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Romanian PM-Designate Loses Confidence Vote To Extend Political Crisis Amid COVID Surge


Romanian Prime Minister-designate Dacian Ciolos
Romanian Prime Minister-designate Dacian Ciolos

BUCHAREST -- Romania's Prime Minister-designate Dacian Ciolos has failed in his bid to form the next government after his centrist minority cabinet was rejected in a confidence vote, extending the country's political crisis.

The defeat was widely expected. Ciolos's proposed cabinet received only 88 votes from lawmakers on October 20, well short of the 234 needed to be approved.

The political turmoil comes as one of the European Union's poorest states struggles with a huge spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths, a sputtering economy, and rising energy prices.

“Regardless of the result of the vote, regardless of the political struggle, we share the good or bad results with the citizens. We are in a time of deep crisis,” said the 52-year-old Ciolos, a former prime minister and EU commissioner who is currently the leader of center-right Save Romania Union (USR).

Romanian lawmakers from across the political spectrum on October 5 voted overwhelmingly to topple liberal Prime Minister Florin Citu's center-right minority government.

The move came after the USR withdrew from Citu's National Liberal Party (PNL)-led government last month, complaining about his "dictatorial attitude" after he sacked several USR members of the government, including the justice and health ministers.

The ongoing crisis threatens to further hamper Romania’s efforts to tackle an alarming surge of COVID-19 infections in the nation of 19 million.

The country on October 20 confirmed more than 17,000 new coronavirus infections and 423 deaths, a day after a pandemic-high of 18,863 cases and 574 fatalities.

The explosion in infections and deaths prompted President Klaus Iohannis on October 20 to announce a night curfew for all those unvaccinated, the reintroduction of masks both indoors and outdoors, and the requirement of the EU-wide COVID-19 pass for virtually all events.

Iohannis also said all primary, secondary, and high schools are going on an extended two-week vacation from October 25.

Iohannis also said he wants increases in vaccinations and tried to give assurances to skeptical Romanians that the vaccines available are safe and effective.

The measures and the time frame announced by Iohannis came under immediate criticism by medical experts as too mild and bordering on procrastination since they are only going to come into force next week.

Critics and the social-democratic opposition have pointed fingers at both Iohannis and Citu for what they say was a chaotic management of the pandemic over the summer, when they all but declared it "defeated" and dropped mask-wearing regulations while being overly involved in political infighting.

A lackluster vaccination campaign insufficiently pushed forward by authorities has seen Romania rank at the bottom of the EU, together with Bulgaria, with just 34 percent of adults fully inoculated. That compares with the bloc's average of 74 percent.

Romania has also been struggling with a wave of anti-vaccination fake news aggressively promoted by members of the extreme-right AUR party that unexpectedly stormed into parliament in the latest parliamentary elections in December and even by some senior Orthodox church officials.

With reporting by Reuters and AP
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