policymaking at a time when widening budget and current account deficits are pressuring assets and rating outlooks.
Striving to regain power after being ousted themselves in a censure motion in October, the Social Democrats, which spearheaded the no-confidence vote, have criticized Orban for trying to alter electoral laws without public debate ahead of a mayoral ballot in June.
Official data showed 261 lawmakers voted to topple Orban. The motion needed 233 votes to pass.
Commentators said the vote could open the way for an early election which Orban’s Liberal Party (PNL) and its key ally, President Klaus Iohannis are seeking in order to take advantage of the Liberal’s rising approval ratings.
Iohannis said “a first step toward a snap election has already been made today.”
“I see an enthusiastic, pro-reform cabinet that wanted to repair what the PSD has damaged over the past years,” said Iohannis. “On the other hand I see a PSD that is anti-reforms … so I wish myself to adopt a stance that leads to early elections.”
He said consultations with political parties will start on Thursday morning and “maybe a nomination for a premier will come until the evening.”
Iohannis has made it clear his choice would be Orban.
Orban’s PNL has doubled its popularity ratings to about 47% since a 2016 parliamentary election, while PSD’s have halved to about 20% over the same period.
A snap election can be triggered only if parliament rejects two successive prime minister proposals within sixty days. Analysts have said the likely outcome is extremely unclear given fragmented and polarized parliamentary groupings.
“Knowing the chronic lack of consistency among Romanian politicians, as well as interpretation variations from the Constitutional Court, it is impossible to anticipate what will happen,” said Sergiu Miscoiu, a political science professor at Babes-Bolyai University.
“From now on, policymaking is done, we’re left with policy crushing. It’s possible that the precariousness of the (government) will weaken already low trust in state institutions.”
Romania, a European Union member, is due to hold local and general elections in June and December respectively.
“The road toward early elections is difficult, but they would remove fiscal uncertainties, being positive for local financial assets,” BCR Bank said in a note.
The Romanian leu traded 0.3% firmer to the euro after the vote.
“This government has landed on its feet,” Orban, who will now serve as an interim prime minister, said when asked about the possibility of an early poll.
(Reporting by Luiza Ilie and Radu-Sorin Marinas; Editing by Toby Chopra and Hugh Lawson)