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Romania's Acting Defense Minister Tapped For Prime Minister Post

Nicolae Ciucă (file photo)
Nicolae Ciucă (file photo)

BUCHAREST -- Romanian President Klaus Iohannis has nominated acting Defense Minister Nicolae Ciuca as prime minister in a second bid to end a political stalemate that has hampered efforts to tackle an huge surge of COVID-19 infections and deaths.

Iohannis on October 21 tasked Ciuca, a retired general, to form a minority center-right government -- a day after his first choice, centrist Dacian Ciolos, failed to win a parliamentary vote of confidence for his cabinet.

The crisis began more than two weeks ago, after liberal Prime Minister Florin Citu's government was crushed by a no-confidence vote in parliament that brought together virtually all forces of the political spectrum.

Even though he enjoyed the political backing of Iohannis, Citu had been subjected to a barrage of scathing criticism for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the looming economic crisis prompted by rising energy prices.

"Now the political crisis must end. We need a government that can solve the problems," Iohannis said following consultations with parliamentary parties.

Ciuca, a 54-year-old member of Citu's National Liberal Party (PNL), has 10 days to pick his cabinet members and seek a parliamentary vote of confidence.

Analysts say that Ciuca's PNL and its ethnic Hungarian allies UDMR will need the backing of the leftist Social Democratic Party (PSD) to win the confirmation of parliament, since Ciolos's Save Romania Union (USR), PNL's former coalition partner until Citu's fall, has been ruled out as a partner by the both the Liberals and Iohannis.

The political crisis came as Romania, 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.

On October 21, Romania reported 16,110 new coronavirus cases and 448 COVID-19-related deaths over the previous day.

Nearly 20,000 people are hospitalized with COVID-19, putting the country's hospitals under strain.

"It is inadmissible to continue in this style. We have a pandemic crisis, a dramatic situation in hospitals, winter is knocking at the door, energy prices are rising. We need a government with full powers," Iohannis said.

However, critics say that Iohannis and Citu's lack of firm action to stave off the pandemic during the summer amid political bickering has been one of the main causes behind the huge number of infections and deaths that have overwhelmed Romania's underfunded, obsolete, and corruption-ridden health-care system.

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