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Romania: Governmental Crisis Damages Country's Reputation Abroad

Romanian President Emil Constantinescu says he has dismissed Prime Minister Radu Vasile and will name his successor today. But Michael Shafir, an analyst for RFE/RL's publication "Newsline," says the Romanian constitution does not empower the president to dismiss the premier. In a news analysis, Shafir says the resulting governmental crisis damages Romania's international reputation.

Prague, 16 December 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Romanian President Emil Constantinescu's ouster this week of Prime Minister Radu Vasile violates Romania's constitution.

The constitution contains no provision for the president to dismiss the prime minister. The president appoints the premier in consultation with political parties. The parliament then invests the premier, who can be dismissed subsequently only by a no-confidence vote in the legislature.

There is a provision in the constitution that empowers the president to recall the premier in case of incapacitation. That choice of wording clearly refers to his physical or mental incapacity to discharge his duties. President Constantinescu has chosen to interpret the provision to include political incapacity.

Prime Minister Vasile had made clear that he was not going to resign. That's the other way a prime minister's term could be ended. And his party, the National Peasant Party, Christian Democratic -- known as the PNTCD -- wanted to avoid a no-confidence vote in its own premier.

So PNTCD Chairman Ion Diaconescu and the president rigged a cabal. They engineered the resignation of a majority of cabinet ministers. Then President Constantinescu determined that Vasile had become politically incapacitated as premier.

The plan may have appeared ingenious to its architects at the time. But the result is political chaos. The country in effect now has two premiers. Vasile at first resisted his dismissal and then decided Tuesday to step quietly aside and return to the Senate. But he continues to refuse to resign. Meanwhile, Alexandru Athanasiu has nominally taken the office of interim prime minister.

Moreover, the necessary majority to invest his successor may not emerge in the parliament.

Before making his Tuesday announcement, Vasile said that his supporters -- at least 23 members of parliament -- have formed a group calling itself the Popular Initiative Group. This clearly is the nucleus of a new political formation, since the term "popular" is used in the titles of several Christian Democratic parties in the West.

Tensions between Vasile and President Constantinescu have been evident for some time. Vasile outspokenly resented interference by Constantinescu in the government's operations. He issued undiplomatic rebukes of Constantinescu. He also behaved peremptorily toward members of his cabinet, who then would complain to the president.

Equally undiplomatic was Vasile's creation of his own faction within the PNTCD and his open maneuvering to replace the elderly Diaconescu as party head.

The PNTCD already was factionalized, and it has compiled an unenviable record of government performance. A need to repair its image, no doubt, helped engender the plan to oust Vasile. The party also has an evident gerontacracy problem. The anti-Vasile cabal well may backfire.

PNTCD party leader Diaconescu said Tuesday that Romania's leaders postponed dealing with the government's problems until after the European Union's recent Helsinki summit because evidence of Romania's political instability would have damaged its international credibility ahead of the summit.

But the unconstitutional ouster of Prime Minister Vasile has had exactly governing troika comprises veterans all in their 80s. In addition, Constantinescu's own image as a weak head of state was a factor.

Romania will hold elections next year. Both the PNTCD as well as Constantinescu seem to worry about their political future. That was an important consideration in Vasile's ouster. Many people consider Constantinescu to be a weak president.

But he chose an unfortunate course of action if he meant to demonstrate that he is strong. On Tuesday, the International Monetary Fund announced it is postponing a decision on whether to release a second installment of a previously approved loan to Romania.

Romania's rulers could hardly have designed a more effective way to damage their country's political image if they had intentionally sought one.